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Under the Influence: Emma Stone on what inspires her

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Emma Stone
Vera Anderson/WireImage

When the Birdman star and Golden Globe nominee tackles a role, it isn’t all about going Method. “Pop culture can conjure up useful feelings,” she says. “But it’s also really good for helping you zone the hell out.” Stone, 26, tells us what was on her mind during some of her most memorable performances—including the Golden Globe-nominated film and her current run on the Great White Way.

Cabaret on Broadway, 2014–present

I’m listening to Radio Nova, which is this retro-feeling online French radio station. I don’t understand what anybody’s saying, but the music is so good that it just makes me feel perfectly misplaced. I listen to that in my dressing room, which I don’t think anyone else appreciates, but I do. I’ve been watching this rare, live performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland on YouTube, and I play “It’s Only a Paper Moon” by Ella Fitzgerald a lot. That song just makes me think of Sally Bowles. I have a huge paper moon in my dressing room with [costar] Alan Cumming’s face in it. I also read Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories before I go on each night. It’s what the play is based on, so I reread different Sally portions to re-remind me of the person I’m playing.

Birdman, 2014

Alejandro [Iñárritu, the director] didn’t tell us to watch anything, but he gave us the picture of Philippe Petit from Man on Wire walking between the Twin Towers and said, “That’s what we’re trying to do in our script.” I saw Apocalypse Now at that time. Oh my God, that movie is gorgeous, and watching it fueled my love for cinematography, which was good to have during Birdman. But I definitely came home and watched Sean Lowe on The Bachelor a lot, too. It was the only thing that made me feel like I could shut my brain off. That and Final Four basketball. To get in character, I was reading Internet forums about drug withdrawal all day and then watching The Bachelor at night. It was a heavy time.

The Help, 2011

Every day I drove to set in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle and I would listen to Sleigh Bells really, really loud to wake myself up. B.B. King is from right around where we were filming, and there was always great Mississippi Delta music playing. I remember one particularly hilarious night where I watched Almost Famous with [costars] Chris Lowell and Ahna O’Reilly. Chris and I lived together during this movie and we decided to learn how to fox-trot off of some random DVD for no reason.

Zombieland, 2009

Ruben [Fleischer, the director] gave us all little kits at the beginning: DVDs, iPods preloaded with music, and a little speaker. I think he gave me True Romance. Patricia Arquette as Alabama? Holy shit, she was unreal! I was playing Wichita, so it was a perfect location-based-name kinship. I saw Paper Moon for the first time, which has become one of my favorite movies. That relationship between Ryan O’Neal and Tatum was kind of a model for the relationship that Abigail [Breslin] and I had because we were basically a family on the run but not necessarily family. And, of course, they’re con artists. Also, I beat Donkey Kong Country on Super Nintendo while we were filming. Seriously. I played it constantly as a kid and I never actually beat it, but this time I had the skill set of an adult. I felt pretty good about that.

The House Bunny, 2008

I was listening to a lot of music at that time, and I kept suggesting songs to put in the movie like I was the music supervisor. I loved “Sour Cherry” by the Kills and “Timebomb” by Beck. Beck said no, but my ideas were clearly genius.

This article appears in Entertainment Weekly‘s Jan. 9 issue.