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Emma Roberts explores porn and post-graduation blues in 'Adult World'

Emma Roberts in "Adult World"
Emma Roberts in "Adult World"
IFC Films

“Adult World” is a satirical comedy about Amy Anderson (played by Emma Roberts), an eccentric young woman who has just graduated from Stanford University, convinced she's going to be a famous poet. Saddled with debt and unemployed, she moves back in with her parents, who force her to get a job. Desperate and armed with a poetry degree and not much else, she takes the only job she can find: working as a sales clerk in a pornography store called Adult World. Meanwhile, desperate to get her poems published, Amy stalks an aging punk poet figure named Rat Billings (played by John Cusack), “one of the greatest poets of the early '90s." Rat reluctantly agrees to mentor her.

Emma Roberts at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival premiere of "Adult World"
Getty Images

As Amy makes new friends — including a drag queen named Rubia, the elderly couple who owns Adult World, and Alex (played by Evan Peters), who is Adult World’s charming and quirky young manager — she learns that she might not be the voice of her generation after all. The movie also stars Armando Riesco, Cloris Leachman, Shannon Woodward, John Cullum, Catherine Lloyd Burns and Reed Birney. In real life, Roberts and Peters began dating in 2012, not long after they filmed "Adult World." The couple (who also co-starred in the TV series "American Horror Story: Coven") got engaged in December 2013. "Adult World" had its world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Here is what Roberts said when I caught up with her at the festival during a roundtable interview that she did with me and other journalists.

What was it like working with your real-life boyfriend Evan Peters in "Adult World"? And how did you prepare for your role in this movie?

It was awesome! I was such a fan of him in "American Horror Story," like obsessed with that show, so I was really excited to get to work with him. He's so good in the movie, and so cute, and really fun.

As far as preparing, we did have a lot of rehearsal time, so it was a lot of "on the day" Scott [Coffey, the director of "Adult World"] telling us what to do and adlibbing and having fun with it.

You saw "Adult World" for the first time at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere. What surprised you the most when you saw "Adult World" for the first time? And what surprised you the most about any of the audience's reactions to the movie?

It was awesome! I was so nervous to see it. I was so hiding under the chair. And then people were laughing the whole time, so I was like, "Oh my God! This is so exciting!" When we were making it, we were laughing the whole time and had the best time. But a lot of times, some of the inside jokes don't translate.

But I think people really got it. And I think it came across much more comedic than I thought it would. I was really glad about that, because I think it's important for a movie like this to say something and have a message. It's kind of sad, but it's important for it to also be funny and show that sometimes you just have to laugh at stuff. Life never goes the way you think it's going to go.

Was there any improvised scene in "Adult World" that you were glad didn't get cut out of the movie?

It's so hard to remember what was improvised. I would say about 75 percent of it had improvisation. I just loved the scene with me and John Cusack when I go over to [Rat Billings' house] dressed like a hooker, because that was a crazy scene to shoot, and we did it so many times and so many different ways. And I really liked the way it turned out. It just felt really honest, the way it would go down if you actually did that to someone. And so, I really liked that scene.

There was also a scene you did with John Cusack where you smash a guitar. How much was that scene improvised?

We did three or four takes with the guitar. We had three or four guitars. I was so scared because I'm a weakling. I didn't smash it the first time. I was smashing it and smashing it, and it did not dent.

So they literally had to pre-cut the whole thing because I was such a weakling and couldn't break it. But that was nerve-wracking because I was like, "I hope I don't mess it up and ruin the guitar and then we'd have no guitars."

When you were filming "Adult World" in Syracuse, New York, what did you do for fun?

We were working the whole time. We only had 20-something days to shoot. We literally were working the whole time. The cast and crew hung out a lot at the hotel we were staying at. It was fun. It was a great group of people.

This was one of my favorite movies I got to work on because it really meant a lot to me. I was going through a lot of the crisis that Amy was going through, like, "Where is my life going?" So it was kind of cool to have that moment captured on film.

How was your preparation for "Adult World" different from the other comedy films that you've done?

I think Scott [Coffey] and I, we kind of just "got" each other and "got" what we wanted the movie to be about and what we wanted the character to be about. I think I brought a lot of myself to her, like being neurotic a little bit and high-strung. It was fun.

A lot of the stuff we didn't mean to be funny ended up [being funny]. Scott and I are just so high-strung, so that came out a lot in Amy. We say that Amy is my and Scott's child. If we had a child, it would be Amy. [She laughs.]

Did making "Adult World" change your view of relationships?

The message of the movie, after I saw it, kind of change my view. I thought it was so special, in that it really shows someone not having a Plan B and having to come up with one and having to think quick when things don't go your way. I think I learned a lot from that, definitely. It's hard to imagine your plans not working out, and when they don't, you're like, "Oh, sh*t. Now what?" I think I learned a lot from that.

A lot of comedy comes from Amy working as a clerk at a porn store, which is a job she thought she'd never have. What's the craziest job you've ever had?

I think I could relate to her in the sense that you feel like an adult your whole life, but when you're actually in the real world, you're like, "Where's my mom? What am I going to do? Oh, I have to buy my own paper towels." I think that whole thing when you first become an adult, you start regressing a little bit before you make it over the hump to becoming an adult. So I can relate to that.

Can you talk about the scene where Amy tries to seduce Rat? What was it like to do that scene?

It was fun. I did not know how it was going to turn out. I think part of me blocked it out a little bit because it was so ridiculous, but I thought it was really fun. I think we've all had those moments of you have so much in your mind of what "sexy" is supposed to be, and you try to kind of do that, and it never ends up being sexy. I just thought that was funny, because every girl has had that moment of, "I'm going to be this kind of girl," and it just does not go well.

What was it like working with John Cusack?

Working with John was awesome! I've been such a fan of his forever. I love all of his movies. He's been acting forever, so it was cool to work with someone who's done so much.

I just think he did such a great job with the role. He was really funny, he was sweet. He was mean sometimes, as far as the [Rat Billings] character. In real life, he's just a cool guy.

He would talk and tell a lot of stories. He was really fun. We got along great. I would definitely work with him again. He's so sweet.

What kind of entertainment do you like in real life?

I used to never watch TV, but now I watch every single thing on TV. I love "New Girl." I like "Revenge." I really like "Girls," obviously; it's my obsession in life.

As far as music, I love the Lumineers right now. Daft Punk. I listen to a lot of mixes. I spend so much time in my car, living in L.A., that I'm like, Can someone just make me a ton of mix CDs that I can listen to?"

And with movies, I like everything. I pretty much see everything that's out. I'm really into action movies lately. Hopefully, I'll get to do one soon.

Do you think girls will be able to relate to Amy Anderson?

It's more of a generational thing. I feel like I come from a generation of girls and boys who want to do creative things, and no one feels they're not the best. I think it's an awakening that even if you are, things can go wrong, but no one will tell you, so you have you find out the hard way. So I think this generation of kids all want the same thing. It either goes really well or really badly or somewhere in the middle. I find those stories really interesting.

What do you hope people take away from seeing "Adult World"?

Hopefully, they'll laugh and maybe get a little teary-eyed. I hope they'll see some of themselves in it. I hope they'll walk away thinking they had a good time watching the movie, because that's what I like to do when I go to the movies.

Can you talk about the Amy Anderson's wardrobe?

A lot of it was my own clothes. I wore a lot of my own boots and my won jeans. All of my stuff was perfectly worn in for someone, so I had a day where I went through my closet that I thought Amy would wear, and I brought it to the costumer. And I was like, "Here's what I think Amy would wear, if you want to pepper it into the wardrobe."

And then [the "Adult World" costume designer] had a lot of stuff. But yeah, I wanted to to be like [Amy Anderson] has style, but she throws stuff together and re-wears a lot of things. I think she kind of is a little bit character-y, so I think she'll wear something funny sometimes, like her little beret hat. I thought what would be cute.

Were there any particular designers that you wore?

A lot of them are vintage stuff. The boots I wore the whole time were Fiorentini+Baker. And all the clothes were pretty random. I think there were some Elizabeth and James, actually, that I had from a long time ago. Vintage T-shirts and then some random jeans from Rag and Bone.

What did you think when you first read the "Adult World" script?

I read it and fell in love with it. It was a part that I had been wanting to do for my whole career. This was the part I wanted to play, so I was really happy when I got it. It's definitely one of those movies that is close to me and really connected with.

A lot of times, you work on projects that you do it, it's done, and you never think about it again. And this movie kind of stayed with me, Scott Coffey is one of my best friends. I love it.

Evan Peters said that "Adult World" had some amazing props on the set. Were there any props that stood out for you?

Just all the stuff in the adult shop was funny. We were always throwing stuff at each other from the store. It was fun to play around with that stuff.

What's next for you?

I just did a pilot called "Delirium" for Fox. It's based on a young-adult trilogy. It's a really cool futuristic [story]. It takes place in a utopia. Basically, the world is cured of love, and when you turn 18, you get cured of delirium, which is love, and the government runs your whole life. And my character falls in love right before she gets cured and she runs off. The writer also did "Prison Break," so it's more mature and action-packed [than the books].

For more info: "Adult World" website