Britt Robertson does not want to hear that she's the Next Big Thing.
"Do you know how many times people have said that about me?" the actress said one afternoon last month near her home in Toluca Lake. She let the question hang in the air a moment, then answered, deadpan, "Like, four."
That may well be, but a decade after she first arrived in Los Angeles from her native South Carolina to pursue acting, the 25-year-old Robertson is having the kind of career-redefining moment that can't be denied.
In Disney's new sci-fi adventure epic "Tomorrowland," Robertson — previously best known for her roles on the TV series "Life Unexpected" and "Under the Dome" — stars opposite George Clooney as a spunky teenager who travels to a mysterious futuristic world. The film, which opened in first place at the box office with a projected $40.7 million in the U.S. and Canada for the four-day holiday weekend, follows on the heels of April's Nicholas Sparks adaptation "The Longest Ride," in which Robertson played an aspiring New York gallerist who falls in love with a bull rider (Scott Eastwood).
Still, the disarmingly frank and plain-speaking Robertson, who looks young enough to still play teenagers ("I get on flights and people are like, 'Are you old enough to sit in the exit row?'"), is doing her best not to get caught up in the talk of impending stardom.
"I don't put a lot of stock in those things," she said. "Scott Eastwood is always telling me I have to look at my career from a business point of view, and it just cracks me up. I consider myself an actor. To think of myself in terms of business or a strategy or 'the next big star' — that isn't what I signed up for. Some of the best advice I was ever given was: 'Don't believe your own hype.'"
In "Tomorrowland," Robertson plays Casey Newton, a restless teenager with a deep love of science who meets a cantankerous inventor (Clooney) and is recruited to go to Tomorrowland, a glittering techno-utopia in an alternate dimension where humankind's most brilliant minds push the bounds of what's possible.
Plucky, whip-smart and relentlessly optimistic, Casey is cut from the Spielbergian cloth, an ordinary girl next door with extraordinary qualities. "She's just your typical 17-year-old student, except she has a unique perspective on the world," Robertson said. "She's in love with space, and she wants to explore the world. She's a take-lemons-and-make-lemonade kind of gal."
Robertson has her own adventurous streak. The oldest of seven children, she moved with her grandmother to Los Angeles when she was 14 to pursue acting, with neither of them having much of a clue what that might entail. "I faced so much rejection early on," she said. "I'm more afraid of the town now than I was then. I'm aware of all of the intricacies."
"Tomorrowland" director Brad Bird, who went through a long casting process before landing on Robertson, was impressed not only with her talent but also her level-headedness and work ethic. "The people who are in this because they love acting and not because they need to be the flavor of the week — those are the people who have long careers," he said. "I think Britt is going to be one of those people."
Indeed, Robertson regards the prospect of movie stardom with considerable wariness. "I look at someone like Natalie Portman, who I think is extremely talented and has developed a great name for herself, but she's in the limelight and there's pictures of her and her kid and she probably can't go to the grocery store." She laughed. "It's probably a nightmare being Natalie Portman!"
That may be going a bit far, but Robertson is aiming for a more manageable, cruising-speed level of fame, the kind that, say, "Tomorrowland" co-star Kathryn Hahn enjoys.
"I think her career is pretty awesome — she's in so much cool stuff, and she's different every time you see her," Robertson said. "But every time I say that, people are like, 'Why would you want to be a character actor? You could be a movie star.' I'm like, 'I don't know — it seems more fun.' Movie stars have a lot of pressure on them and all these people they're taking care of all the time. I can't even take care of myself."
Robertson is clearly not in a rush to get to some glittering Hollywood Tomorrowland. For now, she said, "I still go to the grocery store in my pajamas and no one cares" — and she likes it that way.
"My mom or my agent will be like, 'This is going to be your year, honey!' I don't want it to just be a year. I want it to be a career."