Emma Roberts may have risen to fame by starring in more family friendly fare like Nickelodeon’s Unfabulous and 2007’s Nancy Drew, but the twenty-two year old actress has effectively shed that skin with a bitchtastic turn as witch Madison Montgomery on FX’s American Horror Story: Coven. The seemingly self-involved starlet is may have met an early demise at the hands of Jessica Lange’s Fiona Goode, but Montgomery is back and bitchier than ever as she navigates her way through Ryan Murphy’s macabre witchcraft-infused world. GQ sat down with Roberts to discuss the series, Spalding sex, Madison haters, and if she’ll return for season four.
GQ: Most of your previous work was much tamer than this. Why did you decide to come back to TV now and how did you get involved with American Horror Story?
Emma Roberts: I’ve always loved TV. I love watching TV and I loved working on TV, even though it was ten years ago. I was always a fan of American Horror Story. The first season, I was literally glued to my TV every week. I had to watch it. I wouldn’t even DVR it. I had to go home and watch it live. I just fell in love with it and I kind of know Ryan [Murphy] through some family and friends, so I always running into him and I would say, “So when are you going to put me in something. I love all your shows. I love your work. You need to put me in something.” I think I just badgered him so much that he finally gave in. [Laughs] He called me up one day and said, “I have this role for you,” and he told me the role and – I’m not even kidding – I was silently screaming and jumping up and down, and then I was like, “Okay, that sounds cool,” trying to play it so cool. It was literally my dream role on my dream show and getting to work with people that I’ve been dying to work with, like Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates and Ryan Murphy. I just remember being like, “We need to say yes! Make it happen!” I needed it solidified because if it didn’t work out I was going to cry.
GQ: Is it a little terrifying as well when you get that call because you know what Ryan is going to put you through?
Emma Roberts: I was completely oblivious to it and was just like, “Yay! Yay!” and then the first script showed up and there was that rape scene and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m so excited to be on this show, but geez this is heavy right out of the gate.” Later down the line there was a sex scene with Spalding that actually got cut out and it was pretty messed up. And then the threesome thing, which they actually toned down a bit. It was more explicit on paper. So it’s been crazy, but it’s been fun. I used to be so terrified of having to do scenes like that. I came onto this show thinking, “You know what? There’s going to be stuff that’s twisted. I know there’s going to be sex, but I’m just going to go for it because I have to get over it someday.” So, yeah, I got over it. [Laughs]
GQ: Wait a second. Let’s go back to this Spalding scene. Are we talking straight up Necrophilia here?
Emma Roberts: Oh my God, yeah. So crazy. I know. When I was reading the script, I was literally squealing and my jaw dropped and I was laughing and shocked. It’s fun. I’ve never worked on something where I’m so excited to read my work for the week. Usually you’re like, “Oh, I’ll look at that stuff later,” and instead I’m like, “Deliver it to my house. You can drop it off right now.” I literally read it the second I get it.
GQ: Did Ryan tell you before you started that some people were probably going to just hate Madison?
Emma Roberts: He didn’t say it in those words, but he did say that she’s definitely a bitch. I started playing her, in my mind, as someone who doesn’t think they’re a bitch. She thinks that she’s doing everyone a favor by being honest. I think that’s how I’ve maintained some likability with her. I don’t think she thinks that she’s being rude. I think she thinks like, “I’m doing you a favor by telling you that you look ugly.” And that’s kind of what makes her fun.
GQ: I think we saw this past week, as well, that she’s really kind of broken inside. She’s hurting.
Emma Roberts: Definitely. She’s sad. There’s definitely a lot more going on and I think a lot of her bitchiness comes from the fact that she’s dealing with things like you saw in last week’s episode. She thought that she and Zoe and Kyle were going to be together. She thought that was cool and she felt betrayed. I think what you’ll see coming up on the show soon is fueled a lot by the rejection she felt from the two of them. She’s lonely. She hasn’t really found anyone that she clicks with. There are moments, though, where you see her show that she is in a sisterhood with these girls, but she’s very quick to flip it around if you don’t have her back immediately.
GQ: It seems like you’ve essentially had to play three different versions of the same character: Pre-death Madison, then right after she was resurrected, and now this current version. How do you put your head around that, as an actor?
Emma Roberts: I know. It’s kind of crazy. Luckily, it’s not like a movie where everything is shot out of order. On the show, you’re shooting everything more in the correct order so you get to go on the journey with her. We tried to switch up her wardrobe a little. When she came back to life, she wore a lot more black. We called it “Resurrection Chic” and so whenever I would get dressed in the morning I would say, “Are we doing Hervé Léger or ‘Resurrection Chic’?” So it’s now become, on set, a thing that if you die and come back to life you’re “Resurrection Chic.” [Laughs]
GQ: When Ryan told you that Madison was going to die, did he let you freak out for a while or did he tell you right away that you would be coming back?
Emma Roberts: When they asked me to be on the show, it was originally only supposed to be for a couple episodes, so I knew that I was going to die. At that time, they didn’t really know if I was going to come back or not. But then, right before we started the first episode, they told me that they were going to have me be on the whole season. So I was excited to hear that I was coming back to life. But when I died, I still got nervous and kept asking the writers, “Are you sure I’m coming back? I’ve gotten two scripts and I’m not back. Are you sure?” [Laughs]
GQ: [Laughs] You’re sitting in a box in Spalding’s room.
Emma Roberts: Yeah, and by the way, that scene that was about five seconds on the show took me about four hours in hair and makeup to look like that. [Laughs] The most not-fun part of that was that I had to lay down with my arm crunched under my back. I had to lie there like that and we put the fake arm up the sleeve of my dress.
GQ: Have you seen some of the horrid things people online have said about Madison (and Queenie)? Do you follow that stuff?
Emma Roberts: That rape stuff about Madison and the horrible stuff about Queenie just made me sick. I understand commenting about things and if you don’t like something you’re entitled to that, but people are so hateful some times in such a horrible way. I just have no respect for anyone that speaks that way while they’re hidden behind the Internet. So it really upset me, especially when people were saying that stuff about Queenie because I love Gabby [Sidibe] so much. I was livid. I wanted to respond to people, but I know that I can’t indulge in people like that.
GQ: Luckily there’s some really great stuff out there about the show and you guys as well.
Emma Roberts: Absolutely! Me, Gabby, and Taissa [Farmiga] love looking at all the fan art that people tweet to us because people do such cool stuff with it. They’re drawing sketches of us and doing cartoons. The three of us are always sending pictures around and saying, “Have you seen this? It’s so cute!” There are a lot of really cool people on Twitter that comment about the show and are really positive and, even in they have something rude to say, it’s in an educated way where you’re like, “Yeah, you know, Madison was a bitch in the last episode. Sorry!” [Laughs]
GQ: I get the feeling that the three of you are this little trio on set.
Emma Roberts: Yeah, I love them. They’re so fun and we definitely have each other’s backs, which is nice because we’re all away from home in New Orleans, so it’s nice to know that if we need anyone we’re all here for each other.
GQ: Gabby doesn’t care what people say either. She’s so confident and strong in who she is.
Emma Roberts: Gabby is the funniest person I know. I can’t even… She is so funny. She makes me laugh more than anyone. When we have scenes together we’re always like, “Don’t look at me! Don’t look at me! Don’t look at me!” because we’re all looking at each other just laughing. [Laughs]
GQ: Your real-life boyfriend, Evan Peters, has had to play this amazing nearly silent role of FrankenKyle for most of this season. What’s it been like watching him kill it on the show?
Emma Roberts: It’s cool. He’s so good. I was such a fan of his on the first season before we even met. I thought he was so great and so cute so it’s bizarre that we’re now both on the same show and dating because I remember watching the first season just in awe of his performance. It’s crazy how life works sometimes.
GQ: Are you coming back next season?
Emma Roberts: I haven’t been asked yet, but I really hope that I do because I would really love to.
GQ: You have a few films coming out that you’ve already finished filming. What are you most excited about post-AHS?
Emma Roberts: I’m excited for Palo Alta to come out. It’s this movie that I did with James Franco. It’s a really cool movie and Gia Coppola directed it, who is both an amazing director and one of my great friends. I really think it’s such a special project and I’m really excited to see it fully complete.