As a tyke, Emma Roberts, now 16, loved hanging out on sets. She mourned the nightly wrap, though she wasn’t technically working. The daughter of actor Eric Roberts and niece to Oscar winner Julia Roberts, she had seen enough of the industry by kindergarten to know she wanted to act.
Even so, Roberts’ mother wouldn’t let her go on auditions for years. At age 9, though, she was invited to read for the role of Johnny Depp’s daughter in “Blow,” and her mom said OK.
“It wasn’t anything too difficult, just a dialogue scene,” Roberts remembers. “I went in there and had fun with it.”
A couple of years later, Paula Kaplan offered Roberts a guest role on Nickelodeon’s “Drake and Josh,” which eventually led to a starring role on her own Nick show, “Unfabulous.”
“Emma had a sense of humor in general and about herself,” says the network’s senior VP of talent. “She was a very real girl to us. We saw her audition, and it all felt right.”
Other casting directors sensed it, too, leading to more feature opportunities, first in the mermaid drama “Aquamarine” and later as the title character in this summer’s “Nancy Drew,” based on the popular girl-detective series.
Kaplan believes Roberts has what it takes to endure: “Emma is relatable. She can play a character who is funny and serious at the same time, and she’s believable at both. It is rare to find a beautiful girl who is great with comedy.”
From here on out, the actress intends to focus on features.
She’s currently shooting the Universal/Working Title release, “Wild Child,” playing Poppy, a spoiled Malibu teen sent to an English boarding school. In coming months, she’ll act opposite Don Cheadle in “Hotel for Dogs.”
Recent breakthrough: “Playing Nancy Drew was hardest. I’m so opposite her in real life.”
Role model: “(As a teen,) Drew Barrymore came through a rough patch, but she made a good transition. I love all of her movies.”
What’s next: “In ‘Wild Child,’ I have to wear a platinum-blond wig down to my waist. It’s tough getting in and out of, but this is my favorite project so far.”