The Very Fabulous Emma Roberts

Features // Peter Davis // August/September 2010
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FindCream_Emma Roberts_Thomas Whiteside

FindCream_Emma Roberts2_Thomas Whiteside

When you’re EMMA ROBERTS, life is full of reality-check moments. Flipping through a magazine not long ago, the nineteen-year-old actor happened upon a LancÔme ad. There was her Aunt Julia, staring her in the face. “It made me stop and think,” she recounts. “You go, ‘Oh yeah. You’re not Aunt Julia to everyone. You’re Julia Roberts. That’s crazy.’”

THINGS HAVE MOVED AT A LIGHTNING PACE for Roberts ever since landing her first movie role at age nine, as Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz’s daughter in the cocaine-smuggling epic Blow. At twelve she was tapped to be the series lead on Nickelodeon’s Unfabulous and became an overnight tween sensation. At fifteen she tackled the role of iconic sleuth Nancy Drew. “It’s funny to look back,” she says. “You don’t think you’re in an awkward phase until you’re looking back on it and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, my hair was plastered to my head. My teeth were crooked. I had a unibrow. What was going on?’”

Don’t let Roberts fool you. Even during her tweenage years she was perfectly adorable. But this new Roberts—the grown-up version—is the kind of fabulous that Addie Singer, her Nickelodeon alter ego, would have looked on with awe.

With five movies coming out this year, 19-year-old Roberts is poised to graduate to full-fledged ingénue in 2010. These are impressive roles in major projects, and will give Roberts the chance to show the kind of range that movie star careers are made of. In Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of Nick McDonnel’s novel Twelve—a book which caused a stir when it first appeared because of its blunt portrayal of drug-addicted Manahattan-based rich kids—Roberts plays Molly, the one character who stays clean. “I’m the moral compass of the movie,” she says. “My character is the metaphor for everything that’s good, while everyone else is doing all this messed-up stuff.” In It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Roberts gets a crack at playing the opposite—a teen so troubled she cuts her own face. “It’s a comedy, but it’s really dark,” she says. “The cuts looked really real and creepy… It was something about her that was personal. It was there on her face but you never really talked about it, which was cool.” And in the indie Homework, she gets to do something different yet again, this time playing a role she describes as reminiscent of Penny Lane, the uber-mature teenage band groupie made indelible by Kate Hudson in Almost Famous. “I’ve always wanted to do a part like that,” she says. “It’s going to be a really special movie. It’s really close to my heart.”

Despite her family’s well-diagnosed case of the acting bug (her father, actor Eric Roberts, has two actor sisters: Julia Roberts and Lisa Roberts Gillian), the impetus to pursue a career in front of the camera was Roberts’ own. “Everyone tried to steer me away from acting,” she says, curled up on a velvet couch at her favorite hangout, the lobby of the Chateau Marmont. “Finally, my mom let me go on an audition for Blow to shut me up, and then I got the part. Luckily, my family has been really supportive.”

Unlike other child actors, Roberts knew what she was getting into. “It’s kind of cool to have been around it for so long, to see if I wanted to get into it. I would visit my aunt and you’d have to drag me off set. My mom would be like, ‘Emma, it’s midnight. You have to go to bed.’” One of her favorite childhood memories is visiting aunt Julia Roberts on the set of America’s Sweetheart. “I was seven and in the background of one of the scenes, which was so much fun. It was just my aunt and me. We hung out a lot. I got to meet Catherine Zeta-Jones, which I thought was the coolest.”

Until seventh grade, Roberts attended the Archer School for Girls. When Unfabulous became a full-time job, she switched to home schooling, but stayed in touch with her former Archer classmates. “I would go to football games and dances, so I wasn’t left out of the social aspect of high school. I always joke that I’ve only been to high school in a movie. I definitely had a school experience but it wasn’t typical.”

But Roberts might get a second chance at a normal school experience: she’s pondering a turn at college next fall (Sarah Lawrence and NYU are two of her top choices). She wants to study novel- and short story-writing, or psychology—“anything but acting,” she says. Today Roberts has two books tucked inside her Miu Miu bag. An avid reader, she’s devoured every one of Bret Easton Ellis’ novels and is currently finishing Jay McInerney’s Story of My Life. But her all-time favorite writer is Joan Didion. “If I could be anyone in the world for a day, I’d want to be Joan Didion,” she tells me. “I think she is the most amazing female writer of all time. She is so original. I’m reading her new book We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live and it’s all her essays in one book. It’s so thick. Play It As It Lays is my favorite book ever."

Reading feels like a welcome relaxation after a long stretch of back-to-back shoots. Her chosen pleasures, at least for now, are the simple ones. “There is nothing better than listening to a good CD, driving to Malibu on the PCH with no traffic,” she muses. “I love the beach. I love the ocean. I want to be at the beach every day this summer. That’s my goal.”

But as good as it feels to take a breath, work is never far from her thoughts. “Three weeks go by and I get antsy to work again,” she says. “So we’ll see how long this break will last. You have moments where you think, ‘I’m never going to get another movie.’ Whenever I have a freak-out moment about not working, I’ll all of a sudden get two movies in a row. I’m the kind of person where I need to be busy.”

And perhaps it’s that tireless work ethic that has the rumor mill postulating that Roberts might one day join the ranks of actress-cum-fashion designers. She’s a self-professed fashion enthusiast and avidly fires off a list of her favorite labels: Miu Miu (“for girly things”), Vince, Tsubi and Alexander Wang (“I’m so obsessed with his t-shirt collection right now. I think I have every single one”). She quickly grows animated discussing the details of a recent acquisition: “I just bought a really cool dress at this store Lady and the Sailor. It’s very Sex and the City in Paris. It’s mint green with an open back and I got metallic flats to wear with it.”

Today she dons knee-high boots, skinny jeans and a well-worn tee, plus a skull ring that was a present from ex-boyfriend (and sometimes Burberry model) Alex Pettyfer. A California girl at heart, she seems exceptionally at home here in Los Angeles. “I love the mix of being up in the hills like you’re in the middle of nowhere and then being down by the beach,” she says. “There are so many different areas in LA that you get the best of everything. You live somewhere long enough and you have your favorite spots. I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to New York, but I have my spots here and it’s hard to give up your spots.”

As much as she’s enjoying some local leisure, it might be short-lived. It’s just been reported that Roberts is joining the cast of Scream 4, a franchise that has boosted the careers of many a notable before her. But Roberts doesn’t want to be compared to other actors. “I’m lucky I haven’t been pigeonholed into anything,” she says. “I just want to do my own thing. I’m not trying to be the next anything. I’m just trying to be myself.”

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