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posted by: Admin Grazia USA’s Winter Issue



The actress is ready to get back to work, but not at the expense of her personal life.

When Emma Roberts was young, she wrote down on one of her manifestation lists: “Be in a Marvel movie.” Now, at the age of 32, she’s made it happen. The actress is part of the groundbreaking all-female cast of Madame Web, a spin-off of Spider-Man starring Dakota Johnson as Marvel Comics’ first-ever female lead. Roberts is tight-lipped about the film’s plot—all we know is that it’s due in February, and that her character is not, in fact, a superhero. But if Roberts could have a superpower in real life, it would be to stop time, she says. Not jump forward or backward–definitely not backward–but “just pause and be able to take a breath,” she explains, exhaling at the thought.
When we spoke, Roberts was emerging from something of a pause herself. The SAG-AFTRA strike had just ended after six long months. (She found out via text on a plane and ordered a glass of champagne to celebrate.) “I don’t really give myself time off, so it’s interesting when you’re forced to,” she says in hindsight. We’re sitting at a restaurant in the Hamptons, where she’s been living on-and-off with her mother and her almost-three-year-old son, Rhodes, since the strike began. Her loose Nili Lotan jeans and colorful striped sweater make her casual sneakers look cool in a normcore way—as does the Louis Vuitton Loop bag over her shoulder. “I definitely have a new perspective on work where I’m like, ‘I’m allowed to just not work right now,’” she adds. “To me, that’s a novel concept.
Roberts has been working since she was nine years old, when she landed her first acting role inTed Demme’s 2001 drama Blow, which stars Johnny Depp as a cocaine kingpin—real kid-friendly stuff. “I’ve always wanted to work and have a sense of purpose,” she says. When Roberts, whose father is actor Eric Roberts, brother of Julia Roberts, wasn’t auditioning for acting roles as a kid, she was hustling her mom for money in exchange for chores: “I would be like, ‘If I wash the windows, do the dishes, and clean out my room, can I have $5 dollars?’”
Being on a Nickelodeon show was another goal Roberts managed to manifest. In 2004, after a dozen auditions, she landed the lead role of Addie Singer in the network’s sitcom Unfabulous, which ran for three seasons and spawned an album, Unfabulous and More. Roberts, who was 13 at the time, co-wrote two singles: “I Have Arrived” and “This Is Me.”
I don’t like people who become like ‘actor slash singer,’” she so wisely declared to Parade magazine in 2009, when she was still a teenager. “I think people should be one or the other because usually you’re not going to be great at both. You’re going to be better at one, so you might as well stick to the one you’re good at. I’m going for acting.
It was a good choice, and she went on to have some big hits as a teen: Aquamarine (2006), Nancy Drew (2007), Wild Child (2008), and Hotel for Dogs (2009). But in her early 20s, Roberts started landing more adult roles, including one in, well, Adult World (2013), a dramedy co-starring John Cusack and Evan Peters, with whom she would go on to have a long and tumultuous relationship. Also in 2013, Roberts was cast alongside James Franco in Gia Coppola’s directorial debut, Palo Alto—a role that earned her critical praise.
Then Ryan Murphy came calling. Roberts was offered roles in American Horror Story: Coven and American Horror Story: Freak Show as a telekinetic witch-slash-party girl and a grifter fortune teller, respectively. She would later go on to star in the Cult, Apocalypse, and 1984 seasons as well. In 2015, Murphy wrote and created Fox’s Scream Queens with Roberts in mind as one of the lead roles.
Why so much horror? It was an “accident,” Roberts says, but a happy one. “I just love that you can explore certain emotional journeys in a more heightened way [with horror] because it’s shrouded in genre,” she explains. “With Rosemary’s Baby, for example, she’s like, is something up, or am I just going crazy because I’m pregnant? Like, is it me, or is everyone else? Basically, horror is always begging the question: Am I being gaslit??
In September 2023, Roberts was joined by a new co-star on A.H.S.: Kim Kardashian, who appears on Season 12 in a very meta role. “When Ryan called me and said, ‘Kim Kardashian is playing your publicist,’ I was like, ‘You just surpassed genius status,’” she says. “I just thought it was so brilliant. And that’s Ryan’s gift: seeing things in people that they don’t necessarily see in themselves, and putting them in roles that no one else would put them in. He did that for me, and he did that for Kim this season in such a smart way.
For her part, Roberts plays a successful actress who gets pregnant with the help of in vitro fertilization (IVF), administered by a sketchy doctor played by Cara Delevingne. “I love that we’re exploring the theme this season of: Can women have it all? Can you have the baby, the husband, and the career?” Roberts asks.
For inspiration while filming, Roberts has been reading books on the theme of motherhood, including My Work by Olga Ravn, Motherhood by Sheila Heti, and Splinters by Leslie Jameson. In December 2020, Roberts gave birth to her son, Rhodes, with her partner at the time, the actor Garrett Hedlund. (The couple announced their split in January 2022; Hedlund was arrested for public intoxication that same month.) Roberts has said before that she “always wanted to be a mom,” and the pandemic, followed by the strike, afforded her a significant amount of time to immerse herself in this new role.
Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to just accept things as they are,” she says. “That’s always something I think I’ve had a difficult time with. But life happens, and you have to adjust and move forward. When you’ve been under a microscope since you’ve been nine years old, you don’t get the luxury of making mistakes in private. So I learned to just keep moving. That’s all we can do. And I think I’ve gotten better at it. When work stopped [because of the strike], I just took it as an opportunity to spend time with my son and not look at the clock all day.
In addition to being a mom and actor, Roberts also reads books like it’s her job. She always has, ever since her days with a flashlight under the covers with Judy Blume novels. “It’s just such an escape for me,” she says. But now, she’s literally made it a profession. In 2017, Roberts founded Belletrist, a book club with her best friend, executive producer Karah Preiss, who described Roberts to me as both a “human Barbie doll” and “Rain Man.
Emma is incredibly intellectually curious, but was raised around the children of celebrities and studio executives,” says Preiss. “I grew up with parents in publishing. So I think she and I really took to each other because I don’t know if she had friends that were also reading Joan Didion.
Roberts and Preiss started Belletrist, which is French for a work of literature that is aesthetically or artistically pleasing but not so serious, with the goal of culling recommendations beyond the go-to bestseller lists.
What I love about Karah’s taste, and I think where we align, is that we love famous authors and big bestsellers, but we also love new writers and more obscure novellas,” says Roberts.. Fourteen years ago, there wasn’t really an in-between. So we thought, why not create a place that blends all of this together?” Also: “Why do you have to read serious books to be a serious reader?
Over the course of our hour-long conversation, Roberts rattles off the names of almost 20 different books and authors, from works by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) to Truman Capote to Patti Smith to Eve Babitz—and that was before we visited a bookstore nearby. Reading is clearly not some press bit; it’s very genuinely her life. (In fact, I realized that the one time I’ve ever spotted her in the wild was alone at a bookstore in Los Angeles.)
So, of course, I’m tempted to read into every name she mentions. A recent obsession with ’60s and ’70s Hollywood, for example, seems inextricably linked to the strike, right? (She was finishing The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Watson when we spoke; I saw it peeking out of her Vuitton bag.) But Roberts refutes any narrativization in that way; she’s just following her interests. I also bring up a recent Belletrist recommendation: Britney Spears’ memoir, which Roberts says she devoured. Rather than unpack the heavy subject of childhood stardom, though, she tells me a funny story, instead.
When I was seven or eight—this was back in the days of landlines—my mom and my aunt told me someone was on the phone for me,” Roberts recalls. “I was like, ‘Hello?’ And this person goes, ‘Hi, happy birthday! It’s Britney Spears!’ And I hung up because I thought it was a prank. My family was like, ‘It wasn’t a prank; that was your birthday present!’ And they got her back on the phone.” But yeah, Emma Roberts accidentally hung up on Britney Spears.
In 2019, Roberts and Preiss spun out Belletrist Book Club into a production company called Belletrist Productions. Their first big hit was adapting Tell Me Lies, which was originally a book by Carola Lovering, for Hulu. Priess was the one who brought the book to Roberts’ attention. “I still say she’s my best pupil because a lot of the time, I’ll read a page and suggest it to her because I know she’ll like it. Then she’ll read it [so fast], I can’t talk about it because I haven’t read it yet,” Preiss says with a laugh.
I loved it,” Roberts echoes. “I hadn’t seen a show that portrayed a toxic relationship on TV in so long in such a real way. Karah described it as a relationship thriller, and I was like, totally. I think we can all relate to that high school or college relationship that we have as a touchstone for what not to do.
The show, which found a cult following perhaps for that exact reason, will start filming its second season in 2024. Roberts hopes to guest star. Although, being behind the scenes on the production side has changed the way she operates on set. “Sometimes it’s distracting to know how the sauce is made,” she says. “I have to turn that part of my brain off when I’m acting because I’m like, ‘Wait, what’s wrong? What’s happening?’
It’s made her curious about exploring other roles for herself, though. In the next five years, Roberts’ goal is to direct. “Ryan [Murphy] has been so amazing, saying that he would let me direct one of his shows, so maybe that would be my first attempt,” she says. It wasn’t something she ever thought she’d do. But, “I just want to stay creative and try new things,” she explains. “I feel like I was 22 yesterday, and now I’m 32. Having a kid just makes you see that time moves so quickly. I want to do as much as possible in an interesting or unique way—or, at least in a way that’s interesting to me.
In the meantime, Roberts has a long list of upcoming films that she can finally promote, including Madame Web, which was directed by S.J. Clarkson, and Space Cadet, which was written and directed by Liz Garcia and stars Roberts as Rex, a Florida party girl who accidentally lies her way into NASA. “I’ve been trying to work with Liz for a decade; I’m so in awe of her,” she says. “She wrote something that’s really inspiring and sweet. Lately, all I’ve been consuming is true crime, documentaries, and the news, so this movie feels like a little pocket of light that I’m excited about.
Now that the strike is over, Roberts will be heading straight back to set for A.H.S. in New York. This will be her first time filming a television show since having a child, although she has worked on movies, which operate on a different schedule. She’s “ready to get back to work,” she says, but isn’t rushing into anything. “I just kind of want to see where everything lands and not really make any major decisions until the new year,” she says, looking ahead. “My plan is that I have no plan.
When I ask what her resolution is for 2024, she says balance. “When my career is going really well, my home life suffers. And when my home life is going really well, my career can suffer,” she explains. “So I’ve been trying to build the blocks to make those even, and I feel like I have finally gotten as close as I’ve ever come. I want to keep building on that, and really create a life away from work that is substantial and beautiful enough to live in; not just a pit-stop between jobs.
In some ways, these building blocks take a literal form. “This year, I’ve been redoing my house in LA, even though I haven’t been there,” Roberts continues. “I told my therapist, ‘I want to rip up the floors, but my mom says I don’t have to.’ And he was like, ‘Well, subconsciously, you probably want to get grounded and create a base that’s yours.’ And I was like, ‘I’m ripping the floors!’ Let me tell you: It made me feel emotionally better. So, it’s the little things and big things — and everything in between. I’m trying to go with my gut more while also being open at the same time. You know, nothing too major, just the hardest things of all time.

The latest issue of Grazia USA, the magazine published by Reworld Media Group and edited by Joseph Errico, arrives Monday, December 18, at select retailers in the United States as well as on graziamagazine.com.

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