Emma Stone and Nathan Fielder Talk The Curse Show, Season Two

The Curse began with an actual curse, or at least the threat of one. When Nathan Fielder first moved from Canada to L.A. in 2009, a woman approached him on the street asking for a handout. He told her he had no money. She replied, “I curse you.” 

That anecdote, described by Fielder to pal Benny Safdie, was the seed for one of the most startling and innovative shows in recent memory. Fielder, whose spins on reality TV in shows like HBO’s The Rehearsal have earned him a devoted fan base (Christopher Nolan among them), and Safdie (who, with brother and ex-directing partner Josh, made Uncut Gems) cooked up a bitter black comedy that in part skewered HGTV programming. The duo cast themselves as childhood friends — one of them, Asher Siegel (Fielder), a nebbish, budding reality star burdened with a micropenis — making a pilot about a couple trying to create a village of eco-friendly homes in the New Mexican desert. To play Asher’s deeply insecure, social justice warrior wife, Whitney, Fielder enlisted his friend Emma Stone. (In reality, Stone is married to The Curse executive producer and former Saturday Night Live writer Dave McCary, while Fielder is in a long-term relationship with Amber Schaeffer, a segment director on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and SNL.) Stone, 35, joined the production having just wrapped filming Poor Things, the feature that would earn her a second Oscar.

Emma Stone and Nathan Fielder were photographed April 13 at Santa Fe Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Photographed by Dan Winters

If there was an Emmy category for “deeply discomfiting yet frequently hilarious series,” The Curse would fit squarely in it. But the show — which concluded Jan. 12 on Showtime and ended up being 10 one-hour episodes — has entered all categories as a drama. Anyone who has watched The Curse until its jaw-dropping finale knows there was nothing remotely light about the material at hand. (Well, nothing, that is, except Asher himself. If you’ve watched, you know.)

Fielder, 40, and Stone reconvened on April 13 in Santa Fe — just 25 miles from Española, where the action of The Curse unfolds. There, over green chile chicken enchiladas at a local eatery called Cafe Castro, they recounted to The Hollywood Reporter all the secrets of crafting a TV game-changer. 

Emma, both of your performances this year — Bella in Poor Things and Whitney in The Curse — require you to expose yourself in very vulnerable ways.

EMMA STONE Nathan is just sitting here smiling at me.

NATHAN FIELDER I agree. I agree with everything he’s saying.

Do you find yourself most attracted to those kinds of roles — ones that make it almost scary to go to work?

STONE I guess so, in a way. But the roles were also completely different ends of the spectrum, which was really nice to do within a year of each other. In Poor Things, I played the most pure, open, nonjudgmental person. And then the opposite: My Curse character is all masks and hiding and judgment and self-loathing and lack of confidence and all of that.

FIELDER Both are trying to figure out their relationship to the world around them. There’s a similarity in both characters not having located their core.

STONE Bella doesn’t care at all what anybody thinks of her, and Whitney cares more than you can possibly imagine what everybody thinks of her.

Nathan, what was it like watching Emma win the Oscar, having just worked so intimately with her?

FIELDER Oh my God. I texted her. I was like, “I’m so proud.” I texted her before she won, too. I was like, “Even if you lose, you’ll always be an Oscar winner.”

Which would have been true, since this was her second Oscar.

FIELDER Before we continue, I’d like to say something. Her name’s Emily, but she goes by Emma professionally. So when there’s people that don’t know her, I end up saying Emma. But I’m going to just say Emily from here on.

STONE You can say Emma. You can say anything.

Emma Stone was photographed April 13 at Santa Fe Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Stone styling by Petra Flannery Louis Vuitton sweater. Zegna sweater; Stone hair: Barb Thompson. Makeup: Melanie Inglessis.

Photographed by Dan Winters

Does anyone in the industry call you Emily?

STONE When I get to know them, people that I work with do. It’s just because my name was taken [by another actress in SAG]. Then I freaked out a couple of years ago. For some reason, I was like, “I can’t do it anymore. Just call me Emily.” Nathan calls me Em, which is easier.

FIELDER That’s a way of bridging it.

If some fan came up to you and said, “Can I take a selfie, Emily?” would you be like, “It’s Emma.”

STONE No. That would be so nice. I would like to be Emily.

FIELDER I’ll switch it up. I’m going to go back and forth.

And you’re always Nathan?

STONE Well, I call him Big Nate. Which is his preferred name.

FIELDER The people that are close to me, that’s what they call me. What were we saying?

Nathan Fielder was photographed April 13 at Santa Fe Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fielder styling by Katina Danabassis. Fielder grooming: Sydney Sollod

Photographed by Dan Winters

We were talking about your reaction to Emma or Emily’s Oscar win.

FIELDER Right. So I got to witness firsthand how much she puts into a performance and the way she creates a character and her dedication. Watching Poor Things, I was so blown away. I was speechless after I saw it.

STONE Oh God — I had to see you right after you watched it.

FIELDER I felt insecure afterward, because I felt like I wasn’t effusive enough.

STONE Look, Big Nate …

Stone won the best actress Oscar for Poor Things shortly after wrapping The Curse.

Rich Polk/Variety/Getty Images

Nathan, as this was your first acting role, did Emma intimidate you?

FIELDER Oh yes — I was super intimidated.

STONE No you weren’t.

FIELDER It wasn’t so much my acting as just really making sure that people could buy into that relationship and be like, “I can understand how this couple got to this place and what they might see in each other, or why they might need each other.” You could look at them and be like, “Why are they together?” But also you start to see, “Oh, they also couldn’t exist apart.”

STONE I came in as such a huge fan of Nathan and Benny, and I was panicking because I felt like I was going to feel so false. The Rehearsal hadn’t come out yet. That came out while we were shooting. And Nathan completely downplayed it. I was like, “What the fuck, man? This is what you were editing while we were shooting this?” But even before The Rehearsal, seeing Nathan for You, I was like, “He’s really able to just maintain the reality and adapt to all these real people all the time.” I was like, “I’m completely going to fuck this up because it’s going to feel so false and like I’m ‘acting’ next to him.”

Fielder in The Rehearsal, the Max series he created that lets people rehearse big moments in their real lives.

Allyson Riggs/HBO

Nathan, when you’re doing those shows with non-actors, do you find it hard not to break?

STONE I don’t understand how you don’t break all the time.

FIELDER I think when something funny happens, and you have to hold back a laugh, in my head I’m like, “Oh, this would probably be a funny moment for people to see.”

STONE I know, but the fact that you can stop yourself from laughing …

FIELDER Well, you have to remember that I have the ability to edit it out if I do laugh.

STONE Oh, that’s true. But during Nathan for You, do you laugh, with real people?

FIELDER If something funny happened, I would.

You mentioned that you knew each other before The Curse. How?

FIELDER I was friends with [former Saturday Night Live writer and The Curse executive producer] Dave McCary. When Dave and Emma met doing SNL

STONE One thing led to another.

FIELDER They became a thing. I assume intimately. They would have had to, if they have a kid. Then Benny and I had been developing The Curse, and we needed someone to play Whitney. Because I knew Emma, I knew that she’s very, very funny in person. So I was saying, “She might be perfect for this. I think she could execute this well.” I texted her, “Would you want to do this?”

STONE And I immediately said yes.

Emma Stone and Nathan Fielder were photographed April 13 at Santa Fe Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Stone styling by Petra Flannery Louis Vuitton sweater. Fielder styling by Katina Danabassis Zegna sweater; Stone hair: Barb Thompson. makeup: Melanie Inglessis. Fielder grooming: Sydney Sollod

Photographed by Dan Winters

The Curse has been classified as a drama for awards purposes. Were you thinking in terms of a straight-ahead comedy at the start?

FIELDER When I say “funny,” funny can mean a lot of things. Good stuff is all usually funny. I mean, life’s funny. Serious dramas, good dramas, are funny, because if life’s funny, and if you’re doing life, then drama should be funny.

STONE With the initial idea of the show, and the pilot script, it was definitely more overtly comedic. It was like a half-hour comedy, the way I think it was sold to Showtime. And then they were shocked to discover it was a one-hour drama, and that sort of developed as they were writing the show, and it got more and more intense as time went on. I was shocked. To me, it’s decidedly not a comedy, but that wasn’t what I thought going in.

FIELDER As you develop something, a tone emerges, and that sort of takes control, and you have to adapt it around the tone. We wanted to have people enter the show in one mindset, and, as it evolves, you’re like, “Well, maybe this is something else.” You’re never quite sure of what you even think you’re watching.

Benny Safdie in The Curse.

Richard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

How did the executives at Showtime respond to your plans for the final episode, in which [WARNING: MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD] the laws of gravity cease to exist and Asher is sucked into outer space?

FIELDER They were like, “That’s crazy.” But that was in the pitch, and they bought the show knowing that.

Was it very expensive to shoot that final sequence?

FIELDER I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’m sure it was the most expensive part of the show.

STONE Certainly, we shot that episode the longest, by far. The stunts were out of control. It was the most intense stunts I’ve ever done. Should we explain how we did it, or no?

FIELDER You can’t tell that, for a lot of it, Emma is actually on the ceiling, strapped to it.

STONE I’m upside down.

FIELDER And it drags her head back. They were saying she can’t be up there for more than a minute, or she’ll get spine issues.

STONE And our stunt guy was like, “We can’t let Nathan stay up there for more than four minutes because the blood is rushing to his head so much that he’s going to pass out.” But you were there for seven minutes at a time. You were purple. It was so incredible.

FIELDER One of the best things was when Benny said that Christopher Nolan texted him and was like, “How did you guys do that?”

I’m sure you’re often asked why you chose to end it that way?

FIELDER Benny and I really want to make stuff that people can engage with. There’s the type of TV where you can sit on the couch and be on your phone half the time, which is fine. I watch that TV, too. But we wanted to try to make something where you have to engage with it to understand it and you’re feeling things when you’re watching it. It’s hard to talk about, too, because it’s a show where a story could potentially continue, so I don’t want to go fully into it.

So there could be another season?

FIELDER Well, right now we’re all doing other things. But I think —

STONE There could be.

FIELDER There definitely could be. From the start, we had it mapped out beyond the first season.

With Asher involved?

FIELDER I don’t want to spoil it.

Fielder and Stone in The Curse

Richard Foreman Jr./A24/Paramount+ with SHOWTIME

Reactions to the show are like a Rorschach test. I’ve seen alt-right people say, “Finally, a show for us.”

FIELDER Why are you on those threads?

STONE What were you doing on there, man?

Maybe you have made something just complex enough where no one’s quite guilty and no one’s off the hook.

FIELDER I really do hope when I make something that everyone can engage with it and enjoy it. I would hate if someone watching my stuff would be like — because of the area of satire or the subject matter — “Oh, this isn’t for me, because it’s speaking to a certain group.” It’s hard to break people down into distinct categories.

Yet the media does it all the time.

FIELDER Yes, exactly. I fall into it. People do it. People make judgments about people when they meet them. It’s how people tend to analyze the world. They need to understand who people are, what their motives are, what they’re trying to do.

STONE To feel safe.

FIELDER To feel safe. So we intentionally included extra information in every episode that would only complicate things. We wanted the viewers’ judgment to evolve every episode. It’s so hard to talk about stuff like this.

You don’t do a lot of press. Is this the reason? You hate talking about the work — you just like doing the work and putting it out there?


STONE Isn’t it so much better when the thing speaks for itself?

FIELDER I think, honestly, if I could convey things really well just with words, or go into a room and tell a story, and everyone is circling around and applauding me, I probably wouldn’t end up doing this type of thing. Because I would do some sort of job where you could do that. Because that’s so much easier.

STONE You’d be a politician.

FIELDER Maybe, actually.

Emma Stone was photographed April 13 at Santa Fe Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Stone styling by Petra Flannery Louis Vuitton sweater. Zegna sweater; Stone hair: Barb Thompson. Makeup: Melanie Inglessis.

Photographed by Dan Winters

You guys were promoting the show on Jimmy Kimmel last November. You kept referring to this New York Times review that praised Emma’s “laser-precise performance” and went on to call Nathan a “limited, stiff actor,” which I assume was a real review?

FIELDER Yeah, yeah.

Did it really hurt your feelings?

FIELDER No, no. It was actually such a funny paragraph, the way they talked about Emma first —

STONE You kind of loved it. You sent that to me.

FIELDER I sent it to her right away. I thought it was very funny because it was just glowing — then wasn’t. But then if you read a bit more, it was actually a very positive review about the show, and he did say nice things about my performance, but I thought that was such a funny paragraph. And it’s always fun to do a bit. You take a swing with things. You want to try for something entertaining when you do a talk show.

STONE Sounds like it didn’t work.

No, it was funny! I’d just never seen Nathan do a character like that. It was Nathan pretending to be a different, “cooler” version of Nathan.

FIELDER It’s very funny to me that someone would try to prove that they were a better actor by pretending to be different in real life. I did think later, “If we did this a little differently, it could have been a little funnier.” But this is just me analyzing my own stuff. It was a very last-minute thing. My parents really liked it.

Emma, did Kimmel really upset you at the Oscars, or was that taken out of context?

STONE Did he upset me?

There’s a thing that went around the internet: After he said, “That’s all we could show from Poor Things,” you said something to your husband. Some people thought you called Kimmel a prick.

STONE No! I didn’t call him a prick.

FIELDER What? I didn’t know anything about this.

STONE What did I say? I didn’t call him a prick. I wasn’t upset with him at all. I’ll have to look that up.

FIELDER I will just say this about Emily —

STONE Blunt.

FIELDER Yes. No. Emily Stone. It is incredible: Emily’s always down for a joke.

STONE I’m near-unoffendable.

FIELDER Yes. Near-unoffendable. And this is something that you would think someone who’s making work at her level —

STONE Second-grade level.

FIELDER — would be like, “Do I want to put myself in this situation? Do I want to do this?” But if she hears something funny, she’s like, “Yes,” right away. She doesn’t consult. She doesn’t analyze. She knows what makes sense to her. I get in my head about things, I’m overanalyzing things. And she will very confidently say, “Yeah, that sounds funny. Let’s do it.”

Nathan Fielder was photographed April 13 at Santa Fe Studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fielder styling by Katina Danabassis. Fielder grooming: Sydney Sollod

Photographed by Dan Winters

Nathan, what if people start approaching you with more serious acting roles — other directors, other writers? Would you do them?

STONE Oh, that’s a good question.

FIELDER Yeah. If I have the time and it made sense and I thought I could do it. My biggest fear would be just letting someone down. I think it would be interesting to do something where I wasn’t also doing the directing and writing, and you could just fully focus on that. Because I felt like I had to put that other stuff aside to get to some of those places. To just be, “I need to think about this just as a performer.” But I don’t know.

Emma, how do you decide what to do? Because I assume you could do anything you want right now.

STONE Gut instinct is the only way I’ve really ever decided anything with work. At the beginning, you’re trying to just work as an actor, and so you take jobs and things. Now I’m just drawn to something. It’s an impossible thing to describe. I just want to do it. And then once I want to do something, I can’t think about anything else. So there’s no real rhyme or reason to it.

Do you think your partnership with The Favourite and Poor Things director Yorgos Lanthimos will go on for the rest of your lives?

STONE I obviously love working with him. Yorgos and I met each other and we didn’t make The Favourite for two years after we had met. Ari [Aster, currently directing her in his upcoming Western, Eddington], I’ve now known for about three years, just as a friend. And Nathan and I were friends before we worked together. There is something about knowing the person outside of the work they make and thinking, “I like this person’s mind. I like the way that they are. I know that I can trust them and feel comfortable around them.”

I think we covered a lot of ground here, unless there’s something else you want to say?

FIELDER Actually, I wanted to make a statement about my politics.

STONE Make a declaration. You should announce your candidacy.

This story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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