Emma Stone isn't the sort of actor who can't watch her own movies. Still, "I don't usually watch a movie I've been in as many times as I've watched Poor Things," she says. "I like to show up on set and kind of do my thing, and then leave the viewing to the audience."

But Poor Things marks Stone's first time producing a film in which she also stars, and so she saw director Yorgos Lanthimos' earliest cut of the movie — and each cut thereafter. (Which is to say nothing of the premieres and screenings that would come later.) "I got to be involved throughout all of it," Stone tells A.frame, "and that aspect gave me a little more of an objective view than I might have felt in the past."

Based on the novel by Alasdair Gray, Poor Things is a mad comedy about Bella Baxter (Stone), a young woman who throws herself off a bridge in order to escape her unhappy marriage. Unbeknownst to even her, she is reanimated by a brilliant but unorthodox scientist (played by Willem Dafoe) who swaps out her brain for that of her unborn baby. A full-grown woman with the mind of a newborn, Bella sets off into the world on a surreal odyssey of self-actualization.

The film marks Stone third collaboration with Lanthimos: The Greek filmmaker directed her in 2018's The Favourite — for which she was Oscar-nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role — and a short film, Bleat. (And after Poor Things, they shot another film, the upcoming anthology comedy Kinds of Kindness.) "The projects we've gotten to do together have been equally terrifying and beautiful, and I feel really lucky," muses the actress. Perhaps none more beautiful and terrifying than Poor Things.

"This role is unlike anything I've ever done before or anything I'll ever get to do again," Stone says. "In a sense, it was all new to me. It was such a joy to embody her and live as this person who goes about life without any shame or fear. It was the joy of a lifetime to get to play her."

Emma Stone with director Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of 'Poor Things.'

Bella Baxter is impulsive, impolite, chaotic, curious, violent, lovable, awed, disillusioned, monstrous, and naïve — and in any combination, at any time. She begins the movie babbling nonsense, throwing temper tantrums, and gleefully wetting herself. She has sex — "furious jumping," as she calls it — and learns of the endless pleasures of being alive. She sees suffering and poverty and learns that the world is a cruel, unfair place. Through it all, she comes of age. Stone, meanwhile, had to play it all. "Bella is someone there is no blueprint for," she says.

"I know it might sound crazy, but there aren't any grown women with an infant's brain that I know of," Stone says. "So, it was a lot of rehearsing with Yorgos and mapping out her stages of development and becoming this person that is experiencing the world for the first time without any of those preconceived notions or anxieties we as humans might feel."

Lanthimos has said the goal of his rehearsal process is to "have a lot of laughs." "They're meant to create a bond between the actors and allow them to experience the material in a non-intellectual fashion," the filmmaker explained to A.frame. "When you combine the text itself with games and general fooling around, everything becomes much lighter, and we all take it less seriously. We take ourselves less seriously, and that creates an atmosphere where we can feel close to each other and trust each other enough to do whatever the material requires us to do."

Poor Things takes Bella from a laboratory in London to the streets of Lisbon, to a luxury cruise aboard the high seas, to the slums of Alexandria, to a brothel in Paris, and back again. The final scene that Stone shot for the film was also the first scene in the film: The scene where Victoria, the woman who will be resurrected as Bella, jumps off the bridge.

"It was our last day on set and I was so emotional, because we were filming a suicide and this incredible, otherworldly experience was coming to an end," Stone recalls. "And then Hayley, our A.D., reminded me that this scene wasn't an ending; it was the birth of Bella. Of course, that realization made me even more emotional, but it was a really special way to end it, as a rebirth."

Emma Stone backstage at the 96th Oscars. (Photo by Matt Sayles/AMPAS)

Poor Things debuted at the 80th Venice Film Festival and took home the Golden Lion for Best Film. At the 96th Oscars, the film earned 11 nominations, with Stone receiving dual nods: Best Actress in a Leading Role and, as one of the movie's producers, Best Picture. Stone previously won Best Actress in 2017 for her performance in La La Land, and now has earned four career nominations for acting; the latter is a first for her.

During Sunday's Oscars, Stone won her second Best Actress Oscar. "The other night I was panicking — as you can kind of see happens a lot — that maybe something like this could happen," a visibly shook Stone said onstage, "and Yorgos said to me, 'Please take yourself out of it.'"

"He was right, because it's not about me. It's about a team that came together to make something greater than the sum of its parts," she continued. Poor Things took home four Oscars in total, also for its costume design, makeup and hairstyling, and production design. "That is the best part about making movies, is all of us together."

Looking back now, at the end of this particular journey, Stone has experienced something of a creative rebirth herself.

"With Poor Things I was able to become Bella, who is my favorite person I have ever or may ever get to play," she tells A.frame. "It gave me the opportunity to collaborate again with Yorgos, this time not just in front of the camera but behind it. And I had the pleasure of working with Mark, Willem, Ramy" — that is, Ruffalo, Dafoe and Youssef — and the entire cast and crew of this life-changing project."

"Just those facts alone, I've already won the lottery," Stone adds. "All these wonderful things that have come along with it are a really beautiful cherry on top."

By John Boone

This article was originally published on Feb. 20, 2024.

A.frame, the digital magazine of the Academy, is excited to celebrate and honor the nominees of the 96th Oscars across several branches by spotlighting their nominated films, craftsmanship, and personal stories. For more on this year's nominees, take a look at our Oscars hub.


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