- Cheryl Hines embraces her role in
, a magical and timeless comedy that captures the essence of growing up.
- Director Ali Scher drew inspiration from her own nerdy and challenging childhood experiences, making the film relatable and empowering for young girls.
- Actress Sophia Reid-Gantzert connects with her character, Erwin, who faces social isolation and finds solace in pursuing her own unique interests.
Life after Larry is already underway for Emmy-winning actress Cheryl Hines. The Curb Your Enthusiasm star is balancing a marriage-in-the-spotlight with Robert F. Kennedy and other projects now that the final season of Larry David’s hit comedy is underway. Enter Popular Theory. Hines stars as Aunt Tammy in the engaging new comedy suitable for the entire family. Think of Tammy as a wannabe mentor to kid genius Erwin (Sophia Reid-Gantzert of Death and Other Details), who’s been surfing through challenging emotions after the death of her mother.
Written and directed by Ali Scher (Jessica Darling’s It List), the film, a fun little creative cousin to Moonrise Kingdom and Matilda, chronicles the plight of Erwin, the youngest student in high school. Between battling her social isolation, she meets a fellow science guru, Winston (Lincoln Lambert), only to team up with him and invent a chemical that changes the high school hierarchy forever. It’s a chewing gum that, when chewed, releases pheromones that make the chewer popular. Clever and fun, Hines was immediately drawn to the concept.
“I thought the script was a little magical and timeless,” she shared. “When you’re growing up, sometimes you feel like, ‘Oh my God! Everybody else has it together, and I am the weirdo.’ As this story unfolds, you realize, ‘Oh yeah, we’re all weirdos. It’s just some of us are willing to admit it. So, I loved that it kept capturing those big moments and nuances of growing up.”
Cheryl Hines, Sophia Reid-Gantzert, and Ali Scher reflected more about the film, some of their greatest female inspirations, and much more in this exclusive MovieWeb interview.
Cheryl Hines Takes Us Back
Popular Theory also stars Chloe East (The Fabelmans, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World), Marc Evan Jackson (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Babysitter’s Club, Kong: Skull Island), Kat Conner Sterling (Five Nights at Freddy’s) and Varak Baronian (Bang Bang Zoom). Between parent-child dynamics and attempting to fit in school, the film aptly chronicles the peculiarities of growing up. Chery Hines appreciated that element of the film and shared her own coming-of-age experience:
“My tween years were really tough. I mean, as you can see, I have big teeth and I’ve always had big teeth. And so, when you are 12, your insecurities are already so high. But I think that helped me stay in the comedy world, because I learned not to take myself too seriously. I also found good friends, and we would get together and just laugh about all of it. I remember my friends thought my dad was so funny—like he was from another planet. He was just this huge guy walking in the door with stinky feet, and dancing around the living room, We would sit there and laugh till we cried, and I couldn’t even tell you what we were laughing about. Those are my memories. That and, ‘Oh my gosh! Am I ever going to kiss a boy?’”
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Unpacking Ali Scher’s Inspiration
Ali Scher’s previous works include directing Jessica Darling’s It List, an enjoyable coming-of-age comedy about a young girl moving through a checklist on how to navigate the middle school popularity hierarchy. She says she relates to Hines’s experiences. “The science part of Popular Theory comes from the fact that I was a big science nerd growing up,” she said. “I got made fun of a lot. But I had a dad who was British; we’d have this word-a-day thing. I was always using words that the other kids didn’t know, and I would get made fun of for it. So, the character of Erwin comes a lot from me, and about the idea of connection and how you don’t need a ton of friends, but you do need somebody who gets you, and I feel like that’s at the crux of this movie.
“Much like Cheryl, I had a pretty difficult time in those years, you know,” she added. “Wish fulfillment is a big part of what I like to do with movies. I’m all about the wish-fulfillment genre. And I like to think about what I would have wanted at that age, you know. The gum element in this movie was just a vehicle. I was like, ‘What are they going to put the chemical in that wouldn’t look weird for everyone to have anywhere?’ It had to be gum. Everyone has gum. But the idea for the chemical itself was like, what would I have wanted? I would have wanted that. I would have wanted something where I would have been just liked by everyone. That would have been my dream.”
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“But it’s funny because you get older, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God! Thank God I wasn’t popular back then because those people are just living really ordinary lives now and maybe are on their second divorce. I get to make movies and do all this fun stuff, and I’m so glad that I am who I am now.”
Sophia Reid-Gantzert on Her Epic Role
“When I was a toddler, I wanted to be an astronaut and a paleontologist,” she shared. “Specifically, I wanted to conduct experiments in space with plants. So, I was really into biology and NASA and all that stuff. When I read the script, I knew it was right up my alley. I loved the concept.”
Reid-Gantzert does an exceptional job carrying the film, and young actor Lincoln Lambert is a wonderful ally. “The second I met Lincoln, we instantly hit it off, which was really surprising considering that we only had a chemistry read on Zoom. He’s still one of my best friends.”
When asked what she does to stay grounded as a young actor while pursuing big acting dreams, she added:
“I really relate to Erwin in the sense that I don’t go to traditional school. I’m homeschooled and I have been since the third grade. So, all of my friends—non-acting and acting—whenever they’re talking about school or getting made fun, and they know I’m homeschooled, sometimes they think it’s really weird. But that kind of helps me stay grounded. And that really helped me connect to Erwin as well because she does go to school, but she doesn’t have any friends, and no one really pays attention to her. People don’t even really know she exists.”
Inspiration Behind Popular Theory
By all accounts, Popular Theory is a female-driven vehicle. With Ali Scher as writer/director and Sophia Reid-Gantzert and Cheryl Hines on board, the film leans heavily into themes of empowerment and self-acceptance, which leads to a great movie because it features young girls and women coming into their own.
When asked what woman inspired them most in life, the stars and filmmakers chimed in. “I had a grandmother named Ruth, which is my middle name, and she was one of the smartest people I had ever met, even though her father did not let her go to school, and she ended up graduating with my brother from high school,” Hines said. “She was funny, and she would tell it like it is, and if you ever had a problem, she was great. I remember calling her because I had wrecked my car. I said, ‘Grandma, you’re going to be so upset when you hear this.’ And she said, ‘I bet I won’t.’ I learned so much from her. She inspired me to just be authentic and, ‘you’ll enjoy life a thousand times more.’”
Reid-Gantzert and Scher quickly pointed to their mothers as great inspirations, and Sher added that her mother was an artist. “I’m a third-generation artist. My mother was always doing art with us when we were kids and always asking us to look at the world differently. I’m so grateful for that ability.”
Looks like inspiration abounds on and off the set of Popular Theory. Catch the film in theaters when it releases on Feb. 9.