Emma Roberts has decided to work at an adult video store. Only temporarily, of course, and just for a role in a movie, but she appears to love it, saying that on her first day, "It was funny. We were all just looking at everything, throwing stuff and yelling, 'What is this? What is this?'"
Roberts' turn as a seller of smut is the basis of Adult World (premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival), which imagines an increasingly familiar scenario of a young, smart college graduate returning home and realizing that she has been mistaken: She can't be anything she wants to be. Or at least, certainly not in this economy. Her character Amy is in the mold of Girls — but where Dunham's commentary on modern 20-something women can be dark, Adult World has some seriously silly moments.
Which is kind of like Roberts herself. At the Babyliss Pro Arts & Cinema Studio where we chatted her up, the pint-sized actress was full of laughter and quick to make a joke about herself. When we told her that her co-star Evan Peters said she was a big goof, she immediately broke into a faux-scandalized grin, sarcastically shocked he would have said such a thing. Her smile was incredible (like a certain other member of her family), but her wry sense of humor felt all her own.
So who is your character in Adult World?
"Her name is Amy. She's coming of age a little later than most people. She's graduating college and really wants to be a famous poet. She thinks that she's the best and realizes that the real world is much harder than she expected. It's harder to get a job, and it's harder to be recognized. She has a hard time coming to terms with that."
As writers, we understand that. The director has said that "a lot of kids are realizing they can't be whatever they want to be." We tell kids they can be whatever they want to be, but do you think that's true in this day and age?
"I think kids can definitely be whatever they want, but if you see someone that's a friend or a family member doing something that they're not good at — it's your duty to tell them. I think people get false expectations about a lot of things. I think that's where my character is. She was raised to believe that she was amazing at everything, only to find that people in the real world think otherwise. She just thinks they're mean, but really... it's a little bit true. She then realizes she needs to find a different path. It's a good lesson in the story. Ultimately, finding something you love and you're good at is the goal; not just doing what you want. If you didn't know you were bad at one thing, you wouldn't necessarily know you were amazing at something else."
Photo: Erik Pendzich/Rex USA
This story reminds us a lot of Girls. There's a young girl who thinks she's going to go to New York and be the next Susan Sontag. Did that influence you at all? Do you watch the show?
"Totally! I mean I love Girls. My life revolves around Girls. I love that Adult World and Girls capture this generation that is very much my generation where everyone is figuring things out a lot later, and having a lot more room for error. I think it makes for interesting stories. I feel like people aren't finding themselves until their late twenties. That's cool in a way. You know, I'm 22 and I know I've changed so much even in the past year when we made this movie. When we made this movie I was going through this transitional where-is-my-life-going stage — which was good for this role. I'm happy to be out of that for the moment, but I'll probably be back in it again soon. For right now I'm pretty good."
There's this term called "manic pixie dream girl" that's a part of film theory. In the early 2000's, people were really interested in the girls like Natalie Portman's character in Garden State, the brilliant underachiever.
"That's so true! There's this middle ground of people that no one's really explored. They're not the smartest, the funniest, the prettiest, but they're not losers. They're in this in-between, which I can totally relate to. You have all the responsibilities of an adult, but people treat you like a kid or vice-versa. It's cool to see that explored on TV and film. That's why I love Girls so much."
Yeah! You used to see these characters like Natalie Portman's who are quirky and seems to have it all together, but things don't always turn out for them.
"I think it's also an exploration of how things don't necessarily turn out the way you expect them to. I think a lot of people have a hard time with that; like this is not how it was supposed to turn out in the journal I wrote when I was 16. People can't get over that sometimes. There are certain things that don't work out and they're always the things that you really wanted, and so instead of having a plan B you spiral into an "oh-no" state. My character in the movie is basically spiraling into the plan B and you watch her trying to figure out what her back up is going to be."
Which lends itself to humorous moments!
"Yeah, of course!"
When you grow up in Hollywood, how does someone date normally or have friendships?
"It's definitely weird. It's hard to meet people, or you meet people you work with, which is always weird. I don't know. I try to keep close to all my friends I've known my whole life and try to meet people through them — friends and romances. I think it's important to be around people you can trust. That's definitely hard to come by, which is why I've had my close friends for years."
How do you stay grounded?
"I like to just have fun, you know, normal stuff. I love to hang with my friends, go to the movies, lay in bed and have a reality TV marathon."
How was it working with the cast?
It was awesome, so fun. Scott Coffey, the director, is one of my best friends now. Evan [Peters] is so great. John Cusak was so awesome to work with. I couldn't have asked for a better cast.
Evan said you were a really big ham on set. He said you were really funny.
"Really? He said that! Oh, I'm gonna slap him. Yeah, we had fun. We were always making fun of each other."