The summer of 2018 at the movies might be best remembered as the year that helped reboot the rom-com genre. But for Little Italy star Emma Roberts, rom-coms never went away.
“For me, they’ve always been around,” she says during in an interview in a downtown Toronto hotel. “I’ve had My Best Friend’s Wedding and Notting Hill on repeat since I was seven. Rom-coms make me so happy.”
In the film, which opens today, Roberts, 27, plays Nikki, a Cordon Bleu chef freshly returned to Toronto from England. She’s back in her parents’ pizzeria — Sal’s Pizza — and before she knows it, Nikki is rekindling her childhood crush with Leo (Hayden Christiansen). The only hitch? Nikki and Leo’s dads, once in business together, operate competing restaurants.
Directed by Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) from a script by Vinay Virmani and Steve Galluccio, the film also features Jane Seymour, Andrea Martin, Danny Aiello, Alyssa Milano, Linda Kash, Adam Ferrara, Gary Basaraba and Kim’s Convenience star Andrew Phung.
“It’s a story about coming home to what you love and who you love,” her co-star Christiansen adds in a separate interview.
Just like all great rom-coms everything works out, but it’s the getting-to-the-happily-ever-after that made Little Italy such a thrill for Roberts.
“Rom-coms are something that everybody loves and I feel that we need to have things that we can watch that are going to make us smile and make us laugh and aren’t so serious. Real-life, right now, is serious enough.”
Before the film’s world premiere in Toronto this week, Roberts spoke about her subtle tribute to her aunt Julia, her love affair with the city and what’s on the menu when she has to cook.
Q: Your director on Little Italy, Donald Petrie, worked with your aunt Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza 30 years ago. What was that like?
It was totally amazing. It was fun because we got to throw in a couple of little winks to Mystic Pizza. In Little Italy, I wear a new version of the shirt my aunt wore in Mystic Pizza.
Q: Your character Nikki puts figs on pizza. Is that actually good?
It’s delicious. But I put ranch dressing on my pizza. I can’t eat pizza without ranch. I won’t eat it if there’s no ranch.
Q: You’re a pretty good cook in the movie, but how are you in the kitchen in real life?
I am not a good cook. I’ve been known to store sweaters in my oven (laughs). But I just got a new book called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking and it’s all about learning to cook and learning to cook without a recipe. That is something I want to learn to do.
Q: You didn’t pick up any techniques from the cooking scenes in the movie?
No (laughs), it was all acting.
Q: You eat a lot of Italian food in this movie. What’s your favourite Italian dish?
Penne alla vodka. I love a pink sauce.
Q: The film is a love letter to Toronto. Did you find yourself falling in love with the city?
I love Toronto — and I’m not just saying that. My best friend came up here while I was shooting and we had the best time eating, shopping, sitting in the park, reading and just walking around.
Q: What were your favourite parts of the city?
I fell in love with Type Books across from Trinity Bellwoods Park. I loved to eat at Bar Buca and Gusto 101. And I ate so much pizza.
Q: You’ve done TV and lots of movies. What else is on your acting bucket list?
I would love to do more romantic comedies. Turning a Nicholas Sparks book into a movie is on my bucket list (laughs).
Q: And you’re not just into acting. You started your own book club, Belletrist. How did that come about?
I love to read. Books and storytelling have been something that has excited me since I was a kid. I really just wanted to create a place that curated books for people, especially young women. I feel like there are so many amazing books out there that you never hear of and I really wanted to not only showcase authors we all know, but authors you’ve never heard of… I truly believe that reading one book can change your life and to be curating a list for people in hopes of that is exciting for me.
Q: So what are your favourite books?
Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates. It has a bit of a Gone Girl vibe to it. Blue Nights by Joan Didion; it’s just a heart wrenching, lyrical book. Then Slow Days, Fast Company by Eve Babitz. It’s a great book about Los Angeles in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Q: What movie would you bring with you to a desert island?
My favourite movie ever is My Best Friend’s Wedding — and not because it stars my aunt. I watch it all the time and I know every line in it.
Q: Alright, last question: why is Little Italy the perfect movie for a date night?
It’ll just make you feel good and I feel we’re living in a difficult time right now. You should go and see a movie that’ll make you smile and laugh with the people you love.