Emma Roberts on ‘Space Cadet,’ Blaming the Internet for ‘Madame Web’ Flopping and Being Protected as a Nickelodeon Child Star

Emma Roberts knows that her new Prime Video movie, “Space Cadet,” is an any easy target for critics and cynics.

“It’s earnest,” she says on this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast. “And people are probably going to make fun of that, but it’s like, you know what, whatever. I think that it’s better to be earnest and do your best and be proud of what you do, no matter the reception.”

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Roberts stars in the film, written and directed by “Purple Hearts” writer Liz W. Garcia, as Rex, a bartender who decides to pursue her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. When she is accepted into NASA’s highly competitive astronaut-training program, things go sideways after learning that her best friend (“Hacks” actor Poppy Liu) had embellished her application.

“I just fell so in love with it,” Roberts recalls of reading the “Space Cadet” script. “I felt like it really just reminded me of all the movies that I loved as a kid and a teen, and it felt super fresh, but at the same time really nostalgic. Everything I had been reading was so dark and depressing and felt very kind of small, and I just wanted to do something that felt inspiring and fun and light, and this was that for me.”

You’re also a producer on the movie. I was talking to a filmmaker friend the other day and he was talking about the hustle to get the money. He said, “It’s just excruciating.”

That’s why when people are so quick to see a movie or a show and they’re like, “Oh, I hate that,” I’m like, “That was months and years and blood, sweat, tears.” Producing stuff has made me realize you can’t really hate anything because it means that people have really, really, really tried and succeeded. If you’re watching something then that’s a success.

What movie have you made where you look back at it and you say, “We worked so hard. I was so proud. I was expecting something different”?

I’m more just thinking of even like putting out stuff like “Space Cadet.” First of all, everyone loves the movie who’s seen it, which makes me so happy. But you get these comments that can be rude. So I try not to look at it, because it’s just people want to hate. I feel like I’ve dealt with that since I was 12 years old, so I have a thick skin around it. But it just does bum me out. We’ve just cultivated now this hate culture towards celebrities and towards movies and television online. Where it used to be like five people reviewed a movie, and now it’s like you have people that won’t even say what their real name is saying how much they hate something. I’m like, “At least everyone should have to put their driver’s license number into their Instagram account, so you’d probably think twice before you said something rude if we had your driver’s license info.”

And you had big success on Nickelodeon [Roberts starred on the network’s “Unfabulous” for three seasons before it ended in 2007]. Nickelodeon has been in the news a lot about child safety on set. Do you remember ever feeling unsafe, or were you protected?

I watched [“Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV”], and I was completely horrified and shocked because that was not my experience. It made me really, really, really sad that that was happening to people that I literally saw often and had no idea. For me, my show, “Unfabulous,” the showrunner we had was this amazing woman named Sue Rose. And I didn’t realize at the time, but a female showrunner back then was not very common. But that was my intro into working on a TV show. Also, my mom was with me 24/7, and even I would be like, “You don’t have to be here all the time,” she was like, “I do actually. I’m not letting you out of my sight. You’re not going to a fitting by yourself when you’re 13 years old.” It makes me really sad, and I just feel like children need to be protected on sets, as do adults, and I feel like we’re working towards a better work environment in that sense. But yeah, that documentary really kept me up at night.

UNFABULOUS, Emma Roberts, (Season 1), 2004-2007. photo: Dorothy Low/Nickelodeon, © Nickelodeon / Courtesy: Everett Collection
Emma Roberts starred in Nickelodeon’s “Unfabulous” from 2004-2007.

I imagine early in your career people were always pitching projects for you to do with your aunt, Julia Roberts.

They still do. I would love to find the perfect project for me and my aunt, and I know that there will be something. But it’s never been the right thing. She’s the best, and I want to do something with her. We send each other books and talk about stuff but it hasn’t been right. I watch her movies when I’m on location and I’m by myself. I have movies of hers downloaded on my computer that I watch for comfort. “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “America’s Sweethearts” are my safe movies.

We’ve got to talk about “Madame Web.” It didn’t do as well as obviously people had hoped. Dakota [Johnson] said she probably would never do something like that again. But you have said you want to do it again.

Things work; things don’t work. Everyone likes to act like they can predict if they’re going to work or they’re not. And the truth is, you can’t. Things do badly, and then they blow up later on TikTok. Things do well, but then you watch them, and you’re like, “This did well?” There is no secret. It’s about doing something goodish and it hitting at the right time. Everything else is like a wish and a prayer. I’m not intimidated by failure, and I’m not intimidated by people having negative thoughts about something. I personally really loved “Madame Web.” I really enjoyed the movie. I thought everyone in it was great. The director, S.J. Clarkson, I think did an amazing job. She’s the reason I wanted to do that movie. If it wasn’t for internet culture and everything being made into a joke, I think that the reception would’ve been different. And that’s what bums me out about a lot of stuff, even stuff that I’ve done, is people just make such a joke out of everything now.

What’s that one role that you were auditioning for that got away where you were like, “That’s the one I wanted”?

As a kid, it was the remake of “Peter Pan.” I came very close. I had a British accent. I was very impressed with myself, but I didn’t get the part. The one that got away in the beginning was “I Am Sam,” which the amazing Dakota Fanning obviously got. I came close, but the feedback was, “You’re a little on the older side,” and I was nine. To be told you’re on the older side at nine, I was like, “There’s my thick skin. It grew right there.”

This Q&A has been edited and condensed. Listen to the full conversation with Roberts on “Just for Variety” above or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.

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