Future Scream Queens star Emma Roberts is determined not be type-casted by the Hollywood robots. Here’s how staying independently minded and project-diverse wins through.
Taken from the 10th Birthday Issue of Wonderland.
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Emma Roberts has been busy. Since starring as my personal teen hero Addie Singer in the Nickelodeon series Unfabulous, she’s run amok at an English boarding school in Wildchild, lent her voice to Family Guy, explored coming of age in Gia Coppola’s beautiful film Palo Alto and is now filming the first season of Ryan Murphy’s chilling dark comedy Scream Queens. Murphy, who’s behind genius TV shows American Horror Story and Glee, called on Roberts to play Chanel Oberlin, the semi-sociopathic president of a sorority on a campus headed up by Jamie Lee Curtis. The cast also includes Lea Michelle, Abigail Breslin, Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas to name a few (well, more than a few) and the trailer is equal parts hilarious, horrifying and spine-tinglingly dark. “It’s kind of my dream show,” laughs Roberts. “It’s a little bit Heathers and a little bit Halloween, two of my favourite movies. I loved Drop Dead Gorgeous and Jawbreaker when I was younger too, so to be on a show that has a similar dynamic of the popular girls and the misfits interacting with each other and unraveling is really fun.” Clearly Roberts has got her references on lock and later on she admits she’s “fascinated by Hollywood”.
Scream Queens – set largely in big empty houses in New Orleans – is far from LA, though. “It’s fun to shoot a scary show in one of the scariest places in America,” Roberts tells me. “New Orleans has quite a spooky energy to it and we do a lot of night shoots. When you have 10 people on set who are all really good friends, there are a lot of laughs and a bit of terror.” The opportunity to play a role like Chanel was clearly a no-brainer for her. “It’s so fun to go to work every day and put on these amazing outfits and say these hilarious and wildly inappropriate monologues – I’ve always been drawn to characters like that.” I wonder if she feels liberated by the opportunity to play a young woman who doesn’t conform to your typical whimsical love interest. “There aren’t a lot of roles for younger women that are written the way Chanel is and actually all the girls on the show are. It’s really cool that we’re getting the opportunity to kick some ass and show that girls can be funny and cool and strong. And we can do it all in heels.”
For such a young actress, Roberts – niece of Pretty Woman babe, Julia – has thrown herself into a range of challenging roles. In Palo Alto and Adult World, which she starred in as a young poet alongside John Cusack, Roberts demonstrated a keen interest in the intricacies of adolescent life.“The older I get, the more I look back on being a teenager as such a fascinating time in my life,” she explains. “I remember it was really hard not feeling like an adult and not feeling like a kid and you see that in the characters of those movies which are both very special to me. I was 21 when I filmed Palo Alto but I was playing 17 and I feel like if I really had been 17 I wouldn’t have been able to do it – having already lived through those years, I could draw from them.”
For Roberts, the pressure you face in your teenage years, especially as a girl, must have been intensified massively by being in the public eye from such a young age. I wonder if she ever wished for an escape. “The hardest part is the lack of privacy,” she agrees. “It’s really difficult, but I’ve been used to it for so long that I don’t know what it would be like any other way. I’m also really glad things like Twitter and Instagram weren’t as intrusive when I was 14 or 15 as they are now.” That pressure to show your best side is something we can pretty much all identify with, and it seems like there’s a new wave of young celebrities who are determined to disrupt precisely that intrusive, superficial image culture.
Her keen interest in inclusivity and self-confidence inspired Roberts to become the face of lingerie brand Aerie, who ran un-retouched portraits of her for their campaign earlier this year. “I heard the concept and was immediately like ‘Yes, I would love to do that.’” Roberts explains of the collaboration, “with social media, everybody puts their best face forward and you never really know what’s real and what’s not. I thought it would be nice to do something natural and show people Emma instead of Emma Roberts.” It’s one of many challenges she’s setting herself both personally and publicly, and you can tell she’s enjoying the freedom that comes along with that risk. “People see me on the red carpet or in a movie and obviously that’s not what I look like every day. People can have such unrealistic views of people in Hollywood. They don’t realise we’re just like everybody else.”
Well, maybe not exactly like everybody else. Not everybody gets to snog James Franco (for artistic purposes of course), or dress up in top-to-toe designer clothes for work. “I feel so lucky to have a job where I get to dress up and be paid for it. On the Scream Queens set, we all stand in the wardrobe in the morning checking the tags on each others’ clothes like, ‘OK, love that, love this, keeping, buying, keeping, buying’.
“Today I fell in love with this gorgeous purple Ralph Lauren jacket,” she continues. “They actually gave it to me and I’m shocked! It’s now my most prized possession. It’s 90 degrees outside and I want to wear it to dinner, I’m going to wear it around the house with nothing underneath.” Between the delicious freebies and red carpets, it would have been easy enough for Emma Roberts to slip into the role of detached celebrity actor and never look back. Evidently though, she’s much too in thrall to the weirdness of Hollywood to let that happen any time soon. I’ve read she’s a huge fan of Joan Didion (“I never thought being short could be a good thing until someone told me that me and Joan Didion are the same height”), and her conversation is peppered with references to movies or directors she’s inspired by. “I’d love to work with Wes Anderson, he’s so talented and I love the characters he creates for people. So that’s next on my list. I’ve realised that getting to a place where you can just work with people you love, and whose work you admire is kind of what this business is all about.”
It’s also, undeniably, about fame, which I get the feeling is something Roberts has learned to take in her stride. “You wake up some days and feel like you can rule the world, and you wake up other days and you don’t want to get out of bed”. Clearly we can all relate, except when I can’t get out of bed I just lie to everyone and actually don’t. Roberts, on the other hand, can’t exactly call her director and tell them the water pipe burst in her kitchen.“It’s about knowing how to keep yourself going. When I go to work feeling down, I just breathe through the day and know that tomorrow will be better.” Not all her advice is quite so zen though (thankfully). “Coffee makes me very happy which sounds really stupid,” she laughs. “If I can get my hands on an iced coffee, my day is turned around. Sometimes I’m up to four a day.”
For now, it doesn’t sound like Roberts is having many bad days, though: with a role like Chanel to throw herself into and a community of creative, driven people around her, the only way
is onwards. “Every project is a new journey,” she says, as we wrap up the interview. “And it’s been really freeing to feel more brave.” A brave, determined, young actor who’s determined to challenge Hollywood stereotypes? Well, I did say she’d been busy.
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Photography: Marlene Marino
Fashion: Danielle Emerson
Makeup: Amy Orseman
Hair: Nikki Lee using KERASTASE
Fashion assistant: Kendall Finzer
Prop stylist: Almitra Corey
Words: Bertie Brandes