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Why Emma Roberts Was Never The Same After American Horror Story

It all started with the Harmon family's unfortunate move into a haunted mansion. But "haunted" doesn't begin to capture the intensely unnerving vibe of FX's American Horror Story. Since its first season in 2011, the series had viewers bearing witness to brutal murders, demonic possession, creepy kids, killer clowns—the stuff of nightmares guaranteed to chase away sleep for weeks. Or maybe even a lifetime.

If it's that disturbing (and yes, entertaining) to watch, imagine what the show could do to you if you got a little closer to the action, like Emma Roberts, who first joined the series as American Horror Story's Madison Montgomery. When the third season, Coven, aired in 2013, we watched as Madison was drugged and brutalized, murdered (her throat was slit), and frequently found herself covered in blood.

Emma Roberts lived it –- and if you think that didn't change her forever, you'd be dead wrong.

Once upon a time, Emma Roberts was the girl next door

Inspired by her aunt, Julia Roberts, Emma snagged her first movie role against her mother's wishes at the tender age of 9. "My mom didn't want me to act," said Roberts (whose father is actor Eric Roberts) in a 2015 Glamour magazine interview. "I said to her, 'You're not supporting my dreams!' She decided to let me go on one audition, thinking I'd see what rejection was like. That was Blow, and I got the part."

After playing Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz's daughter in the 2001 crime film, Roberts landed the lead role in Nickelodeon's Unfabulous from 2004 to 2007. She played Addie Singer, an earnest middle-schooler who writes songs, hangs with her friends, and obsesses over her crush. From there, she went on to more movies that had her playing girl-next-door types. In 2007, Roberts was the titular teen detective in the film Nancy Drew and in 2009's Hotel for Dogs she was cast as a teen orphan determinedly caring for stray dogs. Even as she moved into more adult roles, Roberts was seen on screen as a romantic interest (in 2010's It's Kind of a Funny Story) and pretty pop star (in the 2012 indie film Celeste & Jesse Forever).

Then, a man called with a message

Being in the business for so long, Emma Roberts knew American Horror Story producer Ryan Murphy in an around-the-town kind of way. A big fan of the show, she always made sure to mention her interest in a role whenever they ran into each other. Still, it was a surprise when the phone rang out of the blue.

"He called me and I tried to be cool, but I was jumping around my house like, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Roberts told Collider in 2013. And when she found out more about season 3 and the part of Madison Montgomery, she was even more excited. "When I was younger, I loved all those witch movies, like The Craft and The Witches and The Witches of Eastwick. Even Sabrina the Teenage Witch was what I grew up on. There's just something so fascinating about witches, and I think it hasn't been done, in a very, very long time."

Roberts wasn't completely new to the horror genre. In 2011, she had played scream queen/killer Jill Roberts in Scream 4, the fourth installment of the slasher film series. But like any sensible person, she was anxious, too. American Horror Story was the big leagues, pushing the limits of hardcore horror. What was she getting herself into?

"I was so excited, but then, I was like, "Wait, what's the part?" Roberts told Collider. "I thought, 'What if it's something I don't want to do?'

Losing her voice was the least of Emma Roberts' problems

Thankfully for both Emma Roberts and her fans, the opposite came true when she took on the role of Madison. She delighted in the transformation that came with couture-style clothes, an over-the-top assertive attitude, and a slew of vicious lines for her character to deliver. Not to mention the fun of screaming, crying, killing, and dying alongside with her castmates.

"I've lost my voice several times from screaming. But playing the villain in Ryan Murphy World is great because the dialogue's smart and juicy — funny as well as scary," she told Los Angeles Magazine. "The most fun is horror-slash-comedy because you go from scared to laughing, which is in itself kind of eerie."

Madison finished out season 3, including surviving her own version of hell (working a retail job), and Emma Roberts rejoined the cast as fortune teller/con artist Maggie Esmerelda in season 4 and reporter Serena Belinda in season 5, before reprising her role as Madison in season 8, American Horror Story: Apocalypse. In season 9, Roberts was back again, this time as camp counselor Brooke Thompson. She'd found a home in horror.

"After working with Ryan, I definitely felt confident because I feel like he gives everyone great opportunities and he trusts you," she told Collider. "If Ryan calls me for anything, the answer is yes."