Why Maniac’s Emma Stone never wanted to play an elf, but did so anyway

William Mullally

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Our interview hasn’t begun yet, but Emma Stone is already loudly narrating her thoughts as she walks in the room.

“I’m sweating so much—why did I wear this! O-oh, I’m wearing wool!” Stone lets out, in an exaggerated bawl.

Stone, 29, Oscar/BAFTA/Golden Globe winner, is already perhaps the most beloved star of her generation. On screen, she balances considerable skill with an innate affability that lets us watching at home look up and think, you know, I think we could be friends, her and I.

I can’t say we’ll ever be friends, the two of us, but even sitting across from her you can’t help but feel you could almost immediately.

Stone’s latest project is one of my favorites to date—it’s called Maniac, and it’s a ten-episode limited series streaming on Netflix. In it, she plays Annie, a woman who has signed up for a pharmaceutical drug trial that, if it works, will replace therapy. With three pills, Annie relives the worst day of her life, rewires her brain through a series of elaborate dream worlds, and finally, confronts her demons head-on.

It’s a bit weird, yes, but it’s wonderful—a sprawling mess of ideas that, when they click, are some of the most fun I’ve had watching TV since David Lynch decided to make another Twin Peaks.

Why Maniac’s Emma Stone never wanted to play an elf, but did so anyway
Why Maniac’s Emma Stone never wanted to play an elf, but did so anyway

Stone is not just the star. She’s the executive producer, along with her co-star Jonah Hill—the first time she’s ever produced something.

“To be there from the very beginning, at the ground level, was not something that I’d really experienced before. It made me very excited to talk to people about the seed of an idea and develop it from the beginning. It’s a beautiful process. We were just talking about this seed and it grew into this whole thing. I’m not a writer, I don’t create from the very beginning traditionally so to be there from the start was a cool thing to see come to fruition,” Stone tells me.

Early in the process, Stone sat down with the co-creators Cary Fukunaga and Patrick Somerville, who were still trying to figure out what exactly the dream worlds that they would enter via this experimental pharmaceutical would become.

“Emma is very smart and logical,” Fukunaga tells me.

“As a producer, you give actors a little more agency over what’s happening with the production, what’s happening with the story. For her part, we talked a lot about what character she might play, and what she’s into or not into, such as fantasy. When we found out she didn’t like elves, it was obvious what we had to do,” he says with a smirk.

“You already had the ears?” I ask.

“We ordered them after that,” Fukunaga says, laughing.

“How was that for you?” I ask Stone.

“It was fine,” Stone says, with comic malaise.

“I loved how they developed that element into Annie where she’s playing this elf who’s tried to cut her ears off, who’s so proud of being half human. I really liked that. It was fun to be so self aware as an elf that this is a miserable experience for her,” Stone says.

Why Maniac’s Emma Stone never wanted to play an elf, but did so anyway
Why Maniac’s Emma Stone never wanted to play an elf, but did so anyway

When I bring up what Fukunaga told me, she clarifies.

“I don’t want them to go off about how much I hate fantasy. I like fantasy! I just don’t want to. It’s like horses. I just don’t personally like horseback riding. I love horses, I just don’t like to horseback ride,” she says, pausing for effect. “I don’t personally want to play an elf.”

“It’s not that I don’t like fantasy—I appreciate it. I think people have done great jobs. But that’s not my skill set. They were very tolerant of that, which I was very grateful of,” Stone says.

“Emma, we should say, was an incredibly good sport about that too,” co-creator Patrick Somerville says. “She was game for anything.”

“The nice thing about the idea of producing is that when you come in, you feel your voice can have a presence in that way, i.e. the elf. ‘As a producer, I object!’ ‘Ok fine, you can cut your ears off.’ ‘Ok…’” Stone says. “It was something exciting that I would like to do in the future.”

As each version of Stone and Hill’s character is introduced, the show, which starts out feeling almost nihilistic, gets more and more joyful. You can feel how much Stone and Hill enjoy playing each reflection.

“That was the fun of it. It was definitely challenging but that was the part that I liked the most. Doing a television show, having that much time to explore, it really gives you an opportunity to go deeper into a character, and having that be represented through five different people was very cool, and having Annie lie underneath all of them dormant and then come out at different times was great, I really loved that,” Stone says.

Why Maniac’s Emma Stone never wanted to play an elf, but did so anyway
Why Maniac’s Emma Stone never wanted to play an elf, but did so anyway

“I felt Emma and Jonah along the way added to something to each version of themselves as well,” co-creator Patrick Somerville tells me.

“It’s a very difficult challenge to ostensibly be playing two different people at the same time—for that to read, for the audience to be able to feel that. I see scenes, when they’re pretending to be other people, and you can still feel Annie and Owen under there somewhere. They had to figure out their own ways to do that in each episode of the show.”

“Which was your favorite?” I ask Stone.

“Bruce and Linda, the Long Island 80s episode. I loved that so much. We shot that near the beginning, so it was all down hill from there,” Stone jokes.

“It was the most fun. I just loved her personality. I loved the dynamic between the two of them. I loved how outlandish that episode is. Stealing a lemur. We had this live lemur! All this different aspect of it I thought were hilarious and really fun. I really loved that one. I could play Linda forever.”

“But as an elf,” Stone adds. “Linda the elf.”

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