To celebrate the release of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s new techno-thriller Nerve, we’re revisiting our HEROINE 2 interview with the film’s star Emma Roberts. Fresh from filming American Horror Story, here she speaks with James Franco (brother of her Nerve co-star Dave Franco) about TV vs film, AHS and a shared awkward kiss in their joint venture Palo Alto.
Interview taken from HEROINE 2.
At just 23 years old, Emma Roberts has it all. A recurring role in one of the most successful modern TV series, American Horror Story, independent films with highly regarded co-collaborators (such as James Franco, who interviews her here) and, recently announced, the lead
in brand new project Scream Queens, also Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and premiering this fall on the Fox network in the USA. As career trajectories go, things are looking pretty solid for this talented young actress.
James Franco: Hi Emma, how are you?
Emma Roberts: I’m good, where are you?
JF: I’m in New York.
ER: I’m in New Orleans, my home away from home now, I seem to never leave.
JF: So you’re still working on the show [American Horror Story]?
ER: Yeah the end of Freak Show and then I don’t know what they have in mind for the next one, but probably something equally crazy.
JF: And so once you’re in the AMH family you just get to keep coming back every season?
ER: [laughs] What did you call it?
JF: …or AHS, [laughs] AHS.
ER: Yeah pretty much. Last year I didn’t know that I was coming back until way after the season ended, and I actually don’t know if I’m coming back next time, so we’re always just waiting for the call.
JF: And then they just tell you, “OK last season you were this young starlet-slash-witch, then this season you’re more of a goody-two- shoes? You’re a drifter with a heart of gold?
ER: Yeah, a drifter. For the whole season I didn’t really know if I was bad or good, they don’t tell us our character far in advance at all, so I am as surprised as everyone else. We get our scripts and have to work the next day, so it would always keep us on our toes. It’s fun because you don’t want to over think things, so you take things as they come. This season I knew very little about my character, which was fun but it’s definitely stressful sometimes because you have to prepare for shocking scenes at the last minute.
JF: Yeah that’s something I always found a little weird, because I did a TV show too, I guess twelve years ago now… Freaks and Geeks… it was before the new golden age of television shows. Does it feel different for you being on a TV show? When we did Palo Alto [the 2013 movie Franco and Roberts starred in together] you got to read the whole script beforehand, you got to see where your character went, what your character’s arc was, and all the scenes you’d have to do. Then you could either say, “Yes, I’ll do it,” it or “No, I’m not interested.” But on TV you’re getting a new script every week and it’s like, “Oh, ok, I guess I have to do that.”
ER: Yes, definitely. I was on a show when I was twelve, but it was on Nickelodeon, so there weren’t really any surprises. But on this show it could be anything. Last season I got strangled and had my throat slit. So the surprises in this show are definitely crazier, but when I signed on to do it I was at a point where I wanted that, to not have everything planned out. It was really refreshing to go from having done a bunch of great movies to then do something where every week was different.
JF: I’ve been getting more and more interested in these great television shows, I just read this great book called Difficult Men, which tracks all the anti- hero focused shows, starting with The Sopranos though to The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad and it talks about the new thirteen episode season which allows for more tension in each episode, and more money to be given to each one. The shows are higher quality, but it also allows for season-long arcs rather than just one-off episodes. Looking at that as an actor, there must be something really satisfying about getting to track a character through a longer period, with more scenes and more material. In a movie you can have a great role, but compared to a season it’s no time at all.
ER: When I was on movies you blink and it’s over. You’re like, “Wait, what was that? What did I do?” On a show you feel like you’re going on the journey, because you’re shooting in episodic order. That to me is really fun, because you start at the beginning pretty much and you end at the end with your character, as opposed to a movie where you’re shooting the last scene first, the first scene in the middle, there’s no rhyme or reason for how they shoot movies.
JF: And what has the response been like? If you could compare the response to your movie work and your television work? I guess what I’m asking is, for a long time before what some people call this new ‘third golden age of television,’ there was still this weird stigma about TV. You wouldn’t find a lot of movie actors doing a ton of TV, but now everybody’s racing to do it. I’m almost converted now, I almost prefer TV to watching movies.
ER: There’s something really nice about being on TV too, it’s comforting. With movies you finish the shoot and then you forget about it for a year. Then it comes out and people like it or they don’t, or they see it or they don’t. With TV you shoot an episode and then someone’s watching it in a couple of weeks. People come up to me and ask me all these questions about the show. The whole social media aspect makes TV even crazier to be a part of, when the show’s airing sometimes the cast will all do Twitter chats and you get such instant gratification for your work. Sometimes it’s really positive and sometimes it’s not, and it’s strange how people associate you with your character so much more on TV. If you do something they don’t like, all of a sudden they hate you. I’ll be sitting there saying, “But I didn’t do that.” I think Twitter and TV together is kind of intimidating as an actor… it’s a little scary. You never know how people are going to take things. To me some of the scenes that I thought were ‘whatever’ on the show are the things that people love and will never forget, and become those memes, those moving pictures, do you know what I’m talking about?
JF: [laughs] Yeah.
ER: And then certain things that I think are really cool that we’re doing, and I think, “Everyone is going to love this,” people are like, “Eh.” Does that happen to you sometimes? When you’re working, you think something’s going to be really funny and it’s not?
JF: Yeah I know what you mean…
ER: You’re like, “No, I don’t.” [laughs]
JF: No… there’s definitely moments, let’s say from Pineapple Express or something, that people still quote to me, that when we shot it almost didn’t happen. Things that I didn’t know people would be quoting back to me for seven years. The character’s watching some sitcom and says, “I thought hurricane season was over.” That just happened on the day and now there are t-shirts. But back to AHS a little bit…
ER: I love that you love to call it AHS, it really just makes me laugh.
JF: That’s what they call it right? [laughs]
ER: Yes, I just don’t know why it’s really funny when you say it.
JF: Your show has mostly very strong female characters, is there anything about that atmosphere that makes it feel different or refreshing?
ER: Yes, last season on Coven, I got to work with Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett all on one show. It was great, because those were people that I always wanted to work with. To have them all on the show and to get to be doing scenes where we were all together, it was very cool. That’s why I love Ryan Murphy, I feel like he really writes great parts for women on television. I mean, the roles he’s written for Jessica Lange since the first season of the show have just been incredible.
JF: And what is your relationship with the writers on the show? I mean now that you’re winding up your second season do you know them, do they know you?
ER: They’re in LA and we’re here so we don’t really see them very much, but we all always have ideas by the third episode, and they’re really good at taking our notes, or if we really feel strongly about something they’ll usually write it in, or if we don’t like something they’ll take it out. So that makes you feel comfortable, when you can trust your writers and your director.
JF: And the writers have much more power on a TV show than a movie, right?
ER: I think the writers are what makes the show, because the directors switch out every episode but the writers are always the same. I like getting to work with different directors, especially since we’re shooting for seven months. But the writers are the constant, and I think that’s what makes a show like American Horror Story so good – the underlying tone is always the same.
JF: So how does it work with different directors, do they have to go with the style and tone of the show?
ER: I feel like when you’re doing a movie you’re ‘in it’. When we were doing Palo Alto, Gia [Coppola, director] and I spent so much time together, talking on the phone and texting, bouncing ideas off each other, and then on a TV show the directors are only there for one episode. Especially on a show like ours where there are so many people, you’re kind of responsible for your own character a little bit. You have to make sure that you’re being consistent, so I go back and read the first few scripts sometimes, it’s so easy to forget when you’re on episode eight and it’s been five months. So I go back, just to make sure I’m on the right track, and I check I’m keeping up certain nuances or choices that I’ve made.
JF: Does the director ever want somebody to do something and they say, “That doesn’t really make sense with what we’ve been doing…”
ER: [laughs] I feel like sometimes I do that and then I’m wrong. Whenever I’ve argued about something with the director it turns out afterwards they’re right and then it’s embarrassing in front of the whole set!
ER: It’s the worst when you try and prove a point and then it’s not right.
JF: We’ve done two movies together now, and we’ve played lovers in both.
ER: [laughs] You sound like an old man when you say lovers…
JF: So now I’m going to embarrass you.
ER: No no no, what are you going to say?
JF: I felt like…
ER: …Oh no…
JF: …I felt like our kiss was better in the second movie.
ER: [takes a deep breath] Oh my God! [laughs]
JF: …than in Palo Alto…
ER: You’re being such a trouble maker!
JF: So either you got better at kissing…
ER: Oh my God thats the rudest thing ever! [laughs]
JF: I was thinking maybe you were just being an amazing actress. [laughs]
ER: Maybe I’m a character actress. I didn’t realise you were playing such close attention on both movies, or maybe I would have done it differently.
JF: Although your character in Michael [the film Roberts and Franco are due to star in next] probably hadn’t kissed that many people either. Which character do you think has kissed more people? The young girl in Palo Alto or the budding young Christian in Michael?
ER: I think you’ve kissed more than both of them put together. [laughs] When you said you were going to embarrass me, if I had a hundred guesses I would have never guessed you would have asked that.
JF: So Michael, Or I think the new title actually is I Am Michael so it doesn’t sound like the John Travolta angel movie. It got into Sundance which is really cool.
ER: I heard about that.
JF: And Berlin, so it’s really awesome for Justin [Kelly] the director.
ER: Ah Justin… congratulations.
JF: I thought you were so good in it, it was such a different role for you. Most of the roles I’ve seen you do are these young women that are exposed to too much, or mature ahead of their time. This character is the opposite of that, she’s such a sexually restrained person.
ER: She’s not had a lot of life experience. I remember when we were doing one scene and I said, a certain line, I don’t remember what it was, but you literally laughed in my face.
ER: We were laughing about something and then we started rolling really quickly so I said my line, very straight laced like really good girl. I said it with a lot of conviction and you literally laughed, in the middle of the scene, at me.
JF: [Laughing] What does that mean? I’d like to see you as a bad girl I guess.
ER: I thought you were maybe laughing in character, and then I realised you were actually just laughing at me. And Justin was like, “OK again, no, stop laughing, again, go back.”
JF: Justin was great, huh?
ER: Yeah Justin was great, I love him.
JF: Why don’t you tell me one thing about Gia and one thing about Justin that stands out as a defining thing about them?
ER: Well it’s actually interesting because I worked with more guy directors than girls. I kind of didn’t realise how special it is, as a young woman, to work with a young woman director until Palo Alto.
JF: I’ve worked with at least three female directors in the past two years, one on my play, Anna Shapiro, Gia and then Pamela Romanowsky on The Adderall Diaries, and I loved it. They were really great directors but something about the fact that they were women was… I don’t know, there was something really attractive about it, but I don’t know if i can put my finger on it. Do you know what it might be?
ER: I know that with Gia, it just felt like a really fun and safe environment. Especially on Palo Alto when there was some ad-libbing going on and stuff like that, I was never embarrassed to try anything. Sometimes with a male director who you’re not close with, I don’t know… there is some sort of distance sometimes. So with Gia it was nice because there was no distance. Maybe it was also because she was the writer, it felt comforting to have her there like a security blanket. I could just run over and talk to her. But I also loved working with Justin. I came onto that movie and only worked a couple of days, and he made me feel like I had been there the whole time. He was really collaborative and always in a good mood, no matter what time it was.
JF: Do you think it helps that he’s as little as you are?
ER: [laughs] Whatever, you’re jealous because he likes me more than you.
JF: You actually might be bigger than Justin… you probably can’t say that very often.
ER: I can’t wait to send Justin this interview and say, “Look what James said,” and circle it.
JF: He’ll love it.
ER: I am usually the smallest person in the room. I regret not having worn really tall shoes in Michael because I’m going to look so short next to you.
JF: Hold on one second. [Talking to a taxi driver] It’s for Brown or Franco. [To Emma] Sorry I have to get an Uber.
ER: [laughs] Where are you Ubering? Where are you going? Does the Uber guy ever go, “Franco, are you James Franco?”
JF: I’m going to a dinner with my friend for Marina Abramovic’s birthday.
ER: Did the Uber driver recognise you? That’s all I really care about.
JF: They didn’t even look at me because they know I’m not their guy I guess. I have a really weird hat on too so maybe not. Anyway, two things I want to talk about, you started acting when you were pretty young right?
ER: I was nine. I wanted to start acting just from growing up on sets and then I was obsessed with Nickelodeon. I said, “I have to be on that show.” And my mum said, “Well you’re nine, so no.” Then she had a friend of a friend who said I should go and audition for the movie Blow, so I went and I ended up getting the part. After that she let me keep doing it, not thinking it would really go anywhere. And then here I am!
JF: Does that mean that you finished high school on set?
ER: Yes, I went to school up until seventh grade, then I was home schooled from eighth grade twelfth grade. I went to college for a semester and left.
JF: I know that you’re a huge reader.
ER: I am.
JF: On Palo Alto you always had books, you’d even read Palo Alto long before you got the part.
ER: I read it the day it came out, thank you very much, went and bought it.
JF: I went back to college and graduate school years after I had been acting, and for me it was great. I know it’s not for everybody, some people learn better outside the academic environment. But I know you have such a penchant for learning and reading, do you ever think about that, or is that something you just don’t really need?
ER: Yeah, I always loved the learning, I loved the reading aspect of school and I loved the social aspect, but everything else was very stressful for me. I was never good at math or science, I would always really struggle. So for me home schooling was actually the best thing, because it gave me freedom to be able to sit with the books and really understand them. I had a tutor who was really amazing that would come over every day for three to five hours and go through everything with me, and I discovered other subjects that I was passionate about just by having that freedom to check out whatever book I wanted instead of being told what to do.
JF: Why are you such an avid reader?
ER: I don’t know. I could read at a very young age and my mum would always really encourage it. If I see a Barnes & Noble I get so ridiculously excited that it’s embarrassing, and I have to go and buy ten books.
JF: Yeah I understand that, I know, like buying more books than you’ll ever read in a year.
ER: Yes! And sometimes I’ll forget a book and then I’ll just buy it again, then I’ll get so excited that I forgot it because it means I can give one to my friend.
JF: I have that disease. What are your favourite kinds of books, you like true crime is that right?
ER: I do, but I had to stop reading them because I’ll be up at night and get really paranoid, it’s just not good for me. I just watched and read Zodiac and it’s really getting bad, I have to check the locks before bed six times. I like memoirs, one of my favourite books ever is The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
JF: Did you ever get The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer that I recommended to you?
ER: Yeah you gave it to me, it’s a big book, I haven’t taken it on yet, because I was getting a little too scared [of true crime] but it’s on my list.
JF: You have to read that one. Give me three books, they don’t need to be your favourite books, just three books that come to your mind right now that you really liked.
ER: Ok. Girl Interrupted is really one of my favourites ever, it’s very different from the movie. I just read Station Eleven which is now one of my new favourites. It’s post-apocalyptic, it’s really good. If they make it into a movie there’s a great part for you in it. And then there’s The Children Act which I’m going to finish tonight, by Ian McEwan the author of Atonement. I just got it at the book store and I’ve almost finished it in two days, I love when that happens, it’s been a while since I got a book and have basically just eaten it.
JF: Great recommendations. Ok then, two more quick things, what are you going to work on after AHS?
ER: AHS… [laughs]
JF: Or do you have something else coming out next year that you’ve already done?
ER: I have a movie called Ashby, with Mickey Rourke and Nat Wolff. I play his love interest, that was a fun movie we I shot in North Carolina.
JF: I heard it was a crazy shoot.
ER: I know. I play nerd who wears glasses and has a crush on Nat.
JF: I can’t wait, I bet you’re a really cute nerd.
ER: Yeah playing myself, no kidding.
JF: Ok last last last last, most important question.
ER: Oh God…
JF: We have played two pairs of lovers.
JF: Why do you think we have such weird but ultimately such great chemistry?
ER: [laughs] Probably because you’re a huge nerd and so am I. Maybe we’ll play like brother and sister in the next one.
JF: I feel like if we play brother and sister it’s going to have to be incestuous because our relationships are always weird.
ER: Or maybe we’ll just play really normal boyfriend and girlfriend?
JF: I don’t think it would work.
ER: I don’t think it would work either.
Nerve is out in UK cinemas from 11th August.