Emma Stone, one of the most likable actors working in Hollywood, has reached a point in her career where she knows how important it is to challenge herself. It’s great wisdom for the 28-year-old star of La La Land.

She’s put herself into work that has pushed her, from her Oscar-nominated work in the uniquely shot Birdman to taking on Broadway with the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

“I understand that whether you have success or fail, if you put your whole heart into the project, it is always rewarding to do it that way,” Stone says.

All of the demanding jobs helped Stone prepare for the singing/dancing/acting demands of La La Land. Stone plays Mia, a young woman with dreams of stardom who faces the tough realities of show business. She shares that dream with Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician who wants to open a nightclub.

They sing and dance their way under the guidance of director/writer Damien Chazelle. His film came with such demands for the cast that there was three months of prep work before going in front of cameras.

And, that wasn’t always enough.

“There were times when we were trying to balance one more than the other. We would feel like we weren’t doing enough scenes but then would have to go off to tap class,” Stone says. “With the three months of singing and dance, and Ryan with the piano, it was a luxury and special to have three months.”

In comparison, Stone had only six weeks to prepare for Cabaret.

La La Land is the third movie she’s made with Gosling (Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad being the other two). She likes working with him, saying he’s dedicated to the job and the character.

Most only know Stone from films like The Help, Easy A and The Amazing Spider-Man, but the Arizona native actually got her start in local musical theatre. She had had vocal training over the years.

Stone’s convinced that having her run on Broadway before doing La La Land helped get her ready for the demands of making the modern movie musical.

That was important for what is the showstopper musical number of La La Land. Stone belts out a tune during an audition that expresses all of the themes of the film.

“It is a very critical song because it is such a huge turning point for my character,” Stone says. “You get to hear her reveal what it is that makes her want to do what she’s doing. She talks about the aunt who inspired her. There is pain associated with that. There are elements of disillusionment. The song does have a message about what we are trying to do with the movie.”

There was one scene where she didn’t need any extra rehearsal. Early in the film, Mia goes to an audition where everyone in the lobby and on the elevator looks like a copy of her.

Stone laughs and says that scene caused her some flashbacks to her early days in Hollywood. She started going through the audition process as a teen landing small roles in Medium and Malcolm In The Middle. It was Zombieland that caught everyone’s attention.

These days she can pick the jobs that are the most challenging, such as hosting Saturday Night Live. She calls that one of her favourite things to do.

It’s all paid off. She picked up her first Golden Globe win for La La Land recently, to go with her two previous Screen Actors Guild awards. Challenges met. – The Fresno Bee/Tribune News Service/Rick Bentley