How Emma Roberts Was Cast as Chanel Oberlin on Scream Queens

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After an already illustrious young career spanning starring roles in the Nickelodeon sitcom Unfabulous and 2007’s film adaptation of Nancy Drew, Emma Roberts was the go-to performer for playing precocious teens by the time Ryan Murphy cast her in American Horror Story: Coven back in 2013.

A then 22-year-old Roberts, still known for good girl roles thanks to her younger-looking on-screen persona, was itching for a darker streak.

Emma Roberts in a Burberry dress, Elie Saab shoes, a Cecelia bag, and Carla Amorim jewelry at the World Premiere of "Scream 4"Emma Roberts in a Burberry dress, Elie Saab shoes, a Cecelia bag, and Carla Amorim jewelry at the World Premiere of “Scream 4” at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater on April 11, 2011, in Hollywood, California (Credit: DFree / Shutterstock)

She had been inching towards more mature fare with roles in indie dramedies like 2010’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story and 2013’s Adult World.

A featured performance in the 2011 meta-slasher Scream 4 showcased a penchant for horror with a campy, self-referential grin.

American Horror Story’s prolific visionary showrunner Ryan Murphy saw this potential when he hand-picked Roberts to be Madison Montgomery for the show’s third season.

You Love to Hate Her

Sarcastic, self-centered, and manipulative, Roberts’ Madison Montgomery was a secret telekinetic witch and up-and-coming actress when she arrived as a student at Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies in the show’s 2013–14 season.

Roberts’s snarky party girl was killed off twice in the Coven season alone, but the show always found a way to resurrect the fan-favorite, bringing more opportunities to dish out her iconic, sassy lines back from the dead.

Emma Roberts as Madison Montgomery in American Horror Story: Coven, the third season of the FX horror anthology television series American Horror StoryEmma Roberts as Madison Montgomery in American Horror Story: Coven, the third season of the FX horror anthology television series American Horror Story (Credit: FX Networks)

“We think that pain is the worst feeling. It isn’t. How can anything be worse than this eternal silence inside of me?”

Next came Roberts’s run portraying con artist posing as fortune teller Maggie Esmerelda in AHS’s fourth season, Freak Show.

By then, Murphy and his writing partner Ian Brennan and AHS co-showrunner Brad Falchuk were workshopping a project inspired out of the comedy elements of Roberts’s characters with a more “network-oriented horror vibe”.

Emma Roberts and Lea Michele starred in the American satirical black comedy slasher television series Scream QueensEmma Roberts and Lea Michele starred in the American satirical black comedy slasher television series Scream Queens (Credit: CarlaVanWagoner / Shutterstock)

“Brad and I were both sort of obsessed with Halloween and we’re talking about, what if it’s Halloween meets Heathers.”

Or… Mean Girls Meets Friday the 13th

From that came the satirical and darkly comedic Scream Queens, which debuted in an hour-long time slot that aired on Fox on September 22, 2015.

Murphy, Brennan, and Falchuk built the starring role of Chanel Oberlin with only Emma Roberts in mind.

Emma Roberts played the lead character Chanel Oberlin on Fox's comedy-horror series Scream QueensEmma Roberts played the lead character Chanel Oberlin on Fox’s comedy-horror series Scream Queens (Credit: 20th Century Fox Television)

Her lovably bitchy Chanel #1 was sorority president of Kappa Kappa Tau at Wallace University, navigating the reemergence of a 20-year-old murder mystery involving a serial killer dressed as the Red Devil mascot, who begins targeting the sorority members.

The show featured a star-studded cast that included Ariana Grande, Billie Lourd, and Abigail Breslin as her minions and fellow Chanels #2, #3, and #5 (#4 died from meningitis).

Emma Roberts was 25 years old when the first episode of Scream Queens premiered on September 20, 2016Emma Roberts was 25 years old when the first episode of Scream Queens premiered on September 20, 2016 (Credit: 20th Century Fox Television)

Also featured across the show’s two seasons were equally Stan-worthy actors John Stamos, Taylor Lautner, Keke Palmer, Lea Michele, Nick Jonas, and Halloween star Jamie Lee Curtis, who’d “been selling yogurt that makes you shit for six years” before playing Dean Cathy Munsch.

Leaving American Horror Story

At 24, Emma Roberts was primed to play a college sorority queen dishing out lines as biting and snarky as her American Horror Story fare, but for teen fans tuning in at 9 pm on Tuesdays and the social media firestorm that would follow.

“I had just come off doing Coven, which was my favorite season and so fun to be a part of,” said Roberts in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

Abigail Breslin as Libby Putney / Chanel #5, Emma Roberts as Chanel Oberlin, Ariana Grande as Sonya Herfmann / Chanel #2, and Billie Lourd as Sadie Swenson / Chanel #3Abigail Breslin as Libby Putney / Chanel #5, Emma Roberts as Chanel Oberlin, Ariana Grande as Sonya Herfmann / Chanel #2, and Billie Lourd as Sadie Swenson / Chanel #3 (Credit: 20th Century Fox Television)

“Scream Queens definitely has a little bit of that girl-power vibe and a lot of the humor which I love that Coven had. I remember reading the script for the first time and I was literally laughing out loud. I had to put the script down. It was just one of those things I was so flattered they wanted me to be a part of it. I’ve been wanting to do more comedy and it’s definitely a very comedic show—a dark comedy, but still a comedy.”

Teasing Season 3

Despite being unceremoniously canceled after two seasons in 2017, Ryan Murphy announced in 2020 that he was working on a Season 3.

Whatever unfolds, it’s no question that this decade could use more of Chanel Oberlin’s snarky one-liners to get us through these dark, slasher-movie days.

Karah Preiss and Emma Roberts at a launch event for their book club Belletrist held at The Whitby Hotel Reading RoomKarah Preiss and Emma Roberts at a launch event for their book club Belletrist held at The Whitby Hotel Reading Room in New York City on July 27, 2021 (Credit: Marion Curtis / StarPix for BookClub)

What’s better than one outfit from Emma Roberts? Obviously, it’s multiple outfits.

Emma Roberts sports bright red hair as she leaves 901 SalonEmma Roberts sports bright red hair as she leaves 901 Salon in Los Angeles on April 5, 2016 (Credit: Michael Wright / WENN)

In April 2016, the Blow actress switched it up as she stepped out in Los Angeles wearing multiple outfits on a single Tuesday.

The then 25-year-old niece of Julia Roberts was spotted leaving a salon appointment in a flesh-baring two-piece ensemble by Aerie.

Emma Roberts leaves a salon appointment in a two-piece Aerie ensembleEmma Roberts leaves a salon appointment in a two-piece Aerie ensemble (Credit: Michael Wright / WENN)

She displayed her toned arms, midriff, and cleavage in a chambray bralette top that featured a low v-cut neckline and a ruffled peplum detail.

The stunning actress teamed the summery top with matching tie-waisted flared pants and a pair of silver sandals.

Emma Roberts hides her eyes behind a pair of Pifebo sunglasses as she struts through Los Angeles in an Aerie ensembleEmma Roberts hides her eyes behind a pair of Pifebo sunglasses as she struts through Los Angeles in an Aerie ensemble (Credit: Michael Wright / WENN)

Emma accessorized the casual ensemble with a couple of bracelets, an AC Jewelry ring, a Jennifer Meyer heart pendant necklace, and a pair of Pifebo sunglasses.

Emma Roberts carries a printed tote and sports a Jennifer Meyer necklaceEmma Roberts carries a printed tote and sports a Jennifer Meyer necklace (Credit: Michael Wright / WENN)

She carried a Bijou Karman tote and completed the look with minimal makeup and her new red locks.

Emma Roberts's feet in metallic Loeffler Randall sandalsEmma Roberts’s feet in metallic Loeffler Randall sandals (Credit: Michael Wright / WENN)

Emma complemented her red toenails with a pair of metallic silver leather “Pia” sandals by Loeffler Randall. These open-toed shoes feature buckled ankle straps and mid straps, about one-inch contrasting platforms, and 1.75-inch heels.

You can get these sandals at Shopbop and Nordstrom.

Silver Metallic Loeffler Randall “Pia” Sandals, $350

Silver Metallic Loeffler Randall "Pia" Sandals
Silver Metallic Loeffler Randall "Pia" Sandals

Emma later made a quick outfit change and grabbed a coffee in a plaid sleeveless dress.

Emma Roberts grabs a coffee in a plaid Madewell dressEmma Roberts grabs a coffee in a plaid Madewell dress (Credit: Michael Wright / WENN)

She flashed a hint of legs in the summery frock that featured two shoulder straps and buttons that ran the entire length of the dress.

Emma Roberts keeps things casual in a comfy plaid Madewell dressEmma Roberts keeps things casual in a comfy plaid Madewell dress (Credit: Michael Wright / WENN)

Emma teamed the dress with a pair of sandals to keep things comfy and casual. The Unfabulous actress accessorized the look with a Maison Kitsune tote and a Cartier bracelet.

She braided her freshly-styled locks and wore the same sunglasses she’d been sporting earlier in the day.

Emma Roberts's feet in leather Gucci loafersEmma Roberts’s feet in leather Gucci loafers (Credit: Michael Wright / WENN)

Emma’s Gucci loafers are made of leather and feature the brand’s signature horsebit detail. These loafers are available at Net-A-Porter.

Gucci Horsebit-Detailed Loafers, $640

Gucci Horsebit-Detailed Loafers
Gucci Horsebit-Detailed Loafers

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