Do you remember what you were doing when you were seven years old? When I was that age, I was playing with Star Wars action figures and seeing how much Bubblicious I could cram into my mouth. But not Emmy Rossum. At the tender age of seven, she was making her professional operatic debut. She performed in Carmen at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and The Damnation of Faust at Carnegie Hall. She shared the stage with Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, acting in dozens of productions in six different languages, all before she turned 18. Emmy Rossum is living proof that you probably wasted your adolescence.
She’s also done pretty well for herself as a young adult. Remember when child actors used to burn out on drugs and become tabloid fodder? Rossum decided to skip the Drew Barrymore fuck-all-of-you-I-want-more-pain-meds stage of her career and move directly into making movies. She’s starred or co-starred in films like Mystic River, The Day After Tomorrow, The Phantom of the Opera, and most recently, the leather-and-machine-gun extravaganza Dragonball Evolution. But unlike other young actresses who get saddled with “It Girl” status, she hasn’t seemed particularly worried about staying in the spotlight, working only when she really wants to.
I met the 23-year-old Rossum at the Savannah Film Festival in Georgia, where she was in town to promote her latest movie, the indie drama Dare (opening today in New York and LA). She and boyfriend Adam Duritz, the Counting Crows singer and dreadlock advocate, went out carousing the night before Dare‘s screening, at one point visiting a karaoke bar and offering to sing (they were inexplicably turned down for showing up too late). While it could be argued that they’re technically a “musician couple,” it’s difficult to fathom that these two belong in the same league. When Duritz and Rossum are hanging out at home and he tries to break out a little “Round Here,” does Rossum just roll her eyes and think, “Whatever, I sang with Pavarotti, bitch?”
Rossum wouldn’t talk about Duritz (at least not with a tape recorder in her face), but she was otherwise quite candid. In person, she’s exactly as charming and friendly and alarmingly gorgeous as you’d hope. She also follows Sarah Silverman on Twitter, and recommends that you do the same. (She couldn’t stop laughing at a recent tweet, in which Silverman claimed that diarrhea “would be a beautiful name if it didn’t mean diarrhea.”) Also, if you make a joke about tea-bagging (which for some reason I did), her face will turn beet red and she’ll cover her mouth with a hand. It’s absolutely adorable.
Eric Spitznagel: I should probably admit to you right up front that I haven’t seen your movie yet. So my questions are gonna be a little vague and lame.
Emmy Rossum: No problem.
Remember that scene in Dare where you did that thing? Was that as difficult as it looked?
It was incredibly difficult. And so embarrassing.
And that one costume choice? What was up with that?
Oh, it was nuts. I don’t know what we were thinking.
Seriously though, the only thing I actually know about this movie is that your character falls for a bad boy.
Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. My character, Alexa, is a very workaholic, type A person, but she’s also very dysfunctional underneath it all. She desperately wants to be an actress, and an old famous actor comes to her school, played by Alan Cumming, and basically tells her that she can’t be an actress until she’s really lived or done things that challenge her as a person. She wants to be in Streetcar Named Desire. So she changes herself in a very deliberate way, by falling for this quote-unquote bad boy.
Ah, I get it. So all women who like bad boys are just frustrated actresses looking for a guy who gives good Stanley Kowalski?
(Laughs.) More or less, sure. I don’t know if Johnny (played in the movie by Zach Gilford) is necessarily a bad boy. He’s a jock and the most popular and handsome guy in high school, but he’s really a loner and his parents don’t pay any attention to him. He really feels like he has no one.
In general, why do you think bad boys are so appealing?
I don’t think bad boys are appealing at all. I don’t like tattoos and drugs and smoking cigarettes. It’s not cool at all. That never did it for me.
So you weren’t into James Dean?
Oh James Dean, yeah, for sure. But more because he’s immortalized on screen in a way that’s incredibly cool.
Let me see if I got this right. A bad boy who died in the 50s and is fetishized on posters used to decorate college dorm room, yes please. But an actual bad boy…?
No thank you. I would never pick it for myself.
Dare isn’t the first time that you’ve portrayed a character with questionable taste in men. In Phantom of the Opera, you played Christine, who pretty much falls for a homeless guy.
I don’t think the Phantom was homeless.
Well, a squatter at least. And kinda balls-out crazy.
Yeah, but he’s also a genius. The writer of her art. There are a lot of really weird Oedipal things going on in Phantom.
You think she’s got daddy issues?
Totally. There’s a strange undercurrent about her attraction to him, like she thinks it’s her dad or something. It’s really kinda messed up. (Laughs.) Awesomely messed up.
While we’re on the subject of Phantom, here’s a question from my wife: What was it like to make out with Patrick Wilson?
It was awesome. In fact, we shot that scene so many times over a two-day period that I had to put an icepack on my mouth between takes. Because my lips were so swollen.
Wow, O.K. Is that a good thing? Sounds like Patrick may’ve been a little too aggressive with the snogging.
No, no, he’s a very good kisser. And I really got into it. Probably too much so, which is why we needed an icepack. He didn’t have any kids and he wasn’t married at that time, so I just took full advantage of that kiss.
Here’s a follow-up question, also from my wife. Is his chest as smooth as it looks?
Yes, it is. I mean, my character doesn’t actually get a chance to touch his chest in the movie, but I remember seeing it from afar. He’s just one of those freakishly good-looking, freakishly talented people, and the nicest dude ever. You want to hang out with him and watch a football game and drink some beers.
Would you also describe your off-screen relationship with Wilson as kinda Freudian?
No, you’re thinking of Gerard Butler.
You had a Freudian relationship with Gerard Butler?
(Laughs.) No, Gerard Butler played the Phantom. Patrick Wilson played my dashing fiancé.
Ah, I get you. (Long pause.) Is it painfully obvious that I never saw Phantom of the Opera?
It’s pretty obvious, yeah. (Laughs.)
So that makes two of your movies I’ve admitted to not seeing. Maybe I should’ve asked my wife to write all of my questions.
It’s looking that way.
The only thing I know about Phantom is that you apparently hit a high E.
That’s right. A high E is written into Christine’s part. So if you want to sing that role, you kinda have to sing that note. It’s debatable whether I pulled it off in the movie. (Laughs.) It might’ve been an E flat, I don’t remember.
Could you hit it for us right now?
A high E? Oh no, no, definitely not. I’m not vocalized. I’d need a piano to find it.
We’ll find a piano. Come on, it’ll be fun.
(Laughs.) No, this is a bad idea. I’d be reaching.
Yeah, but what’s the worst that’s gonna happen? I wouldn’t know a high E if I heard it, and this is a print interview. Doesn’t matter what you sing, I’ll still write something like, “She majestically and effortlessly hit a high E. It was like an angel hailing a cab.”
No. (Laughs.) No. Trust me, it’s for the best. A high E kinda sounds like cats dying. (Pause.) Not that I know what that sounds like.
I was gonna say. Have you killed a lot of cats in your life?
If you can imagine a really angry cat meowing, that’s kinda what a high E sounds like. It’s a shrill note. A high C is still pretty. A high D is, eh, it’s borderline. But a high E? It’s like glass breaking.
You sang opera professionally as a kid, performing with heavyweights like Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo. Tell us something about Pavarotti that’d surprise us.
I don’t remember singing with Pavarotti, but I definitely remember Domingo. He was super friendly and a super nice guy, always hanging out in the cafeteria and always with a big smile on his face. He was very focused but very jovial.
Is his chest as shiny as Patrick Wilson’s?
He doesn’t have a shiny chest. He’s actually quite furry. But in a very attractive way.
Really? You like the hairy-chested guys? You didn’t strike me as a Furry.
I don’t judge in that way. People with talent are always very attractive, even if they’re furry.
Let’s talk about something that fills me with a little less homosexual panic.
Dragonball Evolution, which is arguably your best film.
Of course, I enjoyed it mostly for the guns and the leather catsuits.
Yeah, it was pretty awesome. It was really fun learning how to shoot machine guns and wear leather and ride a motorcycle. It was very empowering.
Wait, you had to learn how to wear leather? Isn’t that just something you put on and you’re done?
Yeah, but it’s really… sticky. It’s not a good idea for anybody to be in that much leather all the time. Especially if you’re shooting a movie in Mexico, where it’s hot and sandy.
I don’t know, Emmy. The more you describe it, the more I want to see that movie again. You should really do that more often.
Wear leather? Or drive around on motorcycles and shoot guns?
Both! It never crossed your mind when you were working on Dare? You should’ve said to the director, “You know what might be kinda bad-ass? If I drove a hog and shot Zach Gilford in the stomach for being such a douchebag.”
Well, I can barely drive a car, so driving a motorcycle and shooting a gun at the same time is never a good recipe for me. And it definitely wouldn’t have come in handy with this movie. Dare was made for under a million dollars and we did it really quickly.
Come on, there’s always room in a movie budget for some senseless violence.
That might be kinda funny. If I just started putting on a leather catsuit, apropos of nothing. Every movie I’d come blazing down the street with guns, à la Nic Cage, with a leather trench coat blowing in the wind behind me.
You went to ninja school for Dragonball Evolution. Have you had a reason to use your ninja skills since?
Well, last night, when we were at McDonough’s ’til 3 a.m., I knocked out a guy after karaoke. (Laughs.) No, that didn’t happen.
Come on, Emmy. Don’t tease us like that.
I could just sing a high E and it’d be much more scary than any of my ninja skills. It’s more deadly than mace.
You seem to be as famous these days for your fashion sense as for your acting chops. Is that by design?
No, not really. I just like clothes. I like all things that are pretty. I like a really beautifully built piano. I like paintings. It goes for anything.
I’ve heard that you go to museums for fashion inspiration. You mean like the mummy exhibits, right?
Oh yeah, definitely. I go to the Natural History Museum to get inspiration from the monkeys for my UGG boots. (Laughs.) No, honestly, this is going to sound silly but I’m fascinated by the beautiful ways in which clothes were draped and people did their hair back in the Roman days. Some of those sculptures have really beautiful hairdos. If I have a movie premiere, sometimes I’ll walk around a museum and get an idea from how somebody did their hair in a statue.
That’s actually kinda cool. It’s like the polar opposite of getting a Kate Gosselin haircut.
Those Roman haircuts were so well sculpted and interesting and different and throwbacky.
Throwbacky is right. It’s totally old school!
(Laughs.) It’s completely retro. Which I guess is obvious if your haircut is from another century.
Next time you have a premiere, you should swing by the armor exhibit at the Met. Steel is shamefully underrepresented in fashion today.
You’re right, it’s true.
How fantastic would it be if you showed up on the red carpet with a bascinet helmet, a breastplate and chainmail?
I haven’t heard that word, breastplate, in a long time. There’s a breast of chicken on a plate, but no breastplate.
So what do you say, Emmy? Will you be in full-on medieval armor at the Dare premiere?
I just might. I hear that metal is really in for next season.
Your name is Emmy, so is it unrealistic to think that you’re going to win an Emmy someday?
I don’t think so, no. I think it’s entirely realistic. I also intend to name my future unborn children Oscar and Tony and Grammy. I mean, yeah, why wouldn’t I? Even if it’s a girl, I’ll call her Oscar. Or maybe something more feminine, like Oscarette or Oscarella.
Will they be well aware that you expect them to win their respective namesakes?
Oh, absolutely. They need to know what they have to live up to! “Win for Mommy! Win! Win for my love! You better win a Grammy, Grammy!”
What happens if they win the wrong award? What if Oscarella gets a Tony?
Well then she’s obviously out of the family. She is immediately taken out of the family lineage. Unless she can win all of the major awards. Then she’ll have my love back again.
You’re going to make a great mother.
(Laughs.) It’s the most horrible, manipulative parenting I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s really awful.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com