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The Transformation Of Emma Roberts From Unfabulous To AHS

Looking back, it seems natural that Emma Roberts, who grew up on movie sets as a result of her connection with famous aunt Julia Roberts, would also decide to become an actor — and would be able to make a living at it. The 30-year-old started out with the movie "Blow" in 2001 when she was just 10 years old, acting opposite Johnny Depp. While she's become a familiar face on "American Horror Story" over its nine previous seasons, she's sitting the 10th season out. However, she has several projects coming — including the animated "Saurus City" and the romantic comedy "About Fate," so she's plenty busy.

She caught the acting bug early. "My mom and I would stay with my Aunt Julia when I was really young, so I grew up on sets," she told Glamour in 2019. "I just found this old Polaroid of me on the set of 'Erin Brockovich,' in one of my Aunt Julia's super-padded dresses from the movie, with the biggest smile on my face. I'd cry when I had to leave. I loved that it felt like camp." Her mom didn't want her to act, but let Roberts attend one audition, "thinking I'd see what rejection was like," as she recalled. That audition was for "Blow."

Then, in 2004, Roberts got her own Nickelodeon show, called "Unfabulous." She was just 12 when she got that role, and since then, she has been able to parlay that early success into a stable career. Let's check out how she transformed from that pre-teen girl into a scream queen and then to the poised working actress she is today.

She became a teen idol with Unfabulous

Roberts has said she was obsessed with Nickelodeon shows such as "Clarissa Explains It All" and other shows starring girls, such as "Sabrina the Teenage Witch." She told Net-A-Porter, "I remember saying to my mom, 'I want my own show on Nickelodeon one day,' and she was like, 'That's a great dream to have.' Then when I was 12, I auditioned for a Nickelodeon show and my childhood dream came true."

That show was "Unfabulous," on which she played shy songwriter and middle-schooler Addie Singer for three seasons between 2004 and 2007. She even recorded an album for the show. In a 2006 interview with Kidzworld, she expressed her enthusiasm for the show in perfectly pre-teen terms: "It's just so much fun. Everyone, like me and the kids and everyone, all get along and we're all really good friends. Also I get to pick out a lot of my own clothes on the show which is really fun," she said.

The gig definitely sounds like a dream job for a budding star. As Addie, she also got to star in an episode of Nickelodeon's iconic series "Drake and Josh." Roberts was also able to use her newfound fame to take on other roles suitable for a teen idol in the making.

She became a teen drama queen with her next roles

Her role in "Unfabulous" naturally led to other parts in a similar vein — family-friendly roles in movies featuring other teenagers and kids. In 2006 and 2007, she appeared in three high-profile projects on the silver screen: "Aquamarine," "Hotel for Dogs," and as famous female sleuth "Nancy Drew." In "Aquamarine," also starring Sara Paxton and JoJo, she plays a teen girl trying to help a mermaid prove that love exists. Roberts enjoyed the shoot, which allowed her to visit Australia's Gold Coast. "The best thing were the beaches and I like the accents there too," she told MSN Live.

As for "Nancy Drew," she said it was the right project to transition to the big screen with after "Unfabulous" ended. "When I got the script for Nancy Drew and I read it, I really wanted to play her and I thought it would be a really, really cool role to get to do," she said in an interview from the time, posted to EmmaRobertsFanTV on YouTube. "It definitely [was] the project I wanted to do after."

After that, she starting taking slightly more mature teenage roles with productions like 2008's "Wild Child," which featured some teen-style bad behavior, and 2010's "Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac," which has more adult themes.

She entered horror territory with her scream queen era

In 2011, Roberts starred in "Scream 4," playing murderer and antagonist Jill Roberts — a slight departure from her previous roles, but that's often a good thing when it comes to acting. As it turns out, she took the series because she was a fan. "I was a huge fan of the franchise. I'm a huge fan of Wes Craven, and I thought the fact that he was coming back to direct this one meant it was going to be good, and I loved the part. I read the script and it was an interesting role. I'd never done a horror movie, so why not?" she told Collider. It was her first horror project, but not her last.

In 2015, she was cast in satirical slasher "Scream Queens" as bad girl Chanel Oberlin (the original Chanel, with minions played by Abigail Breslin, Billie Lourd, and Ariana Grande around her) during the two-season TV series that creator Ryan Murphy described to her as "Halloween" meets "Heathers," culminating in her "dream." "Luckily I have some practice from 'Scream 4,'" she said about the actual "scream" element (via Entertainment Weekly). "There's been a lot of screaming, running, a lot of fun horror action that you would expect. A lot of night shoots. It's been fun. I can't even imagine how it's going to end."

Roberts' more recent roles show that she's maturing

Around that same time, Roberts was clearly getting away from the teen roles and transitioning into adult ones, thanks to projects like "We're the Millers," in which she plays a 19-year-old runaway and thief, and "Adult World," where she plays an aspiring poet working at a sex-toy shop. However, she told Glamour that these more grown-up roles came to her naturally. Unlike some of her fellow teen stars, she wasn't necessarily going for shock value. "I think it happened naturally. Instead of trying to be like, 'Look how mature I am—I'm going to take off all my clothes!' I pick roles based on what I love. I'm not picking roles based on what's going to prove to people that I'm older," she explained.

It hasn't all been horror and more serious, mature-themed stories, though. In more recent years, her career trajectory has mellowed slightly. She has done voiceovers, as in the "Uglydolls" movie as Wedgehead, and has also delved into romantic comedy territory, thanks to 2020's "Holidate" on Netflix. "The script came along and I remember thinking, 'This is what I want to do. I want to make a movie like this.' It's nostalgic; it's romantic; it's fun. I love serious work, but sometimes, you just want to laugh and watch a movie 10 times in a row, and that's OK," she told Cosmopolitan about the film.

Her roles on American Horror Story continue to define her career, though

"American Horror Story" remains Roberts' longest-running project and has brought her new levels of fame. She has been an integral part of the cast since the third season, when she was introduced during the "Coven" season as Madison Montgomery, another mean girl still considered one of "AHS"'s best characters. She told Collider in 2013 that she was very excited when co-creator Ryan Murphy finally asked her to participate. "I'd told him that I wanted to be on the show since the first season 'cause I was obsessed," she recalled. Anytime I'd run into him anywhere, 'cause we're kind of friendly, I'd be like, 'When are you gonna put me on 'American Horror Story”? And he randomly just called me, one day. It was so surreal. I got a call saying, 'Ryan wants you to be on the show, and he's about to call you.' And he called me and I tried to be cool, but I was jumping around my house like, 'Yes! Yes! Yes!'"

Since then, she's appeared in multiple seasons — specifically, "Freak Show," "Cult," "Apocalypse" and "1984," but it looks like she'll sit out the upcoming Season 10. However, there's plenty more "AHS" coming, since the series has been renewed into its 13th season, so it's very possible she'll be back. Viewers will just have to wait and see what character she plays, and how it figures into her growing — and transforming — filmography.