Getting in on the act
TEEN STAR:Emma Roberts, one of the leading lights in 'Hollywood's New Wave', would like an Oscar nomination and to front a cosmetics campaign. Not unrealistic, perhaps, for the niece of Julia Roberts.
THREE THINGS ARE immediately apparent at the premiere in Dublin of new boarding school teen flick Wild Child. Number one: Sex and the City fashion has filtered down to the average Dublin 13-year-old. Brightly coloured prom dresses and what we might politely call "snog-me heels" being key elements. Number two: While in the past a quick slick of lip gloss and poorly applied eyeliner might have done the job, these days a full face of make-up is necessary. All slap should be urgently reapplied by the wearer three-quarters of the way through a movie, cue lots of stomping past the screen on the aforementioned heels.
Thankfully in teenworld, whether it's 1968 or 2008, some things never change, because Number three: when one of the stars of the film, blonde dreamboat Alex Pettyfer walks into the cinema, the girls dissolve in a seething mass of sighs, bosom-clutching antics and puce faces. And that's just the thirtysomething journalists.
Standing poised and unflustered in the eye of this storm is a young woman on a mission. Emma Roberts has her sights firmly set on a career she hopes will be as enduring as that of former child actor Drew Barrymore, not to mention as varied and successful as that enjoyed by Julia Roberts, who also happens to be Roberts' aunt.
("It's not fair, I had loads of aunts and all they ever gave me growing up was foul-smelling perfume," laments my companion for the evening. "When you're Julia Roberts's niece . . . you get that smile.")
According to the latest issue of Vanity Fair, Roberts, who is 17 years old, is among the leading lights in "Hollywood's New Wave". The chosen few are photographed frolicking on the cover, wearing simple white shirts and shorts, the antithesis of the knowing, rehab-attending actors in their 20s they aim to one day supplant.
In 2003, when the magazine last took the temperature of the teen acting scene, Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff and Evan Rachel Woods were on the cover. It bodes well for the career of Roberts, who, after starring for a few years in Nickelodeon's hit kids series Unfabulous, also has roles in drug-fuelled Blow, mermaid movie Aquamarine and the lead in the Nancy Drew franchise under her designer belt.
The morning after the premiere, she is sitting in a Dublin hotel room, looking every inch the teen star. Her tiny frame is swathed in too-long skinny jeans that have been tucked into high, patent heels, so that half her feet are covered in the fabric. (This is a new trend, apparently, not to be attempted by those thick of ankle.) She also wears a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt which looks lived-in but has probably been expertly "distressed" by a crack team of Hollywood minions. And then there's that smile. Wide, toothy and industrial strength.
"I loved being in the movie, and I'm really proud of it," she says, beaming. The Nick Moore directed Wild Child is the first foray into teen movies by Working Title productions. Roberts plays Poppy, an obnoxious Malibu princess who has been shipped off to an English boarding school by her concerned father, a still-gorgeous Aidan Quinn. It's the movie you'd get if you crossed Enid Blyton's The Naughtiest Girl in the School with Mean Girls. Roberts handles both the stuck-up teen diva part, along with the inevitable transformation into a good-natured lacrosse player, with equal aplomb.
"I laughed out loud reading the script because I recognised her character in some people I know in LA. But at the same time, people have a lot of misperceptions about life there," she says. So isn't her world jam-packed full of spoilt brats behaving badly? "If you don't put yourself in that kind of position, it's easy to avoid," she says. "If you start hanging out with those kinds of people and going to those kinds of things, you know that's how you get sucked into it. That sort of life doesn't just come and find you, you have to kind of put yourself around those kinds of people, which I don't. I have a really cool group of friends and an amazing family, so it's not something I pursue."
Ah, yes her "amazing" family. That would be dad, actor Eric Roberts, and auntie Julia, of course. Roberts was very young when her parents separated. She went to live with her mother and stayed close to auntie Julia, spending time on set with her, most notably when she appeared as an extra in America's Sweethearts.
"I've wanted to act since I was six," she says, and if this early grooming for the movie star life led to resentment by some of her peers, she has been quick to bat it away. "I am pretty tough," she says. "If people give me a hard time I am sassy back to them. But yeah, it's hard sometimes because you know some people are thinking you are only in the business because of your family and so you must be spoilt and stuck-up.
"All these reality shows set in LA give the place a bad rep. I tell my friends that when I go away, people ask these weird questions about our lives in LA, as though we are living in an episode of The Hills. I do know a few people like that but they are not really my friends."The acting scene in Hollywood has become "a worse, bigger version, of high school" she says. "I think it's sad because everything we do is scrutinised, or read into, we can't make mistakes or post dumb pictures on Facebook because they will get plastered everywhere." She doesn't have a Facebook profile for this reason and feels Miley Cyrus' recent Vanity Fair shoot was a storm in a teacup. "It was arty, she looked cute, I didn't think it was a big deal," she says.
She looks bored talking about the pitfalls of life on the young starlet circuit because she is clearly happy in her work and personal life. When the subject turns to books, she becomes more engaged.
"I've always been a great reader," she says. "It gets me through all those flights. Things like the Gossip Girl series - I've read them all - would be my summer reads, but I am really into Brett Easton Ellis. Less Than Zero is a pretty accurate description of a certain way of life in LA. And Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is great, my friends say it's a book their moms are reading but I loved it. I am open to everything." Her musical tastes are just as eclectic. "My friends say 'what is it with you, how can you have Hilary Duff and Jim Morrison on your playlist?' " she says with a laugh.
As for movies, she is a Holly Golightly devotee, but says when she read Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's she grew to love the book even more than the film. "The ending is better in the book. I cried, actually. I'd still love to recreate Holly's wardrobe and wear it everywhere," she says.
Hard working Roberts has two more movies ready for release, the family-friendly Hotel for Dogs with Lisa Kudrow and an independent film, Lymelife, about a "Long Island Lolita" starring Alec Baldwin and Cynthia Nixon.
"I like that I can do family movies and then more edgy stuff. I'd hate to be in a position where you play a cheerleader and so keep getting offered cheerleader parts. I mean, no thanks. I can do a lot more," she says. Auntie Julia doesn't offer, nor is she asked for, acting advice. "I don't see her that much, so the last thing we want to talk about is work. We cook and play with her babies. They are so cute," she says.
As the knock on the door comes, signalling the end of the interview, I ask Roberts what she thinks she will have achieved in 10 years' time, apologising if this sounds like the worst job interview question in the world.
She laughs and then the huge brown eyes grow serious at the thought of her at the ancient age of 27. "I suppose I would set my sights quite high," she says. "An Oscar, I think, and I'd also like to have been the face of a big cosmetics company, like Chanel or one of the others. You know what, I am actually going to say I'd like an Oscar nomination rather than an Oscar. I don't want to jinx it."
What about marriage and children? "Oh, 27 would be still way too young for that, but a sweet boyfriend, yes I wouldn't mind." Lately, her head has been turned by "boys in the UK". "I get whiplash walking around the UK, the guys here are so hot," she says. When I gently point out that Ireland isn't "in the UK", she is clearly irritated about being misinformed which, in my book, makes her even more likeable. "Thank you very much," she says tottering out the door. "I won't be making that mistake again."
Wild Child goes on general release next Friday