Friday, October 19, 2001

Emma Watson covers TV Guide (October 27 - November 02, 2001)



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The text of the article thanks to The Spell Binder:


Prince Harry

She comes around the corner in a plaid skirt and yellow shirt, all pigtails and freckles, blending right in with all the fresh-faced schoolchildren emerging from buildings along a narrow, tree-lined road in the scenic heart of Oxfordshire, in the English countryside. Tossing her books in the trunk of a car and showing off the brightly decorated bag she made in a crafts class, she's seemingly just another student, at the end of just another school day.

But this particular girl, Emma Watson, inhabits the world of Harry Potter, where things are not always what they seemed to be. In Harry's world, as laid out in the monstrously successful books by J.K. Rowing, even an 11-year-old boy who has spent his life being mistreated by his beastly aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, can possess magical powers that blossom when the child goes to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a wondrous academy hidden in the wilds of Great Britain. In Harry's world, a child who looks normal to us Muggles (i.e., folks who can't do magic) could be a young wizard in training. And in the world we share with Harry, Emma Watson, on the surface a charming and lively 11-year-old, could be a movie star in the making.

That's because in the coming film "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," Watson plays Hermione Granger, the scholarly and opinionated schoolmate and friend of the world's most famous prepubescent wizard. Although they have the help of director Chris Columbus ("Home Alone") and of such grown-up actors as Richard Harris, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman, it is Watson and two other British kids who are min many ways the critical players in a very big movie.

"This movie is going to live or die on these kids," says screenwriter Steven Kloves ("Wonder Boys"), who adapted Rowling's novel. "You can have the greatest special effects of all time, but if the kids are not winning, then it's not going to work. They are the touchstone."

So here they are, the three children at the center of the cinematic translation of the biggest pop-culture phenomenon in years:

As Hermione: Watson, a sports fan who loves school ("not quite as much as Hermione does; I'm not a fanatic") but has no professional acting experience. "The first question at the beginning of every audition I did was, 'So, have you done any professional acting before?'" she says. "It seemed like the most important thing to them, but it obviously wasn't." Already, Watson has a casting proposal for future Potter movies: "Brad Pitt." In what role? "Any role."

As Harry's best friend, Ron Weasley: Rupert Grint, 13, a natural comedian and a big practical joker with a serious sweet tooth. Grint caught the attention of the casting directors with a video in which he dressed up as his (female) drama teacher and rapped about Harry Potter. Determined to pursue an acting career, Grint also has one of the most delightful resumes in Hollywood: "In "Noah's Ark," I was a fish," he says, detailing his grammar school drama career. "The nativity play, I think I was a donkey. "Cinderella," I was just a chorus thing. And "Rumplestiltskin," I was Rumplestiltskin."

And as Harry Potter: Daniel Radcliffe, 12, a big devotee of the World Wrestling Federation and a music fan whose current favorites include Dido, R.E.M. and the "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack. Eager, charming, playful and surprisingly self-possessed, Radcliffe is nonchalant about whether he wants to stay in the business. "I might like to be an actor," he says, "but there are loads of other things I'm interested in as well, like music and writing and sports. I want to keep my options open."

Upon these six slender shoulders sits the weight of a reported $125 million production and a franchise worth far more than that, given the mountains of merchandise and the fact that Rowling intends to write seven Potter books in all. (She is currently writing the fifth.) "They're lovely kids, just lovely, and I don't think they have any idea who their lives could change," says Scottish actor Robbie Coltrane ("The World is Not Enough"), who plays Hagrid, Hogwarts' enormous but kindly groundskeeper. "I've tried to say to Dan many times 'Do you realize that when this movie comes out you're going to be the most recognizable boy in Great Britain?'"

Ask Radcliffe about this, though, and he just shrugs. "I think it's going to be fun," he says with an easy grin.

Sitting in the cozy tearoom of a hotel near her school, Watson polishes off a few buttered crumpets and says she hasn't seen her life changing much. "My friends haven't been treating me differently, and most other people are really nice about it," she says. "You get the odd kid who's a bit annoyed, who'll go past you in the hallway and go 'Ooh, it's Hermione.' But that's kind of what you expect, really."

While Watson spends her days back at school, Radcliffe and Grint have been making the trek to Shepperton Studios outside London, where preproduction in under way on the second film, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." (Each book covers a new school year at Hogwarts and details the continuing threat from an evil wizard named Voldemort, who murdered Harry's parents when he was an infant.) The boys share a soundstage with a snowy owl that plays Harry's faithful messenger, Hedwig. Some of the movie's other fanciful creatures include great ray owl, eagle owls, tawny owls, a Neapolitan mastiff, a silver tabby cat, a Main coon cat, a few frogs and Ron's pet rat, Scabbers.

Outside the soundstage one fall afternoon, a couple of crew members pass around a London newspaper that bears an article entitled "Harry Potter and the Magic Cash Machine." The story talks about the extent of the Potter franchise, which includes 110 million books in print around the world and merchandising deals licensed by Warner Bros. to more than 50 companies. "Well," says one with a chuckle, "we'll be renegotiating."

Certainly, there is big money to be made. "The expectations are so high, simply because it has such a large fan base already," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking film Exhibitor Relations. The goal, he adds, "will be not only to attract those who are familiar with this story, but also those who are not - although you'd probably have to be living in a cave somewhere to not be aware of Harry Potter."

Still, not everyone is happy about a movie version of the book that lured so many kids away from the TV screen and into the world of literature. "I think it's really sad that Harry Potter couldn't stay as he is in children's minds," says Diane E. Levin, the author of Remote Control Childhood Combating the Hoards of Media Culture (National Association for the Education of Young Children). "With the books, children can use their imaginations and have control. But now there's a movie and a whole range of products to fit Harry Potter into the pattern that's been established in our media culture - that happiness and well-being come from what you can buy. It will also contribute to kids' expectations that when you read, you need to have the visual images given to you."

Producer David Heyman naturally disagrees. "I don't think that showing the world [the movie] will limit people's imaginations in any way," he says. "I think it will excite them. I hope that people who've read the book feel that we've been faithful and true, and I hope that those who haven't read the book will be encouraged to read it."

Heyman optioned the first to Potter books for $700,000 in 1997, before they became a worldwide sensation. (The first book had done well in Britain, where it was published as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which is also the movie's title in the U.K.) Steven Spielberg considered directing the film before proceeding with "A.I.," at which point Columbus lobbied hard for the job. "I was obsessed with it," says the director, who has three kids.

Writing the script, Kloves went to Rowling with questions and found her an inexhaustible source of information. Rowling steered Kloves away from adding things that would contradict events in coming books and gave some actors details about the future of their characters. Coltrane, for instance, says he learned things about Hagrid that will be revealed in book five, while Alan Rickman, who plays the sinister Professor Snape with such relish that he sometimes scared the young actors, clearly got some inside scoop as well. "It's very interesting to watch Alan's performance," says Kloves. "There are a couple of moments where it's clear that he knows something I don't."

While Rowling served as a constant source and sounding board, she is steering clear of promotion. Saying it's because she does so many interviews when her books are published, she has so far declined to do any for the film. In a recent online chat at harrypotter.com, her only comments on the movie were to hope that it would be good and to add, "personally, I can't wait to watch Quidditch," a wizards's sport played on flying broomsticks and one of the biggest of the movie's many special effects challenges.

For the pivotal role of Harry, Columbus was set on Radcliffe after seeing him in a BBC production of David Copperfield. His casting director, though, said the Radcliffe was unavailable and his parents unwilling. It wasn't until producer Heyman ran into Radcliffe and his father at a London performance of the play "Stones in His Pockets" that they were able to bring the young actor in for a screen test.

"In Dan's screen test," Colmbus says, "there's a sense of depth and intelligence that you don't see in many 11-year-olds. That, to me, was astounding. Here's a kid who comes from a loving family who on-screen can portray the fact that he's been locked in a cupboard under the stairs for 11 years. I don't know where he gets that haunted quality, but he has it."

On the Shepperton soundstage, Colmbus supplies a running string of comments designed to keep the two boys focused and energetic. "You have to get the performance in whatever way possible," Columbus says. "Whether it means running the scene two or three times in a row or surprising the kids with a joke in the middle of a take to get an unexpected reaction. I feel sometimes that I'm almost becoming part of the action myself. Compared with this, you can almost get lazy when you're directing adults."

At the end of the workday, the boy who would be Harry Potter finishes his three hours of daily schooling and plops down in a chair to have his makeup removed. He's used to this routine, and he may be experiencing it for some time to come: Kloves is now adapting the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

"The ideal vision of these movies was seven films, all with the same cast," says Columbus. "The only way to do that is to somehow do one a year for seven years. But from an energy standpoint, I don't think we can do that. " (Coltrane has his own qualms: "I need to do other things, too," he says. "I don't want to find out that because I was Hagrid I'll never be able to play a pimp or gangster again.")

But as he slips out of the makeup chair and heads back toward his dressing room, Radcliffe isn't thinking long-term. Instead, he's looking forward to going home and getting a nightly call from his best friend, Alex. "He's totally obsessed with Harry Potter," he says. "He phones me every night, asking me what I filmed."

And does Radcliffe worry about his friend being a tough critic when the movie comes out, noticing every little change from the book?

"I don't think so," he says. I think he'll appreciate the film for what it is." Then he grins and when Radcliffe speaks again, he sounds less like an inexperienced kid than like an old pro. "And he'll tell me he likes it," he says, "even if he doesn't."



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