Emma Stone isn’t known for playing vicious characters.
The Oscar-winner has spent most of her career portraying cheerful heroines in films like La La Land and The Help. So that’s why it comes as such a nice (and really funny) surprise to see Stone excel in the role of the backstabbing Abigail in The Favourite, which is in theaters now.
The buzzy dark comedy from director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) focuses on the battle between Abigail and her cousin Sarah (Rachel Weisz) for the attention and love of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman).
EW talked to Stone about getting dark, physical comedy, and, naturally, rabbits.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What appealed to you about this movie and playing Abigail?
EMMA STONE: The script was so fantastic just from Jump Street and I loved all of the characters but especially these three women. It’s just so rare to read something, you know, written for the screen that features three women who are so emotionally complex, and funny, and raw, and fragile, and strong, and, you know, powerful. They all feature such a range of emotion that it was just a dream.
Abigail is probably the meanest character you’ve played. How was it taking a walk on the bad side?
Oh, it was amazing. I mean I am a human being. I hold all of those thoughts in a major way, as we all do. In the first 30 pages or so, Abigail is pretty meek and charming and sweet and quiet, and so I was a little like, “Aw man, Sarah is such a powerful [character] and juicy and the Queen is so petulant and alive.” And then she unfolds in this incredible way. Showing up at work every day and trying to gauge her point along her journey and what was driving her was just a joy.
Yorgos told me he rehearsed with you all for a few weeks before actual shooting but it was mostly about being silly and getting everyone comfortable with each other. Was that helpful?
So much. I mean, it was confusing in the moment because we were doing these very theatrical parts. We were all holding hands and twisting around each other, walking backwards and not looking at each other. Dancing wildly. We’d read other characters lines. We got very goofy a lot of the time but by the end those six of us — Olivia and Rachel, me, Nicholas [Hoult], Joe [Alwyn], and James [Smith] — were so bonded and so comfortable with each other.
You have to do a ton of physical comedy in this movie. Did you have fun? Or did you get hurt at all?
Oh, it was okay. I had a stunt double, an amazing woman named Claire who was incredible rolling backwards down a hill when Nick had to push me. You know, things like that, or horseback riding. I’m a terrible horseback rider, and I took a bunch of lessons but I was like, I am just not good at this. And Rachel and Olivia are very good at horseback riding at this point. I was like, “Great, okay, of course.” I’m the American that can’t horseback ride. So, I did have a great stunt double, but there was a lot of falling in mud and falling down the stairs and getting slapped and slapping and fighting. It was like a daily basis of what is gonna happen to Abigail today.
There’s a quite intense but also funny fight/love sequence between you and Joe Alwyn. Did you all choreograph that or was it a free for all?
A lot of the elements were choreographed but it was also a free for all. It was a roaming camera and we sort of just went for it but there were certain beats that we needed to hit, like the rolling on the ground and then me kneeing him in the balls.
Queen Anne has 17 rabbits in the film. Were they divas to work with?
You’d think they’d be divas because they’re so beautiful, but they were very, very personable. Yeah, no, they were incredibly sweet. They do pee a lot. So, I think when Olivia was in bed with them, she was feeling little wet patches every once in a while.
At one point, Abigail has to step on one. That must have been a hard day.
Hated it. Yeah, I hated it, but they have handlers that are so protective of them and they’re so great with them. It didn’t hurt the rabbit what I had to do, but it was just the concept of it made me sick to my stomach. I was just, ugh. It’s also just such a great moment for that character, because you realize in that moment, she is at a point of cruelty to something so small and vulnerable, and it’s just to exercise her power. I understood the necessity of it, because you see in that moment, she’s just so far gone that she’s willing to do this when she’s already gotten what she wants. It’s just a gross, unredeemable moment for this person.
Do you look at Abigail as a villain?
I look at her as a survivor. I think her history makes sense to me that she needs safety and security above all else, and that she needs to truly be off the streets. I understood most of what she’s doing as not villainous until the end, until that moment with the rabbit. I really do not know how to redeem that or what about that isn’t just pure evil. That does become her most irredeemable moment to me.