We’re almost halfway through the year, but Emma Roberts has already owned it. Her stint as Madison Montgomery in American Horror Story: Coven spawned a meme for the ages and fans will be happy to know she’s returning next season for Freak Show. But, before all that, she’s in Palo Alto, Gia Coppola’s film adaptation of James Franco’s book. Roberts plays April, a well-rounded high school student dealing with all the things a teenager of the Internet Age deals with (partying, love, and, you know, this little thing known as life after high school.)
Lucky for Roberts, she’s found her footing at a young age. No one knows what the future holds, but she radiates so much confidence, it’s clear she’s not worried. She’s got an authentic air of joy about her and that smile sure is enviable. Ahead, Roberts on her love of TV, selfies with James Franco, and ignoring bad advice.
Let’s start with Palo Alto: What about April intrigued you? Why sign on to this story?
“I read the book and was a big fan. At the time I read it, I was 17, [and] it felt very original — like something I hadn’t read in a long time. It was really capturing youth in a way that I felt was really honest, instead of using the formula that books about teenagers use. I really liked that; I liked that the script stayed really true to the book. But, it also had this real Gia flavor to it. It was going to be something that would be creatively so fun to be a part of. I really wanted to work with James on something, so that was really cool too.”
How did April challenge you?
“Well, I’m so not like her at all, and I wasn’t when I was younger, so it was really interesting to play a character who was so opposite of me. I’m really outgoing and loud and she is really soft-spoken — and, a lot of the time, doesn’t even respond to people in the movie. So, when we were doing a lot of ad-libbing scenes, I would have to remind myself that I wasn’t myself and to not laugh like the loudest person in the room, and to not comment on something. Instead, I would sit and observe. It was cool to play more of a looker than a talker.”
The introvert versus the extrovert? That’s great. The ad-libbing was so seamless! What scenes?
“Most of it was ad-libbing! In every scene, in pretty much every take, things were different. The script was the bones of it, then once they cast everybody and saw our interactions, they encouraged us to ad-lib. Gia would have me do something and not tell Jack so we would get a reaction out of him. We wouldn’t know and it would make the scene have a whole other layer to it, which is cool.”
Your character kind of represents the millennial generation. Then again, the whole story did. Let’s talk about your character and Teddy: Do you think they got together at the end? Are we supposed to know?
“You know, it’s funny. I go both ways with that. Sometimes I think they totally got together and then, other times, I think it was two ships passing in the night. So, they would actually be like, in 20 years, ‘Oh I remember her. I was so in love with her, but I never made the move.’”
Well, that would be Palo Alto 2. That would be so fun. What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to your character?
“Out of everyone, I think she is the moral compass. I’d tell her to stick to her gut.”
Even Teddy? He has a relatively level head on his shoulders.
“I think that she has more perspective. Out of everybody, she knows that there is life after high school. Everybody else seems so wrapped up in it; I think she is a little bit more removed from it. I like that about her. So, my advice to everybody in the movie would to be to get some more perspective and realize that there is so much more that is going to happen after high school.”
Did you know, growing up in Hollywood, that you would pursue an education or just live life?
“Well, I was homeschooled for a long time and took a few years off. Then I went to Sarah Lawrence for a couple months. It wasn’t for me because it’s really hard to work and be in school. I know actresses do it, but I don’t know how they do it; it’s really hard to be present in both places. I really wanted to pursue working, but I’m never opposed to taking a class or something. I like to read a lot, so for me, I get most of my education from constantly reading on set. I try to read a book every couple of weeks because it keeps your memorization good and improves your attention span.”
Go on with more advice: What’s the best advice you’ve received, in terms of your career and in terms of your personal development? What’s the worst?
“The best advice I ever got was — it pertained to acting, but I think it would pertain to any job — like, if you aren’t really loving it, try to pursue something else. That’s something my mom would always say. ‘If you’re not having fun doing this, you don’t have to do this. You should do something else.’ So, I think it’s really important to like what you do, or at least have some sort of interest in it and be getting something from it too. Not just doing it to do it.”
So then, what is the worst advice?
“I have heard ‘Don’t become an actor because there is so much rejection.’ But, well, there is rejection everywhere. What can you do if you don’t get rejected? That little hope should make you want to try it.”
Can’t argue that! This is weird, but we want to know if there were any selfies on set? Your Instagram shows you really like taking selfies with famous people.
“I took a selfie today with me and James. Everyone was like, ‘Are you and James going to take a selfie?’ So we got our selfie. His selfies are always from that really funny low angle, so I asked him to take it like that, but he said no. So, we took a cute one that is on my Instagram. You can see it.”
Could you rank the top three people that you would want to take a selfie with?
“Oh my god, who would I want to take a selfie with? This is one of those times where my mind goes blank. I wanted a selfie with James Franco and I got one. Today!”
It’s surprising you didn’t do it on set.
“Yeah, I know! I feel like when we were on set, people weren’t really on their phones. It was a set that, in a way, felt really old school. Everyone actually hung out and talked; we were all like a team. There wasn’t that separation that you often see on sets where everyone is on their phone or in their trailer. Mostly, here, it was because we didn’t have trailers. We would all be sitting in a tent outside, hanging out and talking. Even on set, it was very getting to know each other, instead of being on our phones. It was cool because we are in a media-obsessed time. So, it’s nice to step away from the phone for a second. Step away from the selfie!”
Interesting that you bring that up. The movie itself doesn’t have a lot of that. You have the iPhone, but there is no social media aspect.
“It also gets too complicated to put social media in movies and TV. I think that it dates it so quickly. I feel like you should always show as few gadgets as possible…I think it dates it, and when you take social media out of it, it creates a more timeless kind of aspect to everything.”
And puts the focus on the characters and their relationships. I thought that was brilliant.
“I also feel that there is no artsy or creative way to show someone on their computer or on their phone. It always looks really cheesy. Whenever they show a Facebook page in a movie, it’s always super bad.”
Too true! What are you the most excited about coming up? What is the most important thing going on?
“As far as work, in July, I’m going back to American Horror Story for the big freak show! I’m really excited for that. It’s my favorite show. Getting to be on it last year was one of the highlights of my career, [and] I was so excited when they asked me to come back and do this next season. I love that it’s going to be a freak show and that it’s going to be a period piece this year. I love that on American Horror Story they transform everybody every year — you never really recognize the same people. So, I’m excited for my American Horror Story makeover.”
What do you hope they do to you? Would you be opposed to playing like a Siamese twin?
“I wouldn’t be opposed to playing any kind of freak. It would be so fun and so interesting. Last year, when everybody was talking about coming back, everyone said, ‘Emma’s going to come back and be the bearded lady!’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, you guys! Shut up!’ I would laugh so hard if I had to put on a beard every day. But why not?”
Why not? Do you think you will be the chain-smoking character again?
“We will see. I was kind of sad to put Madison to rest, I have to say. There is something cool about that show — when you get to play a new character every year — [and] I was excited about that. But, now I’m kind of like, ‘Wait! I’ll never get to play this character again.’ It was kind of bittersweet towards the end because I really grew to love Madison.”
How time-consuming is filming American Horror Story?
“It is the most time-consuming thing I’ve ever done. TV is very time-consuming, especially during a one-hour [show]. Those episodes took a solid six months. But it is kind of nice to have a routine, because I had gone from movie to movie. When working on a show, you have a routine and you have your people everyday, and it almost becomes a Hollywood version of a 9-to-5. It becomes comforting. I like that…I like working on TV.”
We’ve been exploring the idea of your twenties and what a twenty-something thinks happens at 30. So, what do you think happens?
“In 30 years or when I’m 30?”
When you’re 30.
“Good. In 30 years, I will be 53. That will be really scary.”
That’s too far away.
“What am I doing when I’m 30? Hopefully doing what I love to do. Hopefully sitting here talking to you about something else that’s fabulous. I want to keep working. I want to do more movies, but I’m kind of loving TV. I’m not opposed to being on a great TV show. I love American Horror Story. I love Girls. I love Modern Family. So, I wouldn’t mind being on a great TV show, doing movies that I love. Hopefully, I will be doing something in fashion because I love fashion. I think that would be really fun.”
Cool. Are you designing anything?
“I’m not, but I hope I will be one day. I’m obsessed with magazines and fashion, so I would love to have something like that going on by the time I’m 30. For sure.”
Who would you say you pull most of your influence from, style-wise?
“Probably from blogs, actually. I’m not even so much obsessed with celebrity fashion — I love tumblr, I love looking at blogs. These [bloggers] have such good style; I’m more interested in real people street style than I am in celebrity style. I like real people style — I think that’s so cool right now.”