says she feels like Wonder Woman these days. You wouldn't guess this by looking at her. She doesn't quite fulfill the Linda Carter six-foot height requirement or the cup-overfloweth bustline, but she does have dark hair. As for flying in her invisible jet and using the golden lasso to gain the truth, well, both could be in the near future for Roberts, most recently known for her role as Harper in Craig Brewer
's award-winning, made-in-Memphis, independent film, The Poor and Hungry
At 22, she claims she didn't always shine so brightly. "I was a bad seed as a kid. Everyone goes through that period of teen angst." Then a traumatic accident led to a premature epiphany for the 16-year-old. "A police-man ran a red light and hit me," she says.
"At that point I realized that life wasn't something to toy with and that I needed to take it seriously." She turned to school work and dancing to channel the energy. She ended up becoming homecoming queen and Wonder Woman at Germantown High. "My economics teacher, Coach Armstrong, nicknamed me Wonder Woman and the name kind of stuck, but I've sort of felt somewhere between Wonder Woman and Peter Pan since I was a little kid."
"I've been a dancer since I was 3 years old," Roberts continues, "and acting is relatively new for me." She danced at Martha Scott Dance Studio for years and in 1995 her teacher, Otis Smith, persuaded her to try out for West Side Story at Bartlett Community Theater. "When I went to the audition, they asked me what I had prepared to sing, and I said, ÔSorry, prepare?' So they said, ÔCan you sing "Happy Birthday"? And I said, ÔThat I can.' " In West Side Story she worked as a dance captain, assisting Otis Smith with choreography, which continued to be her major role in later theater performances.
Her dance experience continued to get Roberts gigs at Theatre Memphis in The Music Man
and A Christmas Carol
, "which was great, because I got to fly in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past. I always wanted to play Peter Pan; it was a lifetime dream of mine."
While majoring in English at the University of Memphis, Roberts did some small lunch-box theater with playwright and director Megan Jones
, and 26 Men and a Girl
, in which she choreographed her own role. She continued to work with Theatre Memphis in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
in 1998, until moving to Playhouse on the Square, first in The Who's Tommy
, and later as their resident dance captain.
Her first starring role was in Megan Jones' two-person play, The Golden Fleece
, at the University of Memphis. "I had never done anything like that before," she says. "I finally felt like an actor. I felt like I could work a script and come up with a character in no time. That was just the kick I needed to make me feel like an actor, because up to that point, I had only been a dancer."
Then Craig Brewer entered the picture. After two attempts at trying to fill the role of Harper in The Poor and Hungry
, Craig hesitantly called some of Roberts' contacts at Playhouse and Theatre Memphis. He was wary of the difficulties of transitioning from theater to film but he described the character of Harper to directors Ken Zimmerman
, Jackie Nichols
, and Michael Fortner
, and all three zoned in on Roberts.
After a meeting and informal audition at T.G.I. Friday's restaurant, Roberts read part of the script and Brewer, though impressed by her reading, rejected her because she was "too pretty." Roberts claims the only way she got the role of Harper was due to P&H cafe owner Wanda Wilson
's determination. The P&H Cafe, a favorite hangout of the local theater crowd, also lends its name and ambience to the film. Roberts says, "I would go up to the P&H with all of the theater people, and one night Wanda said to me, ÔHoney, I think we can make you ugly. I'm going to call Craig.'"
Lead actor Eric Tate
agreed that Roberts could be Harper after only one reading with her. Brewer still maintained that Roberts was "too cute," but her finally concluded, "I think we can work with you. Let's try it."
With the help of a spray bottle of water to make her hair look street funky, and an endless supply of Visine to keep her eyes glazed over, Roberts rehearsed with Brewer, Eric Tate, and other cast members for months before finally "getting" the voice, walk, and character of Harper. "And then one day," she says, "I just knew I had her."
The total production for The Poor and Hungry
took less than $20,000 and over two years, shooting on video with only the small crew of Brewer and Seth Hagee
. Roberts worked on the film while attending classes at the University of Memphis and performing at Playhouse, where, during 1999, she had roles in Children of Eden
, Light Up the Sky
, Secret Garden
, and finally Peter Pan
, her dream role. "Peter Pan
was by far one of the best things I've ever done in my life. It's something else to be sitting up there in that dressing room getting ready for the show to begin and those kids are all out there in the audience, yelling, ÔPeter, Peter!' That was it for me."
Despite her busy schedule with school and theater, coupled with the long hours of rehearsing and filming, Roberts saw the rewards. "I knew, even then, that this film was going to be good. And those people are my family," she says. "When you work on something for that long, for that hard, you get close to the people you are working with. I trusted them and their decisions."
Roberts trusted Brewer when he suggested that actor John Still
violently kiss her during the climactic moment of the movie. Brewer said, "I feel like the way your eyes pop open so wide is exactly what the audience will do." He was right. Roberts adds, "That fear that you see in my eyes in that scene. That was no acting; that fear was real."
After being nominated last August for best digital feature and best feature at the Hollywood Film Festival
, most of the cast made the trip to celebrate their film in Hollywood. "I knew we were going to win. I was so certain. I'm too confident in this film. I know it's good," Roberts confirms. In fact, P&H did win best digital feature and resulted in both Brewer and Roberts retaining Mark Litwak
, a prominent entertainment attorney in Hollywood. While in Hollywood, Roberts auditioned with Linda Phillips Palo
, Francis Ford Coppola's casting director, and she will return to Los Angeles in January to sign with a manager and agent. In the meantime, she has started working on a short film with the independent film company Fine Grind
, and is considering a role in Anthony Pound
's play, Steel Magnolias
also continues to succeed nationally, and negotiations are in the works with two companies, Lion's Gate
, for theatrical distribution. Craig Brewer will go on to write and direct a new film for Front Street Productions titled D.J. Demo
, which he will begin shooting in Memphis in December.
As for the future, it seems Roberts will indeed get to fly again. After promoting P&H
until the end of the year at other film festivals, including the Austin Film Festival, and possibly at events in Milan, Toronto, and Sundance, she will move to Los Angeles to see how close to the sun she can get. And though she is "cute" in a girl-next-door kind of way, you can see glimpses of Wonder Woman beneath the surface of this unpretentious actor through her words and insights: "I do everything that I can. I've worked so hard for the last few years, doing everything that I really want to do. I feel so blessed to be where I am and doing what I'm doing."