Eric Roberts Interview: Catching Up with One of Hollywood's Busiest Actors
Image attributed to Eric Roberts
Eric Roberts recently achieved recognition for acting in over 150 films between 2013 and 2015. The 59-year-old Biloxi, Mississippi native has kept busy with television, film and voice work for almost 40 years. He began his film career with King of the Gypsies (1978), earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor Debut, and was nominated for both an Academy Award and Golden Globe for his supporting role in Runaway Train (1985).
Television and film appearances include Another World, King of the Gypsies, Raggedy Man, Star 80, Runaway Train, Descending Angel, The Cable Guy, In Cold Blood (miniseries), Public Enemies, C-16: FBI (13 episodes), The Prophecy II, Spawn, Raptor, Wolves of Wall Street, Less Than Perfect (59 episodes), L.A. Confidential, Heroes (8 episodes), The Dark Knight, The Butcher, Crash, The Expendables, The Young and the Restless, Justified, The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence), There Is Many Like Us and The Condemned 2.
“You know, I have a great life, and I am kind of a workaholic. With the industry going through this huge flux, I’ve discovered that it’s as much fun to go help an unknown as it is to be in The Expendables.”
Roberts’ acting family includes sisters Julia and Lisa and daughter Emma. His wife, Eliza, is also an actor, and they have been married since 1992.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Eric, how are you?
Eric Roberts: I’m good, doll. How are you? Where are you from?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m in Birmingham, Alabama.
Eric Roberts: Oh good, girl. I’m out of New Orleans and Atlanta.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If your IMDb (Internet Movie Database) is accurate, you must be the busiest actor on the planet!
Eric Roberts: You know, I have a great life, and I am kind of a workaholic. With the industry going through this huge flux, I’ve discovered that it’s as much fun to go help an unknown as it is to be in The Expendables.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you gravitate now more toward independent films?
Eric Roberts: I don’t really gravitate toward anything specifically. I just do what’s there, and when it’s independent, okay. When it’s not, it’s not. But all they really are now are independent. I think I heard a number. I don’t know if this is true or not. But I was told this by somebody I tend to believe, that there were 12 movies last year from studios as opposed to when I was 20 years old in 1978 when my first movie came out and there were 300 studio movies. I don’t know those numbers. I haven’t checked them. But it makes sense to me. They don’t know what to do with the industry. We have so many more places to put our product, but we don’t even make the films in Hollywood anymore. It’s so weird.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there a particular genre you prefer?
Eric Roberts: I’m always evolving. I’m always changing. When I was a youngster and first got into movies, from 20 to 30 it was realism, realism, realism. Then I liked the gangsters a lot for the next 10 years. I just had fun doing that. Now it’s a wild, wild west again in that the studios are now whole states.
Take Louisiana. It’s a movie studio (laughs). All over that state they’re making movies, hundreds of movies, hundreds of TV shows literally. It’s just crazy. The industry is evolving. But I don’t think it knows where it’s going yet.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): New Orleans is certainly a great city to make horror films.
Eric Roberts: Oh yeah. Are you kidding? Look at the settings (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You basically broke into show business with the daytime drama Another World.
Eric Roberts: Right, right, right. I did that show in 1976. I was their first Ted Bancroft, then I had a movie career. I stayed friends with the producer, and I did a few episodes on The Young and the Restless a few years ago and just had a good time. But I can say honestly, as a guy who’s been very successful and have been called a good actor, that’s the hardest work there is.
Soap opera acting. It’s the hardest work for an actor on the planet! Oh my God! You get a whole new script pretty much every day because you’re always rewriting. If you have a big part, you have dialogue nonstop, and it’s always evolving. It’s always changing. It makes you nuts unless you have a great photographic memory.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a photographic memory?
Eric Roberts: I do not. I just work hard (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have anything coming up on television right now?
Eric Roberts: I don’t know. IMDb tracks that for me. When I wonder what I’m doing, I go to IMDb and they tell me, or I go to my wife. I don’t really know what I have out there that’s still in the can because I’m always working, so I don’t keep track of what’s where.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I certainly believe that. The documentary feature, There Is Many Like Us, is about a man escaping from a prison camp in Warsaw, Poland, during the Holocaust. Very heavy subject matter.
Eric Roberts: It’s a cool piece about the Holocaust and a project close to my wife’s heart. It was her first time playing a grandmother, so it meant a lot to her. But you always wonder how many times you have to tell this story. There are so many other atrocities that you almost feel guilty harping on it in a way. But for this particular film, it’s a whole part of the story that hasn’t been told, just like people didn’t know about Schindler’s List when they did that.
There are many things that happened in that situation where we still haven’t uncovered all that went on. There is more to tell, and this isn’t a subject where any actor is really going to say, “No, I won’t be a part of telling the story,” because if you even educate one more person of any age, you’ve done your job. Nobody lives a life without having to feel and process this event in history.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did you decide to do The Condemned 2?
Eric Roberts: Because of Randy Orton. I just like him. He’s a charming guy. It’s fun for me to be a part of something that has its own built-in following and kind of be introduced to that world. It brings together my fans and those fans, and there’s something really cool about that. And … I like Randy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As actors themselves, did your parents influence your career choice?
Eric Roberts: I actually started acting at speech therapy because I had a terrible stutter as a kid. My parents found out that when I memorized stuff, I didn’t stutter. So it became speech therapy at first. Then my father opened up an acting and writing school called the Actors and Writers Workshop, and it was funded in part by the Martin Luther King Foundation. We were one of the early integrated schools in Atlanta, Georgia, in the early 1960s.
We toured the underprivileged areas, similar to what Joe Papp in New York did with the Public Theater. We patterned it after that. Every weekend we had theater in the park in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, which is like New York’s Central Park. That’s how I grew up. We were doing 10-12 plays every year of my life from the time I was 5 until I left for school in London at 15 until I was 18½. Then I came home and went to school in New York at 19.
I got my first film at 21 and became an international movie star kind of out of the gate. Got very lucky. Was a movie star for about 10 years, brought both my sisters up from Atlanta and got them both jobs as actors after putting them through school. One of my sisters, Julia Roberts, became the biggest star in the world. We all stayed close, and we talk almost every day.
Julia has 3 kids and a husband, and my other sister, Lisa, has a husband. I have a child, Emma Roberts, who’s also a movie star. My wife is not her mother, but I’ve been married one year less than my child’s life. My child’s 24. I’ve been married 23 years. That’s my life in a nutshell. I’m very happy living in Sherman Oaks, California, where the sun always shines.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you visit Atlanta even if you’re not working there?
Eric Roberts: I don’t. Atlanta changed so drastically. It’s not pleasant to me anymore. When I was a kid, everybody there was from there. Now everybody there is from somewhere else, and they’re not good to it like they were when I was a kid. I do spend a lot of time in New Orleans. Love it. It’s just like it was when I was a little boy. It’s the same place. I just wish we’d taken better care of it after Katrina. But besides that, it’s a great place. I love it and go there often.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Scream Queens won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Comedy!
Eric Roberts: Emma’s so good in the show, and the show is so entertaining. I love it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When have you been the proudest of Emma?
Eric Roberts: I think right now. I think her acting now. I think probably Scream Queens because it’s so all hers. There is nothing borrowed, nothing stolen, nothing given. It’s all her creation, all her work on a very good show. If I am biased, so be it. She’s the best thing on it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are the causes you support, Eric?
Eric Roberts: All animal rights and all child abuse. I’m there with anything to do with either. Animal abuse and rescue and child abuse and rescue. Whatever they need, I’m there for them. Eliza and I support the Natural Child Project which gives information on parenting and increases public awareness of the importance of parent-child bonding and the critical importance of children’s emotional needs throughout the stages in their lives.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are women and people of color still discriminated against in the entertainment industry?
Eric Roberts: I think it’s the age of the Latino now. I can’t wait to see the Latino take their revenge on being so marginalized. I’m going to be a very happy audience through it all. I think for women, it comes in sporadic moments of equalness. They’re treated well sporadically. But women have arrived, and hopefully they will not let go of the reins and will take care of themselves because we will not take care of them. Men do not take care of them. So hopefully, they’ve learned how to take care of themselves because they certainly deserve it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And we have two women running for the presidency of the United States.
Eric Roberts: Who knew? Isn’t that great? And one of them is going to win.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are there any special projects you’d like to discuss?
Eric Roberts: Not right now. Everything is really calm and really cool right now. There are some projects that are in the works that if they ever gain lungs and start breathing, I will talk about them. But I don’t have anything really special right now. Thanks for asking, doll. It is so much fun being a voting member of the Academy because every week they ask me to luncheons where they have a movie screening and have all these old timers there who vote. It’s so much fun when I have time to go.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Eric, don’t work too hard and remember to take some time off …
Eric Roberts: You are so sweet, doll.
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