History has taught us that the transition from child star to adult actor is one of Hollywood’s toughest professional hurdles, but Emma Roberts is making that evolution look effortless with wonderfully complex roles in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Scream 4, The Art of Getting By and Celeste & Jesse. Although it seems that those projects were simply set-ups for her greatest performance to date: as the wickedly wonderful Madison Montgomery on American Horror Story: Coven.
From her first vitriol-laced barb, it was clear that both the actress and her creation were not to be trifled with. Subsequent episodes have given Emma room to evolve Madison into more than your garden variety bitch as she’s slyly infused all of her most venomous moments with an unmistakable insecurity and breathed luxurious lethargy into Madison’s recent resurrection.
I caught up with Emma Roberts in anticipation of tonight’s mid-season finale (titled Head in honor of Madame LaLaurie’s decapitated dome) that kicks the coven vs. coven feud up a dozen notches. In addition to warning viewers they’ll soon be forced to pick a side, Emma opened up about her time in Ryan Murphy’s Coven, basking in the overwhelming online reaction to Madison and the shocking scene that never aired!
ETonline: Coven fans are pretty obsessed with Madison. What’s the reaction been like for you?
Emma Roberts: It’s been pretty amazing. I was so worried people would hate her too much, but I keep getting all these hilarious Tweets from people saying they love to hate her or declaring they’re on “Team Madison.” It’s really fun to play a character that people have such strong opinions about. I love reading Twitter to see what everyone thinks about the fashion and the hair and makeup and her one-liners. I couldn’t be more excited. I’m seriously going to be so sad when I don’t get to play her anymore.
ETonline: Almost all the actors sign on to the show without knowing much about their characters, so what’s been the most surprising thing you’ve been asked to do as Madison?
Roberts: In [The Dead, which aired November 20] there was a scene where Madison confronts Spalding about him keeping her as a doll and they end up having sex! I was pretty shocked by that. It ended up being cut out of the episode, but it was so crazy because we filmed this twisted and freaky sex scene where we’re surrounded by all these dolls and I’m watching the episode and thinking “We went through all that for nothing?” [laughs] I mean, it was worth it because Denis O’Hare is such a brilliant actor and we had so much fun working together. But that was one of those moments the old me would have said no to. I’m just finding my inner Madison and going for it now. [laughs]
ETonline: Young actors can struggle to find worthy opportunities as they mature, but you’ve really thrived in that space. What’s your take on the roles available for young women at this time?
Roberts: I think if you keep an open mind and actively look, you find these really great roles that you might have otherwise never even known were out there. I mean, I never in a million years thought I’d ever get to play someone like Madison. I’ve been dying to play a character like this since I was 16 and It all came together in this really serendipitous way because I’ve wanted to be on this show since season one. I’m beyond happy.
ETonline: Has it been nice to work with your boyfriend Evan Peters on top of it!
Roberts: It’s so crazy how that worked out, because I remember when I got the call about doing the show, I thought he knew about it and didn’t tell me — but he was shocked. He had no idea. It happened totally separate of us, but it’s been really cool to have this experience and be in New Orleans together.
ETonline: That said, it must have been strange for you two to film Madison and Kyle’s sex scene…
Roberts: We just laughed about it. It was hard not to laugh when Taissa [Farmiga, who plays Zoe] opened the door because the whole situation was just ridiculous.
ETonline: What can you tease about the love triangle since it looks like that’s about to reach a breaking point now that Madison heard Kyle confess his love for Zoe.
Roberts: It is a weird triangle because as much as Madison and Zoe clash, there is a sense of sisterhood between them because they’re in this coven. I think Zoe and Kyle love each other and Madison wants to be picked. I don’t think she loves him, I think she just wants to win. It’s interesting how the whole thing unfolds.
ETonline: I like that you say Madison just wants to be picked because I’ve loved how much of her insecurities you’ve been able to subtly bring to the surface. When you were working on creating her, what were some of the key traits you honed in on?
Roberts: I’m so happy to hear you say that because it was so important to me that she not be just your typical bitch. I wanted to give her more layers because I think the best bitches are the ones who don’t know they’re the bitch. Madison genuinely thinks she’s doing everyone a favor by giving them her opinion. It was important that I never play “the bitch,” but rather someone who thinks she’s helping when she tells someone they smell bad and are rude, which I think is funnier.
ETonline: Madison has been through quite a lot in just nine episodes; for starters, she’s killed her rapists and come back from the dead, but do you think she’s capable of learning from these experiences and evolving?
Roberts: That’s a tough one because while I think she is, the wonderful thing about Madison is you never really know what she’s thinking. She’ll seem super sweet but will then blow cigarette smoke in your face [laughs]. I kind of like that you never really know which way she’s going to go. There are some upcoming scenes that are very sweet and she’s really helping out the other girls, but then she turns around and intentionally hurts people. It’s tough to figure out which way she’s going to go. I don’t know if she’ll be evil or nice in the end.
ETonline: Given how in the dark the actors are, has there been much on-set discussion about who will eventually assume The Supreme throne?
Roberts: You know what’s funny about that? Coming onto the show we all thought we were going to be The Supreme. One day we were all standing around and, eventually, each of us admitted they’d basically told us we would be The Supreme. We had a good laugh about that. But there are some twists coming up in that storyline you’ve yet to see, so I kinda feel like in the end, none of us will actually be The Supreme.
ETonline: What excites you about tonight’s episode, Head?
Roberts: I love what I wear tonight! I mean, Madison’s outfits are stepped up a notch — if that’s even possible! There’s this hat that is so good. I also got to do a scene with Patti [LuPone], who is just amazing. She does some singing in the episode and we were all standing around, getting teary-eyed. You learn a lot about her character, Joan Ramsey, who is not what she seems. And that’s kind of true for all the characters tonight. Oh, and there is a scene that I couldn’t even believe because … oh wait, I can’t say that [laughs]. It’s so hard to do interviews because I just want to gush about everything coming up, but I don’t want to spoil anything for the fans. To me, a lot of these little things don’t feel like spoilers, but then the interview comes out and everyone on Twitter hates me for spoiling something [laughs].
ETonline: Fair enough, well, looking ahead, what are you excited for the fans to see this season?
Roberts: It’s going to be fun for the audience to really start to take sides in this battle because as much as all the characters are coming together, a lot of the relationships, both inside and outside our coven, are falling apart. It’ll be fun for the fans to pick which side they should be on because they will be seriously split really soon.
ETonline: Lastly, Ryan Murphy has already started to formulate season four ideas, have you talked to him about returning?
Roberts: Not yet, but I hope to [come back]. I recently told someone that I’d love to play a wide-eyed nice girl next year and their response was, “But you’re so good at being a bitch.” Um … thanks? [laughs]
American Horror Story: Coven airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.