Emma Roberts is not following the typical path of attractive teen actresses, who seem to find themselves of either playing fashion-plate arm candy to the male lead or playing squeaky-clean heroines who seem to have come out of a Stepford child-star factory. Instead, Roberts is taking on a wide variety of roles in an eclectic mix of movies.
In the dramedy “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” Roberts plays Noelle, a moody and unpredictable patient at a New York City psychiatric hospital, where she meets a new patient named Craig (played by Keir Gilchrist), who has checked himself into the hospital after contemplating suicide. Noelle is attracted to Craig, and the feeling may be mutual, but he is still harboring an unrequited crush on Nia (played by Zoë Kravitz), the girlfriend of his popular best friend, Aaron (played by Thomas Mann) — both of whom visit Craig in the hospital with awkward results.
“It’s Kind of Funny a Story” (based on Ned Vizzini’s 2006 novel of the same title) was written for the screen and directed by filmmaking partners Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. The movie had its world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, where I caught up with Roberts at the movie’s Toronto press junket the day after the premiere. She revealed why she was a fan of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” even before she knew that there would be a movie. During our interview, Roberts also talked about what it was like to work on her films “What’s Wrong With Virginia,” “Homework” and “Scream 4.”
How did you get involved in “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”? And what did you like most about it?
I loved the book. I read it years ago, before I even knew about the movie, when I was 15. I loved it, and I always thought it would make a good move, but just kind of forgot about it. And then I got the script, and I was like, “Oh, I remember reading this book. It’s so good.” And the [script] is really similar to the book, which is important to me.
And then I met with Ryan [Fleck] and Anna [Boden, the writers/directors of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”], and we had the same vision of Noelle, and I got the part. I was so excited. My family and friends were laughing, because “You said you were going to play this part three years ago, and now you’re doing it. It’s great.”
I loved the book as a whole and the script as a whole, because I thought it was really original. It hadn’t been done in that way. And I’m a huge fan of “Girl, Interrupted,” and this was the closest I’ll get to doing a film like that. That was cool for me. And then Noelle is such a quirky, unique character. I just thought it would be a lot of fun.
Did you identify with Noelle on a personal level?
Of course. Definitely. She’s a 16-year-old girl going through that transitional time where you’re being influenced by so many different people and things, so I totally get that. I love her sense of humor. She’s very sarcastic and kind of dry. That’s kind of how my sense of humor is, and sometimes people don’t really get it. I like that Craig is always “deer in the headlights” when she’s going off about something. He’s like, “OK, yeah, cool.”
Out of all of the people you worked with in the cast of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” who is most like his or her character in the movie?
Keir is nothing like his character. Even in his demeanor, he’s nothing like his character, which is why he did such a good job. I only met Viola Davis [who plays one of the hospital’s doctors] briefly, but she’s very calm and sweet and warm when you meet her. She’s like, “Oh my goodness, it’s so nice to meet you” and so sweet. I felt like in the script, she brought a lot of weight to the movie and was very grounding. I don’t really know her well enough to say, but from my experience with her, she seemed most like her character. She was kind of motherly.
How was Keir Gilchrist as a leading man?
He’s fun. He’s a good guy. We’re so opposite, which is why it worked so well in the movie, because our relationship off-camera was similar — not the romantic part but the banter at each other. It was funny how that happened in real life, too.
What can you say about your movie “The Winning Season?” How was it training as a basketball player and working with co-star Sam Rockwell, who plays the coach of your character’s high-school basketball team?
Well, Sam I’ve known since I was this tall [she makes a gesture indicating a short child]. I actually saw him last night, and I love him to death. I really wanted to do that movie because he was in it. I think he’s so talented and such a great guy. So to work with him was so much fun. He’s just so funny. I can’t even explain Sam. He’s the funniest guy in the room.
The basketball was tough, because I play girlie sports. I was a volleyball player and a tennis player, but anything more than that, I’m too short for that kind of stuff. I was always too short to play basketball. When we were shooting the movie, they had real other teams come and play us, and these girls would try to take us out [by aggressively winning the games]. I was like, “Do they know we don’t really play basketball? Do they know we’re actors?” This girl literally almost broke my finger. It was really tough learning how to play and looking believable.
All of the girls [in “The Winning Season” cast] had different ranges. There was one girl who was so good — shorter than me, too — and amazing. And there was another girl who had played on teams and this and that. And there were me and Rooney Mara, she and I were literally standing there going, “What are we going to do?” It was tough, but we did it. I was so proud of myself after that movie that I did that, because it was so out of my comfort zone.
Is there anything in the book “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” that you wish had been in the movie?
Nothing that could’ve been there wasn’t there. For me, when I read a book, I’m very much about detail. I’m like, “Oh, I wish this had been a voiceover. This line is so good.” But you can’t put those kinds of things in. But as far as a character or a storyline, everything was done really well. There are so many different characters, and Anna and Ryan did everyone justice. I liked that.
“What’s Wrong With Virginia” is your other movie at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. How would you describe the film and the character you play?
It’s insanely quirky. It’s a very specific film. I love it. [“What’s Wrong With Virginia” writer/director] Dustin Lance Black, I’m a huge fan of him. I remember when he won his Oscar [for “Milk”], and he was giving his speech, I thought it was so amazing. I was like, “I have to work with him someday.”
And then this movie [“What’s Wrong With Virginia”] came up, and I remember meeting him, and I said, “I just really want to be in your movie. I just love it.” And he said, “OK.” I found out a couple of days later that I got the part, and I was so excited, because I absolutely adore him. Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris are in it. I play a 15-year-old Mormon girl who’s coming to terms with herself and her religion. It’s really interesting.
How familiar were you with Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s movies before you worked with them? And how was it working with two directors instead of one director on the same movie?
I saw “Half Nelson” which is obviously an amazing movie. They’re really interesting to work with. They’re so attached to whatever project they take, which I really like. It’s really in their hands the whole time, from the writing process to the editing process. It was cool to have them both on set, because in a movie like this where there are so many important leads that are male and female, I think it’s good to have a male and female perspective. I think that’s why the movie itself speaks to everyone. It’s about this boy, but I don’t feel like it’s a movie geared toward boys or a movie geared toward girls. I feel like it’s an objective movie. It shows the story. It just is what it is.
What was the atmosphere like on the set of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”?
For me, it was a very professional set, if that makes sense. We really just got everything done and had a nice time. It was just totally happy and mellow. I’ve been on sets where it’s just joking the whole time and craziness and fun. And I’ve been on sets where it’s kind of a weird atmosphere, but this one [“It’s Kind of a Funny Story”] for me was happy. It was good. I can’t complain.
Can you talk about what it was like filming the fantasy sequence of Noelle, Craig and some of the hospital patients performing “Under Pressure”?
It was crazy. We did it all day. And now when I hear that song, I literally think about the movie. It was fun. It fit so well into the movie. On paper, you’re like, “This is kind of weird.” But in the movie, you’re like, “You know what? They’re in a psychiatric hospital. They need a rock-star moment. Obviously, we can’t do it for real, so why not give them a fantasy moment?” And I thought it was so well-done and so fun. Everyone I’ve talked to brings up that scene. They loved watching it.
How would you describe Noelle?
Noelle is very interesting. She’s really multifaceted in a way. There are so many sides to her, when she walks into a scene and you’re like, “OK, is she going to be mean? Is she going to be nice? Where is she going to go today?” You never really knew, and that’s what I liked about her. She’s like the wild card in the movie. You really don’t know where her relationship with Craig is going to go. And I liked that.
Given that your father (Eric Roberts) and aunt (Julia Roberts) were famous actors before you were born, did you feel like you were born to be an actor or is it a career that you consciously chose for yourself?
For me, I always visited my aunt on sets. I just had a blast. I’m very outgoing and social. So for me, I was just trying on all the clothes n the wardrobe and becoming friends with [staffers in] hair and makeup, and having them do my hair and stuff.
And my mom would have to come and pick me up, and it’d be late, and she’d go, “We have to go.” And I’m like, “Please don’t. I don’t want to go.” She’d go, “Emma, it’s 11 at night. You’ve already stayed long enough.” I’d be like, “Please. I want to stay until it’s all over.”
I loved being on set when I was younger. I loved to read, so for me, getting to tell a story is really interesting. It was just fun. It was like playing dress-up. I love it.
What surprised you the most about working on “Scream 4”?
I went into it with absolutely no idea … what the set was going to be like. Wes Craven is directing it. All the originals [from the first three “Scream” movie], like Neve [Campbell], Courteney Cox, David Arquette — they’re all in it. And there’s such a big younger cast, I just went it to it like, “You know what? I’m just going to have a good time.” I’ve had so much fun.
Wes Craven is a legend. To get the opportunity to work with him is really exciting. I’m so happy that I can add that to my résumé that I’ve worked wit him, because he’s just great. It’s crazy. I can’t even talk about it, because I’m scared I’m going to let something slip out. But it’s going to be the best [“Scream” movie] yet.
What did you think the first time you saw the first “Scream” movie?
I’m scared of scary movies. I closed my eyes. But I re-watched them all, just before I did “Scream 4,” with my best friend. And we were sitting on my bed watching the movies, and she was like, “Emma, you’re covering your eyes! Why are you covering your eyes? You have to make this movie!” And I said, “I just don’t want to look.” And she said, “Emma, this is ridiculous.” So for me, I jump [at scary movies]. And when I’m on [the “Scream 4” set], I get the heart [palpitation] thing and I get hot and get nervous, because I’m scared sometimes.
What can you say about your movie “A Great Education”?
That’s not happening anytime soon, so I’m not going to talk about it yet, just because I don’t want to jinx it.
What’s next for you after “Scream 4”?
I have “What’s Wrong With Virginia,” which is at the festival. I did a movie after “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” called “Homework,” with Freddie Highmore. It’s a romantic comedy a la “When Harry Met Sally” and “(500) Days of Summer.” It’s one of my favorite movies I’ve done, so I’m really excited for that to come out. And right now, I’m concentrating on [promoting “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,”], and I’ll be finishing “Scream 4” in the first week of October . And then I’m just going to travel and hang out and read some scripts and see what’s next.
What was the director of “Homework” like?
Gavin Wiseman. He’s a first-time director, and he wrote [“Homework”] too. He’s really talented.
Can you describe your character in “Scream 4”?
I play Jill. I play Neve Campbell [as Sidney Prescott’s] cousin. That’s why my hair is dark, because I had to dye it for the movie.
Is there a lot of humor in “Scream 4” like there was in the previous “Scream” movies?
Yeah. For me, what I love about all the “Scream” movies is that you’re genuinely laughing at some points, like, “This is really funny.” And then you’re genuinely terrified at some points. I think that’s what makes it unique from some of the other horror movies, because it doesn’t take away from the scariness, but it’s totally not like “gore, gore, gore.”
Is there any book that you’ve read that you’d like to see made into a movie?
I can’t say or else somebody’s going to take it. The last thing I read was “In Cold Blood,” which I never read. If people haven’t read it, they should read it, because it’s such a good book.
Have you seen the movie version of “In Cold Blood?”
No. I’m not going to see the movie because I think it will traumatize me. I have to watch it, but I’m scared of it. But the book, I read it in two days. I was completely sucked into it. And now, I have all my friends reading it.
And then just as a fun summer read, I read “Something Borrowed,” because I know the movie’s coming out. I really enjoyed [the movie]. It was cheesy in a way, where you’re like, “I don’t know why I can relate to this, because this would totally not happen in real life,” but it was really fun. It was a fun movie. It was perfectly cast.
Do you still get offers to do a TV series? How do you feel about doing a TV series at this point in our life?
I think there are so many good shows out right now on TV. I never used to watch TV, and now I TiVo everything. I love “The Big C.” It’s so cool. I love “Californication,” which I think is the most clever show on TV. I like “Dexter.”
You seem to like a lot of Showtime series.
Yeah, I do love Showtime. So for me [doing another TV series], I don’t know. I would never rule it out if something amazing came along, but it’s not what I want to do right now, because I feel there are so many amazing opportunities, as far as movies, that I don’t want to be stuck doing something else. I’m a huge “Sex and the City” fan, so if a show came along like that for HBO or something, that would be really cool.
What do you think of “United States of Tara,” since Keir Gilchrist is in that TV series?
I caught a couple of episodes because my friends watch it. I never got into the show, because I didn’t realize they had done so many seasons to get into a show. I saw a couple of episodes. It’s really good. I just don’t follow it, so I’m always very confused [if I watch it].
And what’s your favorite Julia Roberts movie?
For more info: “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” website
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