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Emma Roberts, Tom Hopper: 'Space Cadet' celebrates passion, ingenuity

Tom Hopper and Emma Roberts star in the new romantic comedy, "Space Cadet." Photo courtesy of Prime Video
1 of 4 | Tom Hopper and Emma Roberts star in the new romantic comedy, "Space Cadet." Photo courtesy of Prime Video

NEW YORK, July 4 (UPI) -- The stars and director of Space Cadet say they hope their new Prime Video rom-com reminds people one doesn't need a formal education to be brilliant or competent.

Optimistic and reminiscent of female underdog movies such as Legally Blonde and Working Girl, the film premieres Thursday on Prime Video.

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It stars Emma Roberts as Tiffany "Rex" Simpson, a Florida bartender and inventor who always dreamed of going to space, but had to forego college to take care of her father after her mother died.

When Rex's supportive best friend Nadine (Poppy Liu) sends in an egregiously embellished application for NASA's competitive astronaut training program on her behalf, Rex gets in and quickly proves herself an asset while also catching the eye of her handsome, straight-laced supervisor Logan (Tom Hopper).

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But as the stakes get higher, Rex's true background comes to light, putting at risk everything she has gained personally and professionally.

"You can be smart without having a college degree. You can be experienced in life and maybe not experienced with school and vice versa," Roberts told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"There's something to be learned from people who have experienced one or the other."

Roberts, 33, went to college for only a semester before her career started to take off with roles in films like Aquamarine and We're the Millers and TV shows like American Horror Story and Scream Queens.

"I've been intimidated before around people who have higher degrees and stuff like that, but then I think, 'Oh, but I have something else to maybe offer in the room.' And, so, I love that Rex is showing that you don't have to necessarily be book smart to be smart and to help out your friends. Everybody contributes something."

Game of Thrones, Black Sails and Umbrella Academy alum Hopper, 39, also connected with the themes at the heart of Space Cadet, which was written and directed by Liz W. Garcia.

"it's a great message," he said.

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Terrible in school

"I'm a big believer that it's not all about grades and about the Ivy League education that you've had. I believe [it's about] who you are as a person," Hopper added. "I was really rubbish at school. I was terrible at school."

More interested in girls, sports and acting, Hopper said his grades really took a hit when he was a kid, but he never thought that would keep him from doing something worthwhile with his life.

"I was told a lot that I'll never amount to anything because I never got good grades and even at a young age I was like, 'I don't believe that. I don't think that's the only way to get where you want to be.'

"That's not to say that I don't think you should go to school and get educated, but I do also believe it's not the only way."

Garcia pointed out that having a formal education is a privilege to which not everyone has access.

"I wanted to tell the story of someone who was qualified, but didn't have that dazzling resume, doesn't come across as someone who is of intimidating intellect, doesn't play the part, but has all the skills," Garcia added.

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"Yes, it's a comedy. It's stretching reality in many places, but the message is 'your intelligence may not come across like everybody else's, but that doesn't mean you don't have the goods.'"

Garcia said the self-taught people in her life are among the most fascinating ones she knows.

"They've gone after [knowledge] with real passion," she added. "So, they are usually more educated, even more fully realized than many people who just went through school and didn't care about it."

Laughing at Liu's antics

Roberts said she was excited to work with Liu after seeing her and laughing at her antics on the celebrated HBO comedy series, Hacks.

"She's just a comedic genius and she showed up to this movie seven months pregnant," said Roberts, who has a toddler son.

"We bonded over that. We're both boy moms," she added. "We just really connected right away, and I just am in awe of her comedic timing. I feel like it made me better, getting to work with someone like her."

Liu, 32, said the strong female friendship storyline attracted her to Space Cadet, and Roberts turned out to be a great partner with whom to share the experience.

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"Emma was just so loving and caring and immediately just jumped into this sort of this maternal [mode]. 'You're pregnant, are you good?'" Liu quoted Roberts as saying.

"I literally have a video on my phone of Emma giving me a foot massage or doing some pregnancy Reiki on me while they were setting up the scene," she added. "I was just lying on the bed like, 'I can't move,' so I think the love just felt really natural."

Even though they might not agree entirely with the decisions their characters made, the actresses said they understand them.

"With friendship, sometimes to 'ride or die,' you've got to do something bad," Roberts said.

"Everything that's done in this movie is from a place of heart and good intention, which is why the more [morally dubious] stuff is funny."

Fiercely loyal friend

Liu described herself as a fiercely loyal friend in real life, as well.

"If you're one of my people, I will literally do anything for you," she said.

"So, I do relate to that part of Nadine that is just like, 'No questions asked, what do you need?' I love how easy it is for her to uplift her friend," Liu added.

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"I love seeing that we're really past the age of scarcity mentality [with] women forced to compete with each other and to just feel like this is a friendship in which they're just rooting for each other."

While Liu had the challenges of acting in her final trimester of pregnancy, Roberts is seen not only wrestling alligators, but also going through rigorous astronaut training.

"They put me up on the wires to do the space stuff, and I was really scared of heights, but I got over that," Roberts said.

"My core was not as strong as I had thought it was, so it was really extremely difficult," she added. "I made it up there a little bit, but then I had a stunt double who did a lot of the really amazing, moon-walking stuff."

The hardest part, Roberts recalled, was wearing the heavy, confining space suit with the helmet.

"I'm claustrophobic, and just putting that on was really freaky for me," she said. "People that go to space, they are mentally and physically stronger than I could ever imagine in a million lifetimes."

Hopper said Logan is quietly married to his job when he meets Rex, a born leader who thinks outside of the box and helps him unleash his inner "party animal."

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"She's so powerful that he can't resist," Hopper added. "I love that for Logan because I think people like Logan need to let loose a little bit. I liked getting the opportunity to let him do that."

Hopper said Roberts perfectly embodied the character of Rex.

"She's a bundle of energy, and she's also incredibly loose as a scene partner," he added.

"There's nothing worse than if they're rigid and you feel like you can't just play," Hopper said. "She was great scene partner, so it made easy work of it."

Emma Roberts' career: Movies, TV, red carpets

Emma Roberts arrives for the premiere of "Music and Lyrics" in Los Angeles, on February 7, 2007. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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