I know how it looks, but cross my heart, there was no place else for me to sit.
[...] And so we got into other things. Mostly related to the California she grew up in, a few years later and two hours south of the California I grew up in. Her voice—"totally," "oh, fer sure," "chillest," "trip me out," "gnarly," "duh!"—was low and easy, coming at half-speed playback, sorta like a Laguna Beach character before she joined The Hills.
But then: "Have you seen Blue Jasmine yet? Most people I know hated it, but I loved it. I feel like, in Cate, he finally found the right vessel for his neuroses." And: "Let me tell you why The Corrections is a better book than Freedom." And: "I'm trying out a bunch of Bolaño. I always feel weird reading stuff that I know has been translated, but it seems to flow pretty well, pretty authentically."
Was it unfair to expect otherwise? Oh, probably. Psychologists call that False Assumptions About Women You've Seen Super-Naked Before You Talk to Them in Person. By the time I found myself lying about having read some recent New Yorker short story she liked, whatever surprise I experienced at the outset had faded.
* * *
The small house she grew up in is on a hill across from the ocean, all salt-eaten siding and half-size rooms, probably 900 square feet if you don't count the converted shed out back she moved into when she turned 15. "Until then, I shared a wall with my parents," she says. "Which would've been okay if my dad hadn't ripped the ceiling out to expose the beams." The walls still cut off at eight feet and give the house the feeling of a diorama. "So I spent a lot of time with headphones on. They knew I was getting a text even when my phone was on silent, because it'd light up the house."
* * *
Emily enrolled at UCLA with plans to paint—and to pay for her tuition with modeling checks. Her roommates were five blondes bent on joining sororities. "The day we moved in," she says, "one of them asked, 'Oh, are you rushing?' And my dad said, 'Um, no, we're Polish.' "
She didn't love her program, and as the modeling opportunities kept coming, she spent more and more time away from the classroom. "I wouldn't say it was for a shoot, but I'd be like, 'Later! Going to Puerto Rico for a week,' " she recalls. "My professors hated me." She dropped out after a year, rented an apartment in downtown L.A., and strung together the sorts of jobs you can only call stepping-stones once you know the destination is a Fincher movie. Sauce-heavy Carl's Jr. ads. Top- and bottomless black-and-whites for L.A. "art" mags. In January 2013, she got a call about a music video.
"I didn't want to do it at first, but I talked to the director and I understood what it was," she says. I ask if she even likes the song. "I do like it. But if there's one thing I'd request, it's for people who see me out to not be, like, You're the hottest bitch in this place. When it comes on in a bar, I run into the bathroom and hide."
Last September she heard from a casting director for Gone Girl, David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's best-selling thriller. "I was talking with Ben [Affleck], and what I wanted for the Andie role was someone who could be incredibly divisive among men and women in the audience," Fincher says. Andie is the writing student and mistress of Affleck's character, Nick, who calls her "an alien fuck-doll of a girl...as different from my elegant, patrician wife as could be."
Fincher continues, "We needed somebody where, at the moment she appears, the women are going, 'That is unconscionable and despicable.' And you also have the men going, 'Yes, but...' And so Ben said, 'Yeah, like the girl in the "Blurred Lines" video.' " Let it be noted that Affleck handpicked the woman with whom he'd endure Fincher's "several dozen takes" of make-out sessions. "She was just incredibly mature," Fincher says. "She wasn't smitten with being the girl of the moment. She's no bullshit. If somebody's gonna ruin their life on a 21-year-old, they have to be special, and she was."
The casting opened up all sorts of lines. Good enough for Fincher means good enough for, say, the upcoming Entourage movie. "That show's always been so funny to me," she says. "I'm playing myself, and they've got me in an Aston Martin. I drive a Nissan Versa and would never spend real money on a car, because I destroy things. So there's this weird version of yourself. Hollywood fetishizing you and itself—this box within a box. There is winter in L.A., there is rain in L.A. But there is no rain on Entourage." After wrapping up at the house, we drive down to the water and through Encinitas—the last of the beach towns, she calls it, "even though there's a Whole Foods on 101 now." Couples pedal beach cruisers from one margarita to the next; hot rods run the main drag. A "self-realization center," where Emily's dad used to pick up babes back in his bachelor days, cuts a figure like a Vegas Taj Mahal on the southern edge of town.
We head to the beach—the "secret, un-touristy, un-douche beach" called Stonesteps. There are in fact stone steps, hundreds of them, in a sort of Escher zag up the cliffside. Guys charging up and down steal glimpses of the slinky cotton dress Emily's black moto jacket struggles to conceal. We sit at the top with a killer panorama of the water, and I ask her what a photographer might say about why her pictures work. "I think it was Mario Testino who said when you look at a photo of Kate Moss, you feel like you're looking at a real person. And that's something that I hope would come through in my photos, maybe more than what you would see in another model."
I like Emily a lot, which is probably why I don't call her on this line at the time, but her real-personhood is not what makes her a model worth shooting. It is, though, what might make her a former model, if things work out—poly-famous, with acting credits, nice pictures, and a textured personality. To that last point, one cool thing about Emily is that she is a wildly thoughtful reader with catholic interests. In conversation, she's always dipping into something about David Mitchell, Lorrie Moore, George Saunders, Denis Johnson, Rebecca Lee, Wells Tower ("I think Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned might be a perfect book"), and the pleasing, intuitive layout of the McNally Jackson bookstore in New York's Nolita neighborhood.
I tell her that something she said earlier is a "cred" opinion among book snobs. "Oh yeah? That's cool, I guess. Also a little obnoxious that there's something you're 'supposed' to think." I'm more into this response than even her cred opinions about David Mitchell. Later, a female friend calls me out for being so in the tank: "Don't you think that she was just playing you with that shit?" I defend Emily until I sound inarguably played but then recognize that it'd be even cooler if she spent her time manipulatively reading.
* * *
Emily is newly single. "Generally, I just think there is a real lacking in men knowing how to hit on women. I have this whole running joke with someone: What Would Denzel Do? Like, you don't think about how many days you should wait to call the girl—you just do it when you want. Fuckin' Denzel. You do what you want, you know what you want."
On an obstinately cold spring night in New York City, we head to a bar in the East Village. Emily's buttoned up and tucked in a corner, so she doesn't draw much attention. She's a double-digit exponent of good-lookingness, but shorter than you'd expect—doesn't eat up a door frame the way Gisele probably does. We cover some new stuff.
Artist scandals: "With R. Kelly, he actually makes work about fucking underage girls. Everyone else, separate the fucking work from the artist." Presidential scandals: "What would happen if Obama had an affair like Clinton's? 'Cause I feel like he has, like, a sexy quality to him that a lot of presidents don't." The decline of Europe: "I've spent so much time there, and I love it, but I feel like it's such an insignificant part of the world now. The population's decreasing; it's doing the same thing it's been doing for a long time. Economically, it's fucked."
I ask her what she'd be doing if she weren't tied up with our interview. Probably karaoke and then this favorite place of hers, Paul's Baby Grand. It's like a rough draft of an SNL Stefon sketch. Topiary maze. Lawn jockeys. Tiny South Asian servers in matching white jackets and bow ties. The owner, Paul Sevigny, describes his "dream customer" as "a 75-year-old gay black European."
"Bars are bad," Emily says, meaning it's been tough for her to go out recently. "Generally, people don't want to be embarrassing. But when there's alcohol involved and group mentality, it can be a little weird. Guys will say, 'You know who you look like...,' and then word spreads. Or guys do this thing where they go, 'I would love to take a picture of you for my friend.' And then they get out their phone and their hand's shaking, and I'm like, 'You're taking this for your friend? I thought you didn't care.' "
France, she says, is especially rough: "I don't know what it is, but French men love me. The crowds are terrifying. We went out one night a couple of months ago to Le Titty Twister, and there was a crowd situation."
It's a different complication with women. Even when she's willfully invisible, in her "worst, hungover state," she says, "they'll come up and be like, 'You're beautiful in person,' and I just find that so weird. I mean, I'm appreciative. It's just a strange thing, because I guess the ideal way to be acknowledged is if you're, like, Patti Smith: 'I love your work.' And sometimes women will say that, but it's awkward, because they're not saying that at all. What they're really saying is: I like your pictures. I really like that music video you're in."
It would be career-poisoning for Emily to suggest that she's anything but grateful for her modeling work. She's committed to it and exceedingly count-on-able. But—and this is all me, probably extrapolating too much from things that weren't said—you can also imagine a version of the story in which "the work" just gets kind of boring. Where Emily becomes an actress, sure, but maybe even a teacher or a painter, in a bungalow with the ceilings ripped out. In the moment, though, we're still talking about the short term.
"And so hopefully, at a certain point, people will be coming up to me and saying, 'I really like your acting.' Or better, 'I like whatever you had to say.'"
* * *
and a few instagram pictures just because
1 ✧ 2 ✧ 3 ✧ 4