‘Palo Alto’ Star Emma Roberts Recounts Her Teenage Years

Emma Roberts on Set, photo by Gia Coppola

“You always think you’ll never forget what it was like to be a teenager,” says Emma Roberts, star of Gia Coppola’s first feature film, Palo Alto. “But then you get older and completely forget everything.” Based on select, and somewhat inconspicuous scenes from James Franco’s book of short stories, Palo Alto is this year’s angsty teen flick but with out all of the stuff. Subdued, or stoned, is her take on the obtrusive spell that is high school when sex, parties, drugs, homework , and The Future, are on the brain.

Coppola—maybe due to her budding age of 27 or the sheer fact she is destined for greatness like her forefathers—has winningly re-mastered adolescence through the eyes of the underdog in us all. Roberts plays her innocent leading lady April, opposite newcomer Jack Kilmer (Val’s very pretty son), the misunderstood artist Teddy. Franco plays April’s seductive soccer coach, while the actress Zoe Levin plays Emily, the slut, though you never hear that word murmured once in the film, and the rising actor Nat Wolff plays Fred, the explosively provocative friend in the Fight Against Authority.

I went  back to age seventeen with Roberts hours before the film premiered at TriBeCa Film Festival.

What were you like at 17-years-old?

I was a social butterfly, for the lack of a better phrase. I was definitely a lot more outgoing than April. It’s funny, you always think you’ll never forget what it was like to be a teenager, but then you get older and completely forget everything.

Did you go to a proper high school?

I was home-schooled for five years, but I went to all of my friends’ school stuff like dances and football games, so I guess I got the experience—without really having to have the experience [laughs]. My friends always joked, “You’ve been to high school in the movies but never in real life.”

April’s room in Palo Alto was Gia Coppola’s real-life childhood room, replete with her aunt’s Virgin Suicides movie poster on the wall. What did your childhood room look like in L.A.?

It was very girly. My door was covered in stickers and cut outs from magazines. I was obsessed with collaging all the time. I had a bulletin board covered with stuff I love. I had a very girly bed and lots of books. My CD player was my life. I listened to Spice Girls and Britney Spears and choreographed dances in my room [laughs]. I was a pretty good lip-syncer…

My cousin had Jonathan Taylor Thomas cut outs all over her wall…

Oh, Jonathan Taylor Thomas! He was so cute. I was in love with him.

There are a lot of “first times” in this film. Can you tell me about one “first time” for you?

I’ve been on set pretty much my whole life, but Blow was my first movie and my first audition. My mom finally let me go on one audition, and I got the role! I love that movie.

You’re pretty involved in the fashion world. Did you have any say in April’s wardrobe in the movie?

A lot of April’s clothes were actually Gia and my clothes. We were both really present in the wardrobe and hair and make up looks. It was very fun to get to collaborate on that and it really helped me get into character. I liked that April doesn’t really look like me, as in Emma Roberts, she just looks like a girl in a movie.

So many teen movies are full of make up and fashion and boobs…

[Laughs] Yea, I hate that. There were some days when Gia wouldn’t allow me to put any make up on and I was like, “Gia, let me have my mascara!” and she was like, “No.” She would literally drag me out of the hair and make up chair and tell everyone not to put any make up on me. 

Were you and Gia close friends before the film?

Definitely acquaintances, but I was actually closer with her mom Jackie. But we always had a really good back-and-forth when we would see each other out. Gia and I really bonded when we started working on the movie. It just became a short-hand between us on set where we didn’t even have to finish our sentences, we would just understand each other and what we wanted from the scene. It was really nice to work with someone like that. Especially being two young females in the movie industry, it’s nice to have another young girl have your back. It’s good for all the girls to stick together. She’s just the coolest. 

There was barely a trace of social media in the film, except for a few text messages between April and Teddy.

That was actually my cell phone with my bright yellow Juicy Couture phone case on it! But [the film] was definitely more about being in the moment. I like when it’s more simplified and people just exist and are not being sucked into social media like we all are becoming.

Are you avid on Social Media?

I definitely am guilty of it but I try to step away from it. I put my phone away at a certain time at night. Sometimes, I’ll have weekends with my girlfriends where we all leave our phones and just hang out. At Coachella, everyone kept taking out their phones to take pictures and one of my girlfriends finally said, “OK, everyone put their phones away, no more taking pictures – we are just going to be in the moment instead of trying to remember the moment.” I want to have a dinner party where everyone has to leave their cell phones in a hat at the door. 

That’s a great idea. I heard you are an avid reader. What was your favorite book in high school?

I loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the actual novella. I loved loved loved that book. I’ve read it a bunch of times. 

Favorite book now? 

Anything Joan Didion. But right now, I’m reading The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. I’m actually going at a snail’s pace because I just don’t want it to be over. 

Favorite movie when you were seventeen?

Clueless.

Favorite movie now?

Clueless . I love Miss Congeniality, 13 Going on 30 . I’m a sucker for chick flicks, for sure. 

Who was your crush at seventeen?

[To her Mom] Mom, who did I like at seventeen? She just said, “Who didn’t you like at seventeen [laughs].” I love having a good crush. Isn’t it so fun to be seventeen and have a crush on someone? That’s the best feeling in the world. Shia LaBeouf was my crush for sure. He was all over my bulletin board. 

And it’s pretty safe to say who your celebrity crush is now…

Yea. Totally!

And Jack Kilmer is going to be every seventeen-year-old’s crush now…

I know. I told Jack, “If I were seventeen and single I would be so in love with you right now.” And he ignores all of us girls, which of course makes us all like him even more . 

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