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Oscars 2017: why Emma Stone needs to rewrite her origin story

89th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

As Emma Stone made the rounds on the Oscars red carpet as the favorite to win Best Actress for her performance in La La Land, she returned one more time to her favorite interview anecdote: the story of how, when she was 15 years old, she made a PowerPoint presentation to convince her parents to let her leave school and go to Hollywood.

As I’ve written before, that story has been Stone’s go-to since before she was famous. The earliest iteration I could find is from 2009, when she shared it during the Zombieland press tour, before she landed her first starring role in Easy A. Even then, the story was a known quantity: The interviewer had heard it before, and he wanted to confirm it.

But that didn’t stop her from breaking it out once again during the biggest night of her career thus far. “Did you really give your parents a PowerPoint presentation when you were 15?” ABC’s red-carpet hosts asked, and on cue, Stone launched into her reliable origin tale.

As a PR move, it makes sense. Celebrities construct their personas out of anecdotes. Charmingly rehearsed interview tidbits are what give us the sense that we know them; that celebrities are just like us, only more so; that they are suitable vehicles for all the fears and fantasies and anxieties we project onto them.

That’s part of how Jennifer Lawrence became America’s most relatable sweetheart at the height of her PR offensive in 2013. She was full of anecdotes: Every time she sat for an interview, she was ready to talk about doing shots before appearing on a red carpet or getting so drunk that Miley Cyrus started judging her or that time hotel staff found a sex toy gag gift in her luggage. It’s how she constructed her effortless Cool Girl persona and made the country fall in love with her.

In and of itself, Stone’s PowerPoint story is a fantastic anecdote. It’s adorably nerdy and suggests that Stone is a Type A high achiever, a profile that her laid-back, slightly lazy charisma allows her to carry in a way that a star with a more high-strung presence, like Anne Hathaway, wouldn’t be able to pull off. The PowerPoint story reminds us all that while Stone might be a glamorous Oscar-nominated movie star now, a few years ago, she was just a kid with a wide-eyed dream, just like her character in La La Land.

The problem is that Stone is trying to build her entire persona on the strength of her PowerPoint story, and a single anecdote cannot bear that weight. Lawrence wrote the ingénue playbook for the decade because she had an endless stream of stories that reinforced the larger narrative she was building: that she was a relatable, goofy spaz who just happened to also be a beautiful and talented movie star. Stone keeps returning again and again to a single story, so the larger narrative she’s building for herself feels flat and one-note.

If Stone is ever going to expand her star persona, she’ll need to find another story to tell us.

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