"I never felt more comfortable with myself since I turned 24," says Emma Roberts, referring to her current age during her interview for the January 2016 issue of Allure. "I feel like I've crossed the bridge into being a woman." It was Roberts's aunt Julia Roberts who originally set Emma on her life's journey--but that was inadvertent.
The young child would sit spellbound on the set of Erin Brockovich, "and I would hide," she recalls. When night fell, "I'd run and hide in her makeup trailer and hear, 'Where's Emma? It's time for bed! She has to go home!'" A pause. "I remember it feeling like summer camp, just the feeling of creativity." Roberts began begging to audition when she was very young--and landed a part in the 2001 film Blow as the daughter of a drug smuggler's wife, played by Penelope Cruz. At 13, she starred in Unfabulous, a charming Nickelodeon series about a middle schooler with a seemingly hopeless crush on a classmate.
At every step of her early career, Roberts's mother, Kelly Cunningham, warned her about the consequences of choosing an acting career too young, asking her to delay her ambitions. Cunningham was for a time the live-in girlfriend of actor Eric Roberts (Julia's brother), who has had drug-abuse issues as well as run-ins with the law, and the bitterness of their split, which included a custody battle for young Emma that Eric lost, is sometimes reflected in his daughter's outlook on family life. (Including her startled response on learning of her interviewer's conventional life: "You're married? To your children''s dad? That's amazing!")
Acting was more than a love for young Roberts; it was an escape. But that escape didn't always yield rewards, as she discovered. "I still remember when I didn't get the part of Wendy in the movie Peter Pan--that was my only devastation," she says. "And my mom said to me, 'OK, maybe you should stop, be in school, and focus on being a kid.' And I said, 'No! I want a shot at glory!'"
When, at 16, she starred in the movie Nancy Drew, her career resumed its upward glide. Several small movies, including It's Kind of a Funny Story and Palo Alto, which was directed by Gia Coppola, followed. But it was her splashy role as a bitchy witch-in-training in American Horror Story: Coven that brought her to a new level of fame. Chosen by the show's creator, Ryan Murphy, a good friend (and sometime director) of her aunt Julia, Roberts was elated: When the call came from Murphy, she recalls, she was at home, "jumping around the couches silently."