Before there was Madison Montgomery or Chanel Oberlin or Jill Roberts (where my Scream 4 stans at?!) or whoever the hell she's playing in the forthcoming American Horror Story: 1984, there was Addie Singer.
As the central character in Nickelodeon's Unfabulous, the network's quasi-answer to rival Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire, Addie was, as the title of the tween comedy might suggest, an average middle schooler who liked to write songs about about her life. The character, whom audiences first met 15 years ago on September 12, 2004, was also the role that would introduce Emma Roberts, a plucky young actress with a familiar last name and an insanely famous aunt, to the world.
While Roberts was the (somewhat estranged) daughter of actor Eric Roberts, known more for his troubled personal life than his acting career by the time his daughter began a career of her own, it was her aunt Julia Roberts who was included in headlines about the young actress, who was only 13 when Unfabulous premiered. And rightly so, as that's who inspired Emma to go into the family business of show.
"My mom [Kelly Cunningham, Eric's former live-in girlfriend] and I would stay with my Aunt Julia when I was really young, so I grew up on sets," she told Glamour in 2015, explaining how the acting bug bit her at a young age. "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."
By age nine, she was begging to audition. Mom wasn't entirely on board. "My mom didn't want me to act," she told the publication. "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."
Emma made her acting debut in Ted Demme's 2001 drama, playing the daughter of Johnny Depp's character, the infamous cocaine smuggler George Jung. That same year, she appeared as an uncredited extra in some scenes in her aunt Julia's film America's Sweethearts. But her life didn't really chance until she landed the Nickelodeon role.
"Growing up, I was obsessed with all shows Nickelodeon – Clarissa Explains It All, Sabrina the Teenage Witch," she told PorterEdit in November 2018. "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."
Unfabulous ran for three seasons, ending in 2007. During that time, Emma released an album, Unfabulous and More, that also served as a soundtrack to the series, while also seguing into leading roles in films like Aquamarine and Nancy Drew. And when it came to an end, she felt rather certain she wouldn't be returning to TV any time soon, as she told SILive.com in 2009.
"TV is much more scheduled, so you get used to a routine, then you get on a movie set and they're moving you all over the place and making you work odd hours," she added of. "I remember going from TV to a movie and I was like, 'Oh my God, this is crazy,' but yeah no, it definitely helped me to learn how to be on a set for nine hours at a very young age."
And for a time, she did steer clear of TV, turning in performances in films as varied as Hotel for Dogs, Valentine's Day, the aforementioned Scream 4, and We're the Millers. But in 2013, the small screen, and perhaps more importantly, the allure of aunt Julia's friend Ryan Murphy, came a'calling and she couldn't resist. When the offer to appear in Coven, the third installment of American Horror Story, came in, she was elated, telling Allure in 2015 that she was "jumping around the couches silently" as she spoke to the prolific creator.
Playing Madison Montgomery in the fan-favorite season (a role she would return to in last year's AHS: Apocalypse) lead to a featured role in the franchise's next installment, Freak Show, and then two seasons on Fox as queen bee Chanel Oberlin in Murphy's comedy-horror hybrid Scream Queens. By then, the transition from child star to star, full stop, was complete. (She returns to the AHS franchise with a leading role in the 1980s-set, slasher film-inspired, and still totally secretive 1984, premiering on FX on Wednesday, Sept. 18.)
Along the way, her personal life has become a topic of fascination, starting with her 2013 arrest in Quebec after hitting then-boyfriend Evan Peters, whom she'd met a year prior while filming the movie Adult World. As the two went on to become AHS co-stars, they would also get engaged in 2014 before eventually splitting for good. She's now rumored to be dating Garrett Hedlund, though good luck getting the actress to comment on the relationship.
"I never want to talk about relationships I'm in or that are ending or have ended. It's hard enough to be with someone by yourself, let alone with an audience. Growing up is hard. Sometimes it makes me sad that I can't have a private moment," she told Cosmopolitan in May. "Because of Twitter and Instagram, there's a whole other element where everybody can comment on what you're doing and no one knows the real story. That's hard."
As for how she keeps a handle on being famous 15 years after Unfabulous, when her personal life seems to be as up for grabs as her work on screen, she's quick to give credit to the woman who was hesitant to let her into the world all those years ago. "I spend hours on the phone with my mom," she told the publication. "She puts everything into perspective. She's never once judged me. I also have the most amazing group of friends. They come over and we lie in bed or talk, watch TV, or read short stories to each other. We open a bottle of wine. To me, that's the best whenever anything is going on—to have everyone come over and be together."
American Horror Story: 1984 premieres on Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 10 p.m. on FX.