Eric RobertsIt's been two decades since Eric Roberts was a bigger star than his younger sister, but for the last two weeks, his movie 'The Expendables' has been No. 1 at the box office, while Julia's 'Eat Pray Love' has been No. 2 or No. 3.

Not that Eric sees it as a competition; he tells Moviefone he's proud of his sister and happy that both movies are doing well. Plus, his daughter Emma, 19, is in theaters now as well, with art-house entry 'Twelve.'

Still, the surprise success of 'The Expendables,' in which Roberts plays rogue CIA agent James Munroe, has returned the spotlight to Eric and the rest of the film's cast of veteran tough guy stars, from writer/director Sylvester Stallone to Roberts' longtime pal and three-time costar Mickey Rourke. During his acceptance speech at the Independent Spirit Awards last year, Rourke famously called Roberts the best actor he'd ever worked with and urged Hollywood to give Roberts the same kind of comeback Rourke had scored with 'The Wrestler.' After all, it's been a quarter of a century since Roberts landed his sole Oscar nomination to date, for 'Runaway Train.'

But maybe Roberts doesn't need a comeback, since he's never really been away. He's appeared in nearly 200 movies and TV series over the last 35 years (including a current guest stint on daytime's 'The Young and the Restless'). Still, as busy as he is, he took time to call Moviefone from his home in Los Angeles to talk about the success of 'The Expendables,' Stallone's plans for a follow-up, his own plans to reunite with Rourke for a sequel to their 1984 classic 'The Pope of Greenwich Village,' sharing the multiplex with his famous relatives, and what's behind his relentless work ethic. Eric RobertsIt's been two decades since Eric Roberts was a bigger star than his younger sister, but for the last two weeks, his movie 'The Expendables' has been No. 1 at the box office, while Julia's 'Eat Pray Love' has been No. 2 or No. 3.

Not that Eric sees it as a competition; he tells Moviefone he's proud of his sister and happy that both movies are doing well. Plus, his daughter Emma, 19, is in theaters now as well, with art-house entry 'Twelve.'

Still, the surprise success of 'The Expendables,' in which Roberts plays rogue CIA agent James Munroe, has returned the spotlight to Eric and the rest of the film's cast of veteran tough guy stars, from writer/director Sylvester Stallone to Roberts' longtime pal and three-time costar Mickey Rourke. During his acceptance speech at the Independent Spirit Awards last year, Rourke famously called Roberts the best actor he'd ever worked with and urged Hollywood to give Roberts the same kind of comeback Rourke had scored with 'The Wrestler.' After all, it's been a quarter of a century since Roberts landed his sole Oscar nomination to date, for 'Runaway Train.'

But maybe Roberts doesn't need a comeback, since he's never really been away. He's appeared in nearly 200 movies and TV series over the last 35 years (including a current guest stint on daytime's 'The Young and the Restless'). Still, as busy as he is, he took time to call Moviefone from his home in Los Angeles to talk about the success of 'The Expendables,' Stallone's plans for a follow-up, his own plans to reunite with Rourke for a sequel to their 1984 classic 'The Pope of Greenwich Village,' sharing the multiplex with his famous relatives and what's behind his relentless work ethic.

How do you account for the success of 'The Expendables'?

Good question. I guess if you give yourself over to it, it's an exciting ride. And there's that tongue in cheek humor. And the sheer guts of having all those old guys show up and run around. And I think people are curious about the chemistry of these action guys who draw a mutual audience but don't ever appear together. It's fun for them to come watch us all in one movie.

How did you come to be a part of the movie?

Well, Sly and I worked together back in the '90s on a movie called 'The Specialist.' So we have a relationship, and we've maintained it over the years. He just called me and goes [imitates Stallone], "Hey. Come be in my movie." I said, "Who am I playing?" He said, "Bad guy." I said, "Okay." I just said yes without reading it. And then I read it and was glad to have read it. I thought it was good.


Has he talked to you at all about his plans for the follow-up?
I do die in this, so it would have to be a prequel for me, or a sequel with flashbacks. We haven't spoken in about 10 days. We'll see what he does. We had better hurry, or we'll be 'Sex and the City 3,' or as John Landis says, 'Animal Home.'

What is it about you that makes you so in demand for roles as tough guys and villains?

I don't play bad guys black-and-white. I play bad guys like they could be the person watching it, as opposed to just a caricature bad guy. I have a lot of fun making bad guys vulnerable or not quite up to speed with their evilness. They're bad guys you don't think are bad guys.

Eric Roberts: Kick-Ass Montage (Contains NSFW language)


Was this the first time you'd had a movie open opposite one of your sister's movies?

This was the first time we opened on the same day. There are a lot of Robertses and Simonses [Roberts' family through marriage] in the business, so it's cool, but there are bound to be family opening days. I'm just so glad my neither my sister's or my movie did badly. We're not against each other. That's a chick flick, this is an action flick. Hers is based on a bestselling book, mine is based on a Sly Stallone let's-go-have-fun movie. They have completely different audiences. They're different pace, different length. The only thing they have in common is that they're both in 35mm. And a Roberts movie was No. 1 and No. 2 the first week, which thrilled me.

Plus, your daughter Emma's movie 'Twelve' had opened the week before.
Isn't that cool? Who knew?

Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke in 'The Pope of Greenwich Village'How is it being in a movie with Mickey Rourke again?
We did 'Spun' together [in 2002] and now 'The Expendables,' but Charlie and Paulie [from 'The Pope of Greenwich Village'] is what people want much more than Mickey and Eric.

Mickey and I are in the midst of putting 'Pope Part II' together. The only thing is, Mickey doesn't look like the same person any more. So we have to open it up with his face becoming hamburger somehow.

There was a script I didn't like a while back, but it had a great opening. I'm on the beach in Miami at my little daiquiri stand, and he comes down from the hotel and says, "We gotta go. They want us to pay the bill." "Oh, gotta go." And that's how it started. It became a road movie. I liked that start. We go back to our old ways, and I'm setting us up to take a fall, as usual. But everybody wants to write it, and everybody's submitting outlines and scripts. We'll see if we get a good one.

When might the 'Pope' sequel come together?
I hope in the next year, 18 months.

Rourke certainly had high praise for you at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards.

He said I'm the best actor he ever worked with, which totally caught me off guard. So I just hid my face because you never know where Mickey's going to go after he says something like that. I was very embarrassed, but I was very flattered. I mean, he's worked with everybody, so it was a nice thing to say.

What else do you have in the works?
There's a really cool independent movie called 'New York Heartbeat.' I, of course, play a gangster, but it's a really groovy gangster. My nickname is Coffin Mike, and I'm beautifully dressed. But I'm also intelligent. I like all the colors of him, as opposed to just being a bad tough guy. He's a bad tough guy who also wants to be a success, and I like that element.

You always seem to have a dozen projects in development. What's behind your unflagging work ethic?
When I started out, I did a movie a year, or every 18 months, like you're supposed to be an A-stream movie star, so they're hungry for you. But when they gave my Oscar to the wrong guy, I called my agent and said, "I will do anything anywhere if there's one good thing about it," because I hate this waiting around crap. I hate waiting on the perfect project that always almost is.

Like, 'Star 80' was a bomb at the box office. That's a perfect movie Bob Fosse made. It became a cult classic on video but it bombed at the box office because it's so hard to watch. It's so emotionally wrenching. That's not entertainment, that's education.

But I love acting. I love working. It's so much fun, and I'm so lucky that I get to do what I really, really love the very best in life for a living. But when they gave my Oscar to the wrong guy, I said, "It's obviously not about who's the best actor in the category or who gave the best performance. So f*** that. I'll do anything anywhere if there's even one good thing about it. If it's even a good location, I'm in, pal." So I went to work, making three to five movies every year after that. And I've had a great life, seen the world for free, and I just love what I do and love doing it.

I know when scripts are bad. But it's a character that I won't get another chance to play, or it's a location I won't ever have a chance to go to, or it's a director who I believe in, or it's a writer who's an up-and-comer and I want to help him. It's always some kind of element. And I go, "Yeah, I'll do that."

And I made it fun, as opposed to a matter of career life and death. And if you wait 18 months to do a movie, it kind of is career life and death because that's how the industry wants you to feel. "Oh, it didn't go to the top. What's wrong with your career?" And I don't care. F*** it. I'm having a great time.

Read more of this conversation with Eric Roberts at
PopEater, where he talks about his talented family, his secret political project, his current stint on 'The Young and the Restless,' and how he stays buff.

•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.