Yael Stone on a year of growth: Im actively trying to be more like me

In the past 18 months the actor has become a student, a mother and a more mindful public voice

Sitting at a picnic table in the sun, Yael Stone, 34, is unrecognisable from the Betty-Bo cute character she played for seven years on Orange Is the New Black. Makeup-free with a pixie cut, she impresses as a deep thinker, intelligent and articulate.

The actor has spent the past year settling back into Australia with her partner and baby. Its been a big year: she started studying sustainability, took a seven-month social media break, and spoke out publicly against the Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush, with whom she starred in a play in 2010, after he began defamation action against News Corp. In doing so, she became the highest-profile voice in Australias troubled #MeToo movement.

After time off after the difficult birth of her daughter, Pemau, and before that seven seasons as Lorna Morello, Stone is back on the Australian stage in the title role for Sydney Theatre Companys new production, The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

The 1996 play comes from Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, who wrote, directed and produced the 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Beauty Queen focuses on the suffocating and mutually destructive relationship between an ageing mother Mag (Noni Hazlehurst) and her adult daughter Maureen (Stone) who live together in rural Ireland.

Stone describes her character as a woman who has unwittingly taken up this crazy spinster status in this small town. Shes seen as mad, completely undesirable and the town joke sort of like the witch role. Shes diabolically connected to her mother.

The role comes with a lot of darkness and difficulty and psychic violence.

I meet Stone on a rehearsal break in the backblocks of Sydneys Fox studios. Straight off the bat, she starts talking about the environment and her struggle to reconcile her beliefs with her carbon footprint.

It has proved to be a real dilemma for me and Im feeling super irresponsible as a person who has deemed it necessary to work in two fucking continents, she says.

But surely its harder to get these plum roles in Australia if you dont have an established career overseas?

Youve got to go away to come back, she says. Im right in the thick of it youve got me right where it hurts but I feel like these are the kinds of hits that I need to make. There are big personal sacrifices we can make or even daily little sacrifices we can make, around single-use plastics. But ultimately I really believe its in the hands of government legislating big corporations to make change.

I was in tears: returning to Australia, Yael Stone was deeply moved to find the theatre industry has changed for the better. Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

Scroll through Stones Instagram from the past to the present and you can see an evolution taking place.

If you look at the narrative of my social media youll see [it goes from] someone who doesnt know what theyre doing, who kind of gets sucked in to trying to be beautiful trying to be what I think Im supposed to be to [someone] realising that its all horseshit, and its unhealthy. Its a terrible, terrible tool as its being used now: the sense of comparison, the bullying, the shame, the total illusion that its based on.

Stones mission is to get from 1 million Instagram followers to zero, sort of like a reverse influencer. So she started posting videos where she is 100% authentic, asking big questions like, How can you have a creative life and parent a small baby? and How to be an Australian actor with a career in the US and what that means for my carbon footprint?

After she posts each video, she deletes the Instagram app so as not to get caught in a loop of scrolling and checking likes.

I have actively been trying in the public version of my life to really expose myself: to not wear makeup, to be boring, to talk about what keeps me up at night, to be silly in a way thats not necessarily palatable. To be more myself basically to be more like me. Thats what Im trying to do there.

After she had the baby, Stone took some time off acting to study sustainability online. She also accidentally enrolled in a physics course, which she passed. Its been a year of huge growth, she says.

Part of the growth has been painful. Stone was one of only a small handful of high-profile women in Australia to come forward with a #MeToo story. Hers was about Rush, who starred alongside Stone in Diary of a Madman for Belvoir Street theatre almost a decade ago.

When Rush filed for defamation against the Daily Telegraph, which first published allegations that he had acted inappropriately towards another actor, Eryn Jean Norvill, the newspaper attempted to get Stones allegations against the actor admitted as evidence in their defence. After the judge rejected it, but before the public knew that she was Witness X, she gave a nuanced interview to 7.30 detailing her allegations. When she was 25 and he was 59, she said, Rush had exposed himself to her backstage, sent her sexually suggestive text messages, and attempted to spy on her while she was showering. Rush has denied any inappropriate behaviour towards Stone and Norvill, and won $2.9m in damages for the Norvill story, a ruling the Telegraph is now attempting to appeal.

Going public was an extension of Stones desire for authenticity, she says.

Sharing is not always comfortable but if I can just stay really honest and really authentic then that might be powerful for somebody else, Stone told Nine in July. Certainly I think the last year has made clear that there is no other option for me … It is absolutely necessary for me to be at peace with myself and to be the kind of role model for my kid that I think she deserves.

When we speak, the actor says she cant discuss the Rush allegations but she praises Sydney Theatre Company and the new organisation Safe Theatres for creating a better space for actors.

The experience of being at STC is night and day from the last theatre experience Ive had, from any experience Ive had, because of very hard work from people like Sophie Ross and Eryn Jean Norvill [who founded Safe Theatres]. They have brought theatre companies together and talked about really difficult issues and it means induction is not just, Heres the fire exits. Its a really excellent process now.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/nov/20/yael-stone-on-a-year-of-growth-i-dont-want-to-be-anybodys-plaything-again

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