Emma Roberts, Hollywood Rose
“Story of my life, always on my way to the airport,” Emma Roberts laughs when I call her for our scheduled interview. The day after her photoshoot, she’s already in a taxi headed towards JFK to catch a flight back to New Orleans to film American Horror Story. It may sound like typical celebrity banter, but upon a closer look through Roberts’ body of work to date, it quickly becomes clear that there isn’t a hint of hyperbole in her remark. The young starlet, just 23 years old, has lived the nonstop nomadic life of an actor since she landed her first role as Johnny Depp’s daughter in Blow at the age of nine. At the time best known for her famous lineage—the daughter of Eric Roberts and niece of Julia Roberts—but from that moment on, she began starring in a string of hugely popular films and TV shows that have established a fan following uniquely her own. As a child star on the hit Nickelodeon TV show Unfabulous, she could have easily followed in Hannah Montana’s footsteps; she even released an album that landed on the U.S. Billboard Top Heatseekers chart. But Roberts chose to stick with her passion for acting, eschewing multi-disciplined pop culture domination in favor of honing her craft. The dedication paid off. She found herself booking increasingly dark, difficult, and decidedly adult roles. She also found the opportunity to work alongside some of the industry’s best. Robert’s latest film, Palo Alto, garnered laudations for her exceptional performance and insouciant brand of movie star cool. She’s beginning to find her voice, choosing roles with intelligence and discretion, and laying greater plans for the course of her career ahead—all on her own terms.
How did you get started acting?
Since I can remember being asked that question in school, What do you want to be when you grow up? I always just wanted to be an actor. I was obsessed with Nickelodeon, you know All That, all those kinds of shows. Actually, the reason I wanted to be an actor was to be in a Pop-Tart commercial, because apparently that was the coolest thing when I was 7. It really propelled me to audition. I went on my first audition ever for the movie Blow and I ended up getting the part. I don’t know, I just worked really hard and I think it was more determination than anything. Once I started getting roles, my mom couldn’t really say no. She supported me and let me keep doing it.
Do the Pop-Tart people know about your obsession with them?
I don’t think so, but I still remember those commercials so vividly. It was kids in the coolest kid room you’ve ever seen, and they would dance around and go up on the walls. I think it was also that I wasn’t allowed to eat Pop-Tarts because my mom said they were unhealthy and I think I romanticized them. And of course, when I got my first apartment I bought strawberry Pop-Tarts.
You’ve spent most of your young adult life on TV and film sets. What was that like? Did you ever find it unusual?
I never thought it was weird until I hit my 20s, then I look back on it and I’m like, That’s crazy. It was definitely a different kind of upbringing, but it was amazing. I got to travel all over, I got to make so many amazing friends and have all of these experiences I wouldn’t have gotten to have. But yeah, I always think it’s funny, like I had my first kiss on TV before I ever did in real life.
Who was your first TV kiss with?
His name was Raja and he played Jake Behari on my TV show Unfabulous. He was the cutest. I feel like I had so many of my firsts on TV and in movies before I did in real life—all of them actually. They were fake before they were real, which I think gave me an unrealistic view of how they should be.
Do you ever feel like you missed out on anything? Or do you regret anything about growing up that way?
No, I mean, when I was 19 or 20 I went to college at Sarah Lawrence. I was enrolled for about a month, and I remember being there and I loved it and had such an amazing experience. But I just kept having a deep pull towards work. I wanted to be a person that could be in college and be happy, be there for four years and be fine with it, but I have to work. This is my passion, this is what I want to do. I definitely learned a lot about myself being there, and it was a good thing. It really solidified what I wanted to do, which is a good feeling to have because I did feel like I missed out. When I started experiencing all of these things that I supposedly missed out on, I realized that they weren’t really for me anyway.
How do you feel you’ve grown as an actress?
It’s funny, when you’re younger, you just go on auditions based on your age. When I got older I realized I could audition for things based on my taste and that was an amazing feeling. All of a sudden, I was playing my age and it didn’t feel like a transition. It was an abrupt in-your-face thing. I feel really lucky that I got to make that transition. And still I don’t really base things on age; like Palo Alto, my age was 15 or 16. I just loved the character and fell in love with Gia Coppola. Then, in American Horror Story, I was playing 21 and now in the same show I’m playing 19. To me it’s really about the character. Age doesn’t matter. I’m eternally a teenager at heart anyway, so it works. “Teenage Dream” is my all time favorite song by Katy Perry. I think it’s the truest song ever written. [laughs]
Did you ever find it difficult to transition from such a popular teen comedy to more dark and serious roles?
I think it’s easy to transition from teen to adult in movies, I think it’s harder in real life. Someone asked me how old I was the other day and I was literally like, Oh I’m 19. And then I was like, Wait, I just lied I’m 23. I don’t know why I said that, sorry. He just looked at me like I was crazy. I forgot that I wasn’t 19, it was so weird. Now I know what they say, how life really speeds up at a certain point.
Is there anything as an actress that you still feel like you need to improve upon?
For me, my future goals are more to work with people that I love and admire. Gia Coppola’s a perfect example, I really just adore her as a person. I saw some of her photographs and the work she did, and I went after her. I’d love to do another movie with Gia, that’s what I’ve been texting with her about recently. Same with Ryan Murphy, I think he is just a genius and he was someone that I wanted to work with for forever, so I really hunted him down. I think in the future my dream is to work with Wes Anderson, I love the way he tells stories.
I also think working with people who you admire helps you grow as an artist because you want to reach their level, or make them proud.
American Horror Story and Palo Alto are perfect examples. The stuff I did in those projects are things I never would have done had I not really trusted the people that I was working with. I think that’s something that’s really important that I didn’t know when I was younger, and it’s something that now I really look for when I’m reading for projects or talking to people about working together.
What was it like joining the cast and working on AHS? I read somewhere that Kathy Bates said the show changed her as a person. Can you identify with that feeling?
I love Kathy Bates, and yeah, the show is very special. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done. To get to work with that caliber of actors is insane; I look up to Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett so much. We’re shooting in New Orleans, which I think really changed the dynamic. When you’re in L.A., you go to work and then you go home and you don’t really bond. Putting us all in New Orleans made us so much closer and made us depend on each other more. It created a little world down there for us, which I love. Last year, I was crying at the last episode.
How do you choose the projects you work on? How do you know when something will be the right fit for you?
I’m one of those people where I annoy my agent sometimes because I don’t like a project. And they’re like, “Emma, you read ten pages.” But if I don’t like it by ten pages in, why would I want to do it? I’m one of those people—I know when I know. I think because I love to read and I’ve read so many books, if I’m not hooked right away, I can’t go on.
Are there any types of roles or characters that you still want to play?
I definitely want to do more comedy, I had such a great time doing We’re the Millers. I love the kind of movies Jennifer Aniston does, or Cameron Diaz. I’ve never really gotten to do those and I think it would be so fun. I’m also pretty in love with Kristen Wiig. I hope to work with her one day or even be in something that she writes because I just think she’s a comic genius. I’ve seen Bridesmaids five million times and I just saw The Skeleton Twins twice. I love it.
What hobbies do you have outside of your career? What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t acting?
I love to read. I love to go to the movies. I’m getting into crafts, I love to make bracelets with my friends and paint and rip stuff out of magazines. It’s the camp arts and crafts girl in me. I went to all-girls summer camp for six years and I miss it still. I feel like I’m always working so much and lose touch with my friends and family because I don’t get to see them, and texting gets tiring after awhile. You just want to see the person. So I like to spend time with everyone and just relax.
Is that ever hard, being away from all your friends and family so often?
It’s really hard because the phone and texting are not the same as getting to hang out. I definitely get homesick, sometimes I’ll just fly home for 24 hours because it’s worth it to just go to your favorite restaurant and be with your girlfriends. Sometimes I’ll just do that even though it’s so crazy.
What is your WILD Wish?
Oh no! This is too much pressure. A WILD Wish is too much pressure. Oh my god. My WILD Wish would be for cell phones to stop working for like a month so that people actually have to bond and they couldn’t hide behind their phones. Next there’s going to be Wi-Fi in all the yoga studios. It’s getting out of control.
Stylist: Julian Jesus
Hair Stylist: Ryan Trygstad @ Starworks
Makeup Artist: Hung Vanngo @ The Wall Group
Nail Artist: Michina Koide @ Art Department
Stylist’s Assistant: Robert LiaBraaten