by Zoe Stagg
photography by Randall Slavin
Emma Roberts is in love. This is a relationship you won’t read about in the tabloids – you won’t have to. It’s all over her Instagram.
“My take on @gwynethpaltrow’s avocado toast. Good morning, everyone.”
Avocado toast is one of the recipes in Paltrow’s new cookbook, It’s All Good. “I want her to do a book of her ‘cheat’ recipes, like when she’s not eating gluten-free and all that stuff. I think that’d be awesome.”
Hollywood Royalty; they’re just like us.
The candid enthusiasm is refreshing coming from someone whose last name has been in bold print since last century. It’s also a little surprising, until you realize it’s only the name she inherited – the career, she built, as she does the rest of her existence, on passion and positivity. Emma’s not in the family business. Emma’s in the business of doing what she loves. But when your aunt is Julia, making a name for yourself out of the name “Roberts” has to be next to impossible. “It’s kind of something that people make out to have been more of a struggle for me than it was. I never really thought of it like, ‘Oh my God, I have to separate me from my family.’ To me it was like I went into it wanting to do it because I loved it.” So instead of working on distinguishing herself, she worked on distinguishing her characters. Over more than a decade, Emma has moved from her debut in Blow, to childhood roles in Hotel for Dogs and Aquamarine, to her most recent batch of all-grown-up projects.
Now 22, she’s sharing the screen with Jennifer Aniston, Dwayne Johnson, and John Cusack in three upcoming films: We’re the Millers, Empire State, and Adult World, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. It lit up Twitter as some of her more than two million followers @-ed in on the action. “After a couple of the screenings, I saw people tweeting at me about how much they loved it, or certain people tweeting reviews, or tweeting about what I wore.” The strappy, short, sapphire blue number was reviewed unanimously as “stunning” online. Emma calls it, “Batman-inspired. It’s my take on super-hero chic.” Active on both Twitter and Instagram, she says, “It’s cool to see the instant feedback, especially if it’s good,” therein acknowledging the double-edged sword. “Everyone has a voice and everyone has an opinion, which can definitely be not nice sometimes. But for the most part it’s nice and positive and cool.”
But with that many people following her every tweet, is there some behind-the-screens stage fright? “Yeah totally. I mean, you also say things innocently, and then all of a sudden people are like, ‘We hate you! You’re a B-I-T-C-H!” Emma spells out the word to protect the haters who aren’t as careful as she is. If she has assumed any mantle from her Hollywood legacy, it’s caution. “You have be careful how you word things because people get really fired up on Twitter. I try to keep it just about things I like, as opposed to things I don’t like. I try not to get too involved with current events – you don’t want people getting upset with you.” She laughs at the perils of the 140-character arena. “It can be scary!”
She’s not just cautious on Twitter. Even if she didn’t learn everything she knows about acting from her aunt and dad, she has seen enough celebrity existence to know how to manage her own.
“I kind of like to keep my… I mean, I understand there’s a certain part of your personal life you decide to give up when you become an actor, unfortunately. But at the same time, there’s a lot of it you can keep private. That’s what I try to do. I definitely don’t stop my life because of paparazzi, but it’s hard. You just can’t be carefree and not worry about it.” She’s careful about what she says, and who she says it to. “I just try to stick with the people that I trust and not get wrapped up in the Hollywood crowd.” Maybe that’s the strategy that’s kept her out of the tabloid scandals that plague a lot of transitioning actors as they age out of the Disney demographic?
“Yeah, knock on wood!” She laughs, adding, “Kidding.” Then turning serious, in her rapid-fire yet grounded cadence, she muses on that pit of quicksand that can swallow on-the-cusp actors. “I think it’s just an overwhelming time. You’re at an age where it’s hard enough in general, let alone if you’re under a microscope and having to have so much expected of you. A lot of times people just go crazy. I’ve definitely had moments where I feel overwhelmed and I just want to cry and not talk to anyone.”
Maybe what’s saved her is that acting isn’t who she is; it’s what she does. If you’ve been around a certain world all your life, it might be easy to take it for granted. Instead, Emma takes for granted that it’s a job. “I’m definitely myself, but there’s definitely a more ‘professional’ myself, and then a more ‘private’ myself, and I like having that for me. For me to stay sane, I kind of need to separate the two a little bit.”
Watching her deportment is even more important, given that there are legions of pre-teen fans watching her every move. She makes sure those moves set an example. “I just think there’s a certain way to talk to people in interviews and in public. I try not to swear and stuff like that; I try to dress like a lady as much as I can – just stuff like that that’s easy to do. I want to do it for myself anyway, but I also think it’s just good to do that when you know have younger girls emulating you.”
Putting that professional caution directly to use, she demurs the obvious question begged by the We’re the Millers plot line. Starring alongside Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, Emma’s character becomes part of a fake family in a pot-running plot. So is legalizing the green the real-world answer? She laughs ruefully, and skillfully sidesteps, while perhaps answering by virtue of abstaining. “I’m sure I should not answer this because I would get in trouble… but honestly I think ‘No.’ But that’s all I’m going to say about it,” she laughs again. Emma is more forthcoming on her co-star. She’s a huge Jennifer fan. “I just think she’s such an amazing actress – and then to meet her was so cool.”
Emma is an avid reader, which might just account for the level-head she manages to maintain. Chronicled on Instagram, she shares her raves with her followers. “I love sharing books I love with people. Some of them are definitely mainstream and everyone knows about them, and then there are some that I kind of… I want people to read that I feel like they wouldn’t normally find on their own.” Recent picks include Farenheit 451, Grace Coddington’s memoir, and Little Known Facts by Christine Sneed. “I love women authors. I love Joan Didion. She’s pretty much my favorite author of all time.” Emma credits her bibliophilia to her time homeschooling with a tutor. “You fall in love with one book, and then you just want to find another book to fall in love with.”
She’s played a by-the-book character before, bringing Nancy Drew from the page to the screen, and her role in Adult World taps into that passion as well. In it, her character graduates from college and finds herself working at a bookstore – an adult bookstore – until she meets one of her favorite poets (Cusack) and ends up becoming his assistant. The role was a perfect fit for her bookworm nature. “I like poetry, but I’m not a poetry fanatic like she is, so I read a lot of poetry while I was in character. I read a lot of Pablo Neruda, which is, like, really romantic. And then I read some Anne Sexton…and then of course Sylvia Plath, who my character kind of romanticizes in a way. Not to be cliché, but I really do love Sylvia Plath. If I could sit down with any poet and have dinner with them, it would be her.”
With so much she’s enthusiastic about, it’s amazing Emma finds time for more, but there’s always room for a good cause. “I go to things and support things I feel passionate about. I definitely like to do a lot of things with kids. I mean, I’m kind of still a kid a little bit, and I also have a little sister. I do the Children’s Cancer Research Fund… my little sister’s best friend had leukemia when he was little. And those people are also your fans. To help and support them when they support you, I think that’s really important.” Often, she doesn’t have to look any further than her Twitter following to get the word out. “It’s something that I want to do anyway, but the fact that I can make other people aware of it is really good. Two million people follow me on Twitter, so just doing one tweet about a charity or organization, the fact that two million people can see that – that’s really cool.”
P-words seem to be the guiding force of her personal philosophy. Passion. Positivity. Does the opposite get her down? “Not really. I mean it used to bother me a lot, but it gets to point where everyone likes things and dislikes things, even me. I’m a person too, and sometimes I don’t like things.” It’s a liberty she tries to stay away from, however. “I think some people, the way that they word it is really out of line.” But for this Twitter fan, Instagram aficionado, and book maven, she’s got a modern-day strategy of survival-by-love if there ever was one. “At the end of the day, you just scroll down to the next one and hope that it’s positive.”
And that’s an attitude to love.