Amanda Bynes, left, is Marianne, with Emma Stone as Olive Penderghast in… (Adam Taylor / Columbia TriStar )
As she walked into a soundstage on the Paramount Studios lot last winter, Emma Stone looked around uneasily at all of the talented, beautiful young women surrounding her — Amanda Seyfried, Kristen Stewart, Rebecca Hall. Stone had been selected as one of nine actresses to watch by Vanity Fair magazine and was posing for a group cover image shot by Annie Leibovitz.
"It's like, Carey Mulligan and Anna Kendrick, and girls that have been nominated for Oscars and you know, I'm like, 'I was in " The House Bunny," hey!'" she said, laughing somewhat self-consciously. "I felt like I was kind of the black sheep, these girls were really established."
So maybe some of the films on Stone's résumé — such as " The Rocker," "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" or the silly sorority house comedy she referenced — weren't exactly awards contenders. But despite the wobbly pedigree of the projects, the 21-year-old actress has been steadily earning respect for her work — especially after her well-reviewed role in the independent film "Paper Man" opposite Jeff Daniels.
Now she has her first turn as a leading lady in the smart high school comedy "Easy A," out Friday. In it, Stone stars as a brassy teenager who mistakenly gains a reputation for sexual promiscuity and then fuels those rumors to toy with her own identity, à la "The Scarlet Letter."
The "Easy A" script had been a hot property, landing on the 2008 Black List — the industry's annual ranking of the best screenplays on the market. So when Stone heard the script had been optioned by Screen Gems, she immediately tried to elbow her way into a meeting with director Will Gluck.
"I pushed pretty hard to be the first audition," she said. "I was like, 'Please? Can I just go?' …It's such a great part. And it's so rare that you find that well written and that well formed of a character as a girl in a comedy."
She paused to survey the menu at the posh restaurant at the Four Seasons, where she'd been put up for a weekend while promoting the movie. ("Oh, my Beastie Boys T-shirt is just perfect here," she'd said upon being seated under an elaborate glass chandelier.) She settled upon a salad with lobster but then noticed its price.
"Oh, my God, it's like a steak. I mean, it's a $30 salad," she said in astonishment. "I'm getting a $30 salad. Let's also just get some Cristal and some caviar."
Stone, it's clear, still views herself as a bit of a Hollywood outsider — interesting given that she's been prepared to work in films since she was 14, when she showed her parents a full-scale PowerPoint presentation detailing her desire to leave Arizona and become an actress.
Now on her way to fulfilling the kind of promise that Lindsay Lohan once showed, Stone said she clearly felt the weight of carrying a film for the first time and knows it's what many moviegoers will judge her by. "I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself. I went a little cuckoo," she admitted. "I had trouble sleeping. I assume I could compare it to taking finals in a really tough class that you need to get a good grade on."
Nowadays, Stone's plate is full — she's in the middle of shooting a DreamWorks movie based on the bestselling book "The Help" and recently wrapped "Crazy, Stupid, Love," a romantic comedy with Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Julianne Moore.
Worrying that she's doing her best, she said, is of more concern to her than being branded as an up-and-coming starlet. "I'm just trying to wake up each day and go to work," she said, shrugging. "I can't think about that stuff, because next week, it's just gonna be a different girl that has all that momentum."