Emma doing very niece-ly
Her aunt is one of the most famous stars in Hollywood and Emma Roberts (left) looks set to follow her lead, says Ed Power
There is an elephant standing in the middle of the London hotel suite where Emma Roberts is meeting the press today and the elephant's name is Julia.
Like her Hollywood superstar aunt, 16-year-old Roberts has the sort of dazzling smile that might have been designed with movie cameras in mind and as you are led into the room by her assistant you can't help but be struck by the family resemblance.
Emma has also inherited Julia Roberts' steely professionalism. She may be barely out of braces and pig-tails, yet the actress, who stars as the eponymous girl sleuth in a lavish new Nancy Drew movie, is already an astute media operator. Holding court at Claridges hotel, Roberts (daughter of actor Eric) fields questions about growing up as the niece of an iconic star with the assurance of an gnarled old pro.
"She was an inspiration to me obviously, because she's such a fantastic actress," says Roberts, perched rod-like at the edge of the seat (while she has the chiselled features of a movie-star-to-be, the most impressive thing about Roberts is surely her remarkable carriage). "However, she was always my aunt first of all. I didn't see her as this huge star. I saw her as a sweet person who was nice to hang out with."
In the new Nancy Drew film, Roberts plays against type. She portrays the girl sleuth as a geeky eccentric, a loner seeking to compensate for the death of her mother by solving crimes and by dressing like a refugee from a middle America suburb circa 1952 (rather controversially the film is set in present day California, and Drew's girl-scout chic is presented in jarring contrast to the mall fashions of her schoolmates).
"What I like about Nancy is that she's her own person," says Roberts (evidently relieved that the conversation has moved on from her aunt). "She doesn't want to be one of the cool kids in school. She is happy to be herself. She knows what she wants from life and isn't going to compromise to fit in. I wouldn't say her fashion choices are necessarily the same as mine. All the same, I find it admirable that she sticks to her guns when the kids in school are giving her a hard time."
Raised in Los Angeles, Roberts has followed the classic career path of the child star. Aged 13, she bagged her own Nickelodeon TV show, Unfabulous and has released several pop albums. "I enjoyed my music career but it isn't what I'm focusing on right now," she says.
Two years ago, she left the show, lining up roles in forthcoming movies such as Hotel for Dogs and Wild Child. Not that all the attention has gone to her head. At a time when you can't turn on your television without being bombarded with salacious stories about Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, she appears remarkably grounded for someone on the brink of stardom.
"You know what the really tragic thing about Lindsey Lohan is? - she's a fantastic actress," says Roberts. "That's what makes it really sad. Luckily, I've always seemed to have a strong streak of common sense. I have my friends and I like to go out in LA but no way would I ever want to do something stupid."
Before all of those roles, though, was Roberts' screen debut. In Ted Demme's cocaine biopic Blow, she was cast as the daughter of Johnny Depp's drug dealer.
In many ways, Nancy Drew is an equally challenging part.
She may not have a terribly high profile in this country but in the US Drew is practically a national institution.
Nancy Drew opens in cinemas today