Adapted from James Franco’s book of stories by the same name, this month’s Palo Alto is a portrait of suburban teen malaise. First-time director Gia Coppola and leading lady Emma Roberts tell us what it was like to revisit those angsty days.
Marie Claire: Gia, can you start by telling me how this film came to be, and how Emma got involved?
Gia Coppola: I met James, and he had his book of stories, and was looking for someone else to direct it. When I showed him my photography, I guess he thought I was the right fit. I’ve never really directed anything, only short films with my friends, but he believed in me. The casting: Emma just kind of kept popping into my life.
Emma Roberts: We just kept running into each other non-stop.
GC: I always say something was cosmically pushing us together. She was coming up in conversation, and she loved the book and the script, so it was really a good fit.
MC: Emma, had you read the book already when you heard it was being made into a movie?
ER: I bought it at Book Soup in L.A. the day it came out. I’m a big James Franco [fan] and I love to read. When I heard that they were making it into a movie, and that he was also going to be part of it, and Gia was, I thought that was interesting. I thought it was a really special, cool project.
MC: Emma, you play April, a high school senior who is simultaneously infatuated with her soccer coach (James Framco) and her classmate (Jack Kilmer). Were there elements of that character that you both related to?
ER: I remember when you’re a teenager and you’re right in the thick of it. Like, what does it all mean? Everything is the end of the world. It’s just a crazy time; once you get out of it you’re like, there’s something nice about that time.
To hear the cast tell it, the set of Palo Alto, Gia Coppola’s feature directorial debut, was one big youthquake. “It was a kids’ club; all of us were under the age of 30,” says Emma Roberts. “We all were really young and so passionate about the project, and we all really just came together.” In theaters May 9, the film “is a solid voice in a generation of pit vipers,” declares Keegan Allen. Nat Wolff agrees. “I don’t think there’s anything that’s false [about Palo Alto]. It came from a really real place.”
Coppola (niece of Sofia and granddaughter of one Francis Ford) adapted the screenplay from James Franco’s book of short stories. Centering on a group of wayward suburban high schoolers, the highly stylized film has a dreamy, lo-fi quality balanced with refreshingly awkward dialogue delivered, in many cases, by actual teenagers. Its emotional honesty — due in large part to the closeness between the young cast and their 27-year-old director — strikes a similar nerve to Larry Clark’s Kids and grandpa Coppola’s The Outsiders. “Gia and I are both women so close in age and we really understood each other,” says Roberts, who has known Coppola for years from growing up in L.A. “That’s part of the reason she cast me in the movie. We just had an understanding of working together.”
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.”
Emma attended the premiere for Palo Alto at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival today (April 24) in New York. Check out MQ and HQs below, keep checking in for more! Added portraits of Emma with cast and director from the film festival! She looks amazing especially the premiere look! Also updated official and random Instagrams…
First off check the update below for more New Yorkers For Children’s 11th Anniversary event photos! Check out a clip from Palo Alto which features Emma along with James Franco. Also added captures of the clip to the gallery!