Emma Stone has never looked back since moving from Phoenix, Arizona, to Los Angeles at age 15 to pursue her acting dream. But although roles in films such as Easy A, Zombieland, The Help, and, biggest of all, The Amazing Spider-Man, have made her hot in Hollywood, the young star's rise was no sure thing.
Now the voice of a feisty cave girl, Eep, in DreamWorks' spectacular, fast-paced animated adventure The Croods, Stone says her career got off to a slow start - before it exploded.
For three years, she languished in "little guest parts" on TV shows as she paid her dues. Her ambitions were thwarted repeatedly but Stone didn't become bitter.
"Everyone," the willowy, husky-voiced blonde tells me during media duties for The Croods at the Berlin Film Festival, "unless you're super-lucky, can relate to going and going and going, and hearing 'No', again and again and again."
She remembers her audition for the sci-fi show Heroes as a particularly low point.
"I could hear them through the wall telling Hayden Panettiere 'you got the part - you're the best' and then I went in right after her," she says as she describes her anger and frustration.
"I was like, 'Is it always going to be no, no, no? Is it never going to be the time?'"
In fact, Stone's breakthrough was just around the corner. Two weeks later she won a role in the Judd Apatow comedy Superbad and her life suddenly changed.
"That was my first movie and has led to everything."
Today she is philosophical about the parts that got away.
"You have to believe, as an actor, that if you didn't get a certain role you really wanted and it went to someone else it was because it was theirs to begin with. It's just like a relationship," she muses.
"If you don't end up with that person you felt was the love of your life and they fell in love with someone else, they weren't yours and it wasn't meant to be."
The comparison could prove prophetic. A few weeks after our interview, a bizarre anagrammatic tweet apparently sent by Stone (then quickly deleted), sparked online speculation about the health of her relationship with her The Amazing Spider-Man 2 co-star, Andrew Garfield.
Although she has subsequently said her Twitter account was hacked, on the day Stone is tight-lipped about her private life, having made it clear that it is not for public consumption. A publicist sits in the room ready to interject if the subject comes up.
She may have missed three years of high school while building her career - "I do not condone it for children reading this. Or teenagers" - but she is bright, sharp and, quite clearly, nobody's fool. The 24-year-old is also highly motivated, proof being the PowerPoint demonstration that she delivered to her parents as a starry-eyed teenager to convince them why it would be good for them to move to LA.
Unlike Eep's fearful, overprotective father, Grug (Nicolas Cage), who tries to stop his daughter exploring the world, Stone's dad agreed right away. She was surprised at the time but now thinks the self-made businessman saw himself in her.
"I had been doing a lot of youth theatre and I think he thought 'This is what she's going to do. This is what she wants to do'. So he instantly believed in it. I was very lucky because my parents didn't really see me as an extension of themselves, they saw me as an individual."
Although it looked like the dream might turn sour, Stone never considered giving up. I ask if she felt that she couldn't entertain the thought because she had been the one who'd made the move happen.
"Yes, there was probably an element of, 'I can't, I did this'," she concedes. "But thank God, because it also made me have to answer for myself, and that is something that is hugely vital to any life, and any career.
"And this aspect of it makes me really have to be solid in what my choices are because I have to talk about my choices and why I am making my choices. People can see them from the outside which is a little weird."
Even so, Stone tries not to think too much about what other people think of her, or let their opinions define her. She doesn't need to. "I'm my own worst critic," she groans.
Her choices hardly need defending. She now has the luxury of being able to choose what she does. But while "it's a great, lucky, insanely wonderful and incredible position to be in as an actor to say yes or no based on what feels right in your soul, and not on paying rent any more, it is overwhelming," admits Stone.
When she thinks about how she reached this point "for too long, which I sometimes let myself do, it really screws with my head". A realist, she knows that the life of an actress ebbs and flows and that fame can disappear as quickly as it appeared. She is in demand today but tomorrow could be a different story.
"So I'm trying to remain unattached to whatever position I am in externally, in the world, at whatever given time," says Stone. "As long as I'm on the right path internally, I could be doing dinner theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, and as long as I feel good about my relationship with my family and friends and who I am, I'm all right."