On a recent day, Emma Roberts is waiting for those fateful college admission letters to come in.
It's spring, so they should be arriving any day now. And it's all very exciting and unnerving, but at least for the moment she has a press junket to provide merciful distraction.
Instead of waiting at the mailbox, Roberts can spend the day talking about Lymelife, the melancholy independent film she made with Alec Baldwin, Cynthia Nixon and a couple of the Culkin brothers. And she can chat about how she doesn't want to be stuck in a pop-princess Nickelodeon box the rest of her life but also still loves those roles and loves the legions of little girls who love her.
She is 18 and, like anyone reaching adulthood, eager to move forward, but loath to release the sweetest vestiges of her past.
It has been, so far, a peculiar and spectacular life. She was born the niece of megastar actress Julia Roberts. At age 9, she began acting in small roles and by 13 was cast as the lead in her own tween sitcom, Unfabulous, on Nickelodeon. What followed was a string of bubble-gum flicks meant to capitalize on her growing fame and popularity with the Tiger Beat set. Aquamarine might not have registered on critics' radar screens, but the 2006 mermaid movie found favor at plenty of junior high sleepovers. And it proved that Roberts could carry a certain sort of movie, leading directors to cast her as the lead in 2007's Nancy Drew and this year's Hotel for Dogs.
On the phone from New York (home to all three colleges on the actress' shortlist), Roberts insists she doesn't "want to be considered just a tween star."
The appeal of Lymelife, a suburban drama about two families ravaged by disease and disillusionment, was "how different it was than anything I'd done before," Roberts says. Her character drinks alcohol, smokes joints and has sex in the film, which was featured at January's Sundance Film Festival. It was one of two Sundance premieres for Roberts this year; the other, The Winning Season, is a dark comedy about a girls' basketball team led by a washed-up coach. Both are departures that might alienate her Unfabulous groupies, but Roberts insists she isn't worried about that.
"I think that the fans of Nancy Drew aren't going to see Lymelife," she explains. "And I'm not saying I'll never do another movie for that [preteen] audience. I love doing both."
Though most people don't stick with the career choices they make at age 9, Roberts says acting is still the only thing she wants to do.
"I've loved being on set ever since I was young," she says. "I love getting to play different roles and getting to travel, and all of that is part of being an actress."
But the path is not without drawbacks, she knows, especially in an era of celebrity gossip Web sites and rabid packs of paparazzi.
"A lot of people are looking at you and judging you and talking about you - online bloggers and things like that," she says. "That's difficult to deal with, just because of the weird things they say about you."
Roberts tries to insulate herself from the onslaught by avoiding the coverage, "but you still hear about it sometimes. You just have to realize they are people who don't know you. But you know who you are, and your friends know who you are," she continues. "If you're not able to block it out, you would go crazy."
That's partly why she thinks it might be better when she's in college in New York. It's interesting, she says, that for the first time in a long time she finds herself "in the same boat as all my friends in regular high school," just waiting for those acceptance letters.
By fall, perhaps, she'll be a dorm-dwelling freshman like any other girl her age.
"It'll be a shift," she admits, "but it will probably be fun."