Emma Stone
Photo by Kirk McKoy

Emma Stone: “Anxiety in its essence is fear”

Short Profile

Name: Emily Jean Stone
DOB: 6 November 1988
Place of birth: Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
Occupation: Actor

Ms. Stone, when did you first understand the power of music?

My mom would play Les Misérables in our house when I was growing up. She told me the story and then I saw it on stage when I was eight, and it was transformative for me. I loved it. After that, singing became a medium of expressing feelings that was so much bigger than just saying it.

Is that when you started performing in the theater?

I did do musicals growing up, but dance is probably my favorite art form. I took dance for 10 years — mostly tap classes. I was never a technically proficient dancer, I couldn’t be a ballerina, you know? I couldn’t execute a lot of that stuff, so acting really spoke to me in a different way.

“Acting is therapy, especially as a kid, it was nice to have an outlet like that when I was really struggling with panic attacks.”

How so?

I think I connected with being able to bring to life what I wanted to more with acting. Performing helped me as a kid to channel my energy somewhere else, to put it out instead of turning it inward. Acting is therapy, especially as a kid, it was nice to have an outlet like that when I was really struggling with panic attacks. Being on stage early on made me less afraid to try things that are challenging and scary.

Because you can’t really think as much when you are performing?

Right, acting is a kind of suspension of everything else that is happening, and it’s nice to have something like that. Like in La La Land, the ballroom dancing was really hard for me because I have a pinched nerve in my left side and the way you have to hold yourself up for ballroom dancing; I had pains shooting through my eyes every time we were doing it. But I still got to pour everything into it and not worry about being technically perfect.

It’s kind of a relief from those anxieties.

Yeah, I wouldn’t say that performing is a cure for anxiety, but when you have excess energy that turns inward and makes you an over-thinker, you can begin to panic. When I was in Cabaret a couple years ago, my character communicated through performing, that really took me into this new place, standing in the spotlight, singing the final song. It’s funny because I would never want to stand there and recite a monologue, but with that song, the audience was completely gone and it’s you in this guttural way — I was screaming the song. It transported me like I was being alone in my bedroom, but I was on this stage in Studio 54.

Does your growing recognition make those types of experience easier?

You know, I don’t think it has anything to do with that because that’s outward. It’s other people telling you that you are doing well, and relying on the outside world, that’s anxiety-inducing to me. Right now, it’s becoming more and more aligned with knowing why I make the choices I make and owning the mistakes I make and telling myself, “You are okay.” It’s not about high self-esteem, it’s not about, “You’re the best, you’re doing great.” It’s the opposite, it’s: “You messed up here and that’s okay.” You don’t have to beat yourself up about that.

Have you always been a sensitive person?

(Laughs) For sure. Absolutely.

You seem remarkably at ease now… What has changed for you?

It’s definitely gotten better as time has gone on. I’m not so hard on myself — a lot of it was the pressure that I would put on myself. I’ve learned that anxiety in its essence is fear. And what is the major fear? Fear of death. There is nothing else to be afraid of. So utilizing the positive side of that, there is this excitement for life, you know, they say anxiety is excitement without breath. So if you breathe through it, it becomes excitement.

“For a long time I thought being a sensitive person was a curse.”

So you’ve learned to channel fear into a different type of energy?

Exactly, and that energy can be used for really positive things, like acting or telling stories or creativity, really being present in your experiences. There is a lot you can do with it. And that shift is completely on me! That’s internal. Nobody can do that for me. No word or movie or anything. It comes down to me and me. Growing up and realizing that has really helped. For a long time I thought being a sensitive person was like a curse.

Because of how hurt you would get?

Right, or I react too strongly to things. Things affect me deeply sometimes — a lot of times. In that sense your wings can feel broken a lot, especially when I mess up, when I make a mistake. My whole life that has been the hardest thing because I feel like I am doing my best, but things slip by, you know, I’m human. I make mistakes or weird choices or I wish I had done something differently. But I learn from mistakes... I feel that all the time, I never feel like I am doing it all right all the time. But that’s okay. Being human is okay. That’s a hard lesson if you are a sensitive person, it is hard, when you care about people and you don’t want to hurt anybody, you don’t want to fuck up. And it’s hard, because you will.

Of course — we all do.

Everyone does! But nothing is forever. Everything is transient, and in my life everything passes. That can be especially helpful when it’s bad. I don’t want to sound arrogant – but I imagine that as time goes on, it’s crazy to build such a life and then be like, “Oh my God, at some point you have to leave this life.” I definitely don’t want to leave life. I love being alive. I am so grateful to be alive. But there is something to seizing the moment and seizing opportunities and knowing that you don’t have forever. To me, it compels me to not just sit around and wait for things to happen to me. I want to go out there and discover things and explore and have adventures. To me it’s invigorating.