20 Things You Never Knew About Eric Roberts
With 40 years in show business and seemingly endless movie credits, Eric Roberts has seen it all in Hollywood. Once Academy Award-nominated and twice nominated at the Golden Globes, Roberts has featured in over 600 productions to date, including TV shows like Suits, Heroes, The Young and the Restless and Less than Perfect.
Roberts first won fame as the male lead in 1978’s King of the Gypsies, where he starred as the reluctant new leader of a Gypsy community in New York City. Briefly a critical darling for films like Star 80 and Runaway Train, Roberts soon became the go-to star for lower-budget movies. As Roberts himself put it, “I start making a bunch of B movies – bam bam bam bam bam bam – one after the other, and then suddenly two, three years have passed, and I made like 30 films in two, three years.”
He’s also known for his struggle against drug addiction and his turbulent history with sister Julia Roberts. He’s also the father of American Horror Story star Emma Roberts. Read on to find out some unusual details about this movie veteran.
20. With over 600 screen credits, he’s one of the most prolific actors in history
Having kicked off his career in the 70s, Roberts now has more acting credits to his name than almost anyone – ever.
IMDb has recorded over 600 credits to date for this star, including 59 works that haven’t yet been released.
These vary from cinematic blockbusters to student films and indie animations. It’s fair to say Roberts has serious range.
Currently the third-most prolific actor ever, Roberts is almost up there with 92-year-old James Hong.
Hong has starred in over 600 movies and TV shows and it seems as though he has no plans to retire any time soon.
But both are still far behind Kanneganti Brahmanandam, a star of over 1,000 movies and current world record holder for the most screen credits.
19. He’s the only non-Brit to have played the Master in Doctor Who
The 1996 relaunch of Doctor Who was a made-for-TV movie – and the filmmakers picked Eric Roberts to play the Doctor’s nemesis, the Master.
This was an unusual choice, as the Master had only ever been played by British actors.
In the 80s the Doctor’s nemesis had been played by Anthony Ainley. Before Ainley, he was played by Geoffrey Beevers.
Before that, Roger Delgado and Peter Pratt were the first two actors to take on the iconic role.
Roberts remains the only American star to portray the Master. Unfortunately, the film Roberts starred in failed to bring about a Doctor Who revival.
Fans would have to wait another nine years before the franchise made a comeback in 2005.
18. He once spent three days in a coma following a car accident
Back in 1981, a serious car accident left Roberts in a coma and fighting for his life.
The accident reportedly occurred while he was driving a doorless Jeep with a German Shepherd in tow.
When the dog leaned out a little too far, Roberts tried to pull him back in, and resultantly lost control of steering and hit a tree.
Roberts had to spend a month recovering in hospital after suffering a bruised brain, broken bones and facial trauma.
Roberts had to learn to speak and walk again but thankfully was able to make a good recovery.
To this day he still struggles with his short-term memory – something common among victims of brain trauma.
17. He was the villain in the music video for Mr Brightside
You can spot Eric Roberts as the love rival in the music video for the Killers’ enduring indie rock banger Mr. Brightside.
Speaking in VEVO’s Watch This series in April 2020, frontman Brandon Flowers recalled working with Roberts.
“This was the first time we had been on a real soundstage and had all these cameras,” Flowers recalled.
“Eric Roberts is a great villain. Look at that voice. […] They wanted me to look p***ed at Eric Roberts and I am not a professional actor. It’s just horrible. He is so great, he smooches at me.”
This sleeper hit reached the Billboard Charts top 10 in 2005, but has had even more success in the UK.
Over the years the song has spent a total of 260 weeks – or five years – on the Singles Chart Top 100.
16. Roberts was estranged from sister Julia for years over his substance abuse issues
Eric and Julia Roberts are siblings – but they haven’t always been close. They often fell out over Eric’s struggles with alcohol and drug abuse.
When Eric split from his girlfriend Kelly Cunningham, Julia sided with Cunningham in the resulting custody battle over Eric’s daughter Emma.
Eric confirmed that he was not on speaking terms with his sister on January 12, 2001 while speaking on The Howard Stern Radio Show.
However, when Julia Roberts gave birth to twins in 2004, Eric visited her in hospital with gifts, and the pair reconciled.
“We all dropped a couple of tears,” Eric told PEOPLE in 2004. “We couldn’t stop going, ‘Ooo, wow, look at his hands, look at his feet, he’s got red hair!'”
“What matters now is the children,” he continued. “Everybody’s healthy, happy and wise […] And I don’t think [Julia’s] ever been happier in my presence.”
15. He’s only made one movie with Julia
Despite Eric’s prolific movie appearances, he’s only shared the big screen once with his sister Julia Roberts.
In 1989’s Blood Red, Eric and Julia co-starred as members of a Sicilian family living in California, caught up in a guerrilla war with a local land baron.
Eric starred as Marco Collogero while Julia had a much smaller part as his sister Maria Collogero.
The film was shot and completed in 1986 but then released three years later in 1989.
The film wasn’t a raging success, to say the least. It holds an average rating of 22% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The flop film went on to bring in just $15,510 at the box office in the US.
14. He did Sharktopus in exchange for a massive group holiday
The 2010 movie Sharktopus – a sci-fi horror movie – didn’t appeal much to Eric Roberts at first.
He refused to even read the script and rejected the offer of the lead role straight away.
However, producers managed to win him over with a special offer that was too good to refuse.
They agreed to bring dozens of Roberts’ family and friends out with him for the filming process.
As filming took place in Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful beach resort in Mexico, Roberts struck a great deal.
The actor and his family and friends enjoyed a month-long holiday while Roberts made, as he described it, “a bad movie.”
13. Star 80 was the “most difficult experience” of his career
Speaking to the AV Club in 2013, Roberts named the 1983 movie Star 80 as the most difficult performance of his life.
He auditioned for the part because he was keen to work with director Bob Fosse.
But Fosse had heard a (false) rumour Roberts had recently injured himself in a Broadway show, and so was reluctant to hire him.
“So after six auditions and a walk around the room to apparently prove I could walk, he gave me that part,” Roberts recalled.
“And it was probably the hardest, most intense, most emotional, most strenuous, most satisfying experience of my life.”
This challenging movie dealt with topics like murder, suicide and sexual assault, and saw Roberts nominated for a Golden Globe.
12. He joined the cast of Entourage after they kept name-checking him in the show
The TV show Entourage was already one of Roberts’ favourites when he noticed its characters had begun referencing him by name.
Enchanted, he sought out a cameo on the show – where he starred in one episode, entitled Tree Trippers.
In the episode, Roberts portrays an extreme version of himself and joins Vince and his friends on a trip to Joshua Tree National Park.
Roberts wasn’t the online entertainment star to make a cameo appearance in the Entourage series.
Legendary director James Cameron appears in one episode too, also acting as an exaggerated version of himself.
There’s also a cameo from Kanye West pre-superstardom, where he helps the gang fly to Cannes using his private jet.
11. He absolutely loves cats
Roberts and his wife Eliza have long adopted rescue cats, and they even appeared together on an episode of My Cat From Hell to discuss raising cats with behavioural problems.
In the episode their cat Brooklyn goes missing while cat behaviouralist Jackson Galaxy explains why she’s acting up.
Roberts also voices feline character Duffy in the children’s 2013 TV show A Talking Cat!?!
The movie sees Duffy the cat impart various nuggets of wisdom to a variety of characters.
Directed by David DeCouteau, the film was released straight to DVD on February 18 2013 by Phase 4 Films.
The movie was not a huge success, to say the least: it currently has a measly rating of 2.2/10 on IMDb.
10. He met his wife on a plane
Eric Roberts has been married to his wife, casting director and actress Eliza Garrett, since 1992.
The couple first met on an MGM Grand airlines plane where they were seated next to each other.
“I had David Rayfiel’s, my biological father’s, script Intersection on my lap,” Eliza recalled in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2018.
“So, as soon as I was seated next to Eric, I was like, Damn it,” she said. “I didn’t want to talk shop, but the Oscars had just happened where Eric was nominated for Runaway Train, and Eric loved David’s writing.”
“So there were all these strange connections. . . . But I thought he was probably gay because he was very pretty and had a cat on his lap named Tender,” she admitted.
Eric was still in a relationship with Kelly Cunningham when he met Eliza, but the two reconnected when Eric became single and ultimately went on to marry.
9. A decade of substance abuse severely impacted his career
It’s no secret that Roberts has suffered with substance abuse issues, but he revealed the true extent of his problems in a 2018 interview with Vanity Fair.
“I would go to meetings with people that mattered, like Oliver Stone and Sean Penn and I would go stoned.”
“Woody Allen. I met him very stoned, and he dismissed me, as well he should have,” Roberts confessed.
“I did that for about ten years. The whole point being I was asking for help, saying, ‘You see where I’m at – now help me, because I’m worth helping.’”
In 2010 Roberts appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (although he had conquered his demons years before).
Roberts appeared on the show’s fourth season alongside former model Janice Dickinson and singer Leif Garrett.
8. His performance in Star 80 was so convincing that women avoided him after it came out
Back in 1983 Roberts starred in Bob Fosse’s biological drama film Star 80 as the murderous Paul Snider.
Roberts put on such a good performance as Snider that for months after the performance he noticed that women would actively avoid him.
Some even went as far as crossing the street when they saw Roberts coming up ahead.
“The first dozen times this happened, I felt weird, but then I asked Chris Walken, Why is that?,” he said in Vanity Fair in 2018.
According to Roberts, Walken replied bluntly but truthfully: “Because you’re f***ing spooky, dude.”
Roberts’ performance as Snider and the response to it was the beginning of the false perception that he was playing himself in his ‘bad guy’ roles.
7. He suffered with a stutter as a child
You wouldn’t know it now, but Roberts actually suffered with a stutter when he was a young child.
Speaking to Vanity Fair in 2018, Roberts described his experience of having a speech impediment as “horrible.”
“Not just once or twice but every time I opened my mouth. For years, the whole class found it amusing,” he revealed.
“They would laugh, and it killed me. All these f***ing rednecks, you know, and they hated me when I was little, and it was a drag.”
You might be wondering how Roberts got into acting with a stutter – but it turns out that acting was actually the very thing that helped him overcome the impediment.
Amazingly, Roberts realised that when he memorised lines from a script he was able to speak without stuttering.
6. He turned down the lead role in 9 1/2 Weeks
Back in 1985, Roberts turned down the chance to star as the lead role in the film 9 1/2 Weeks.
Mickey Rourke went on to bag the role of John Grey with Kim Basinger starring alongside him as Elizabeth McGraw.
The film was ultimately a box office bomb, grossing $6.7 million on a $17 million budget.
But the film did go on to be hugely popular in Europe – particularly France, where it played for five consecutive years at a Parisian cinema.
Looking back in a 2018 interview with Vanity Fair, Roberts expressed some regret at letting the role slip away.
“I always wished I had [taken that role],” he said. “But I thought Mickey was awesome in that movie.”
5. He broke up with Sandy Dennis because she had too many cats
Before Roberts married Eliza Garrett, he dated Kelly Cunningham – the mother to his daughter, Emma.
But before he dated Cunningham, he had a four-year relationship with fellow actress Sandy Dennis.
The relationship almost ended after Roberts had a brief affair while Dennis was busy with work.
But they ultimately broke up because Roberts got sick of Dennis’ extreme obsession with cats.
“Too many cats. By now there’s a hundred cats. Not 30, there’s 100,” Roberts said, recalling the final months of their relationship.
Roberts even offered to help Dennis open an animal shelter for the majority of the cats if she would agree to keep 10 or 12, but she said no.
4. He’s got a huge Russian fanbase
Roberts has fans all over the world – but interestingly, he’s got a lot in Russia.
Speaking to Vanity Fair in 2018, Roberts revealed that he can trace his popularity in the country back to his performance in Runaway Train.
“I go to Russia and I’m like Elvis Presley,” Roberts confessed in the 2018 interview.
Apparently, Russian women grab Roberts on the street and scream whenever he’s out and about in Moscow.
The situation got so extreme that Roberts has even had to employ bodyguards to protect him from fans.
Roberts said that he felt his security people were “too mean, so I’d have to tell them, ‘No, be nice to people,’ and they’d say, ‘No, I protect you.’”
3. He didn’t think The Dark Knight was that great
Roberts landed a small role as crime boss Sal Maroni in 2008 Batman film The Dark Knight.
Although the film was widely acclaimed, it doesn’t seem as though Roberts had much good to say about it.
Speaking to The Detroit Free Press, Roberts revealed that he likes films that provide you with something to “take home with you in your heart or your mind.”
This belief left him wondering if The Dark Knight’s budget – a hefty $185 million – was ‘worth it.’
“So many movies don’t get made that can educate, enlighten, move, comfort,” he said in the interview.
“Batman didn’t do any of those things that I named, for me, anyway, even though I enjoyed watching it.”
2. He got fired from his first job after taking it upon himself to rewrite the script
Like many other actors, Roberts’ first big job was on a soap opera. Back in 1977 he landed the role of Ted Bancroft on Another World.
Roberts was not a fan of the show’s dialogue, however, and took it upon himself to rewrite huge chunks of the script.
“I got called into the boss’ office a couple of times, and I was asked, “Are you a writer?”,” he told The AV Club in 2013.
“And they would say, “Then why are you rewriting your dialogue?” I was only 19 years old, so I’d say, “But I’m not changing other actors’ cues.””
“And they would say, “That’s not the point. You can’t rewrite your dialogue. We pay writers.” I’m like, “Okay, okay.””
“They finally called me in one day and fired me,” Roberts said. But one month later he secured a role in King of the Gypsies, which helped launch Roberts’ film career.
1. He takes credit for his sister and daughter’s success
The Roberts family is pretty impressive, to say the least. Eric’s sister is the legendary Julia Roberts, while his daughter Emma Roberts is now a successful actress too.
Bizarrely, Roberts actually takes a lot of credit for the successes of his sister and daughter.
In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2018, he said: “If it wasn’t for me, there would be no Julia Roberts and no Emma Roberts as celebrities, as actresses, and I’m very proud of that.”
“When Julia first came to New York, I went into William Morris and I said, ‘Which one of you is going to sign my sister Julia?’”
Roberts also added that it was a source of pride to be the ‘first’ in his family to break into the industry.
“And I am so proud that everybody knows I was first, because I was first by a long shot. I was first to get Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, so I’m proud of that.”