Saturday, June 27, 2009

Emma Watson covers The Times (June 27, 2009)


[Gallery] [Fashion] [Version française]

She's spent her formative years as the geeky Hermione. Now, Emma Watson is flying the Harry Potter nest, swapping Hogwarts for a seat on fashion's front row and three years as a student. And, she tells Kate Muir, there won't be a film script in sight.

    In a sun-dappled forest at an undisclosed location in the south of England, three empty director's chairs sit under a canopy. The black canvas backs each bear a name in gold copperplate: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. The chairs have done good service, lasting nearly a decade on various Harry Potter sets. When Emma Watson first became Hermione in that chair, she was 10 years old. Now she is 19, a very different creature.
    We meet in Watson's trailer at the end of a metamorphosis that has taken her from a frizzy-haired swot to a sleek, fawnlike starlet now appearing in adverts in Vogue for Burberry and in the front row at Chanel catwalk shows. Potter-geeks might suspect she had recently taken a large dose of polyjuice potion, which famously turns you into someone entirely different.
    Inside, however, I reckon little has changed since a small, determined nine-year-old went to audition. "You wouldn't believe how much I was compelled to play Hermione. I knew I was right to play her, even when my parents were trying to convince me not to. I made it my life for three or four months, just getting through those auditions." Now Watson is equally determined to bury acting for three years. With four As at A level, having studied obsessively between takes, she is taking up a place in September to study English and art at a university in yet another undisclosed location. She wants to be a civilian again, "like Jodie Foster when she went to Yale," says Watson. "And I want to forget about hair and make-up."
    On the Potter set, "it takes an hour to get ready every day. They call us at 7.30am." Watson leans forward across the trailer's Formica table to show me the extensions plaited into her backcombed light brown hair to give it Hermione Granger's messy curls. Plus there are fake scars - "They must have rubbed off - I just took a nap" - and plenty of slap to make her lightly freckled skin matt and witchy. The heavy eyebrows are for real, though.
    Watson is still thankful she was not forced to wear the buck teeth allotted to Hermione in the books. When she put them in, she couldn't talk, and the director dumped them, along with Radcliffe's green contact lenses, both too hard on the young stars. Watson still found her role a burden as well as a pleasure. "When I was little, I didn't understand that other kids thought I actually was Hermione, really geeky. It was devastating. I thought no one would ever fancy me. And the costumes..."
    There was the school uniform, all stiff and buttoned up for Hermione and hanging out for the boys. When the mini-witch was having fun, she wore frumpy, Brillo-pad jumpers in ugly colours. Indeed the Potter series has been a triumph for bad knitwear. "When I was just becoming a teenager, I took some coaxing to get into those horrible jumpers, but now I really use the discomfort, the itchiness, the backcombed hair, to get into character." She is wearing a fine, thin, Lacoste V-neck in pale beige today, in silent revenge.
    Just as Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry, had to appear naked in the West End and New York in Equus to dispel the Potter spell, so Watson has taken up the offer to be the face of Burberry next autumn. She wears those raincoats well on her tiny frame and looks more vampish than ever before. "I didn't actively calculate all this..." Watson shuts her eyes and frowns. It's a very Hermione moment. "I guess it's helpful for me to be seen away from all this. You know: she can look different, she is older, she could be cast in other roles." With the help of a sensible publicity machine, Watson is carefully navigating the whole transformation into siren - choosing Burberry which is sharp and chic without even a hint a trashiness. Clearly glamour is a relief after playing the ultimate swot.

Growing up on set
    In other ways, the charming, polite Watson seems less sophisticated than many 19-year-olds. There is a lack of knowingness about her, no fakery or front. Of course, cosseted on the closed film set, she has been largely denied the normal opportunities for teenage sin and stupidity, despite going back for part of every year to be with her friends at Headington School in Oxford. "I don't feel I've missed out. Sometimes people text me what they're doing and I think, I'm glad I'm not there. I don't have to do that. And I've gained so much here."
    Today she is promoting Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (out in July) while wrapping up filming on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I and starting work on Deathly Hallows II, the final film. Yes folks, that's eight Potter films, on which Watson and her colleagues have pulled 12-hour days, for most of each year. During her A levels, a tutor worked with her on set for three hours a day, and Watson revised in any spare moment, even while she was getting her hair done. "God knows how many hours - years - I've spent on set, but my driver Nigel was trying to work out how many hours he'd driven in the car, and says the distance was twice around the world on the last film. And then he's got to get himself home."
    There is a comfortable, family atmosphere on the set, and Warner Bros have attempted to keep the same crew throughout the series. Who knows what will happen to the British film industry when Potter finally packs up its coffers. We can, however, make an educated guess that Watson will come back to the screen after university. She has already been offered lots of roles, but mostly of the trashy Shopaholic-genre. "It is stuff that doesn't make you think. The scripts all have happy endings, they're really badly written, and they're sending them to an English Literature student," she sniffs. With a rumoured £10m in a trust fund, Watson can afford to work for whoever she wants. "Big budgets don't interest me. Blockbusters don't interest me." Poverty-stricken indie film-makers, take note.
    With so much movie mileage under her belt, you might think that Watson would be utterly confident about her work, but rather endearingly, she has doubts. Sometimes she still cries and feels out of her depth. In the last two films, the actors are out of Hogwarts, out of their comfort zone. "But I hope I'm always pushing myself," says Watson, who took a five-week Shakespeare course at RADA last summer. At first she felt insecure. But a few rapier fights and sonnets later, she made some good friends. "They were really nice, really protective of me."
    Watson is also very carefully protected by her motherly and highly professional PR, Vanessa Davies, who has also looked after Radcliffe and Grint since the start. Over lunch in a double-decker bus, fitted out as a canteen, Davies says: "The story is that three child actors have grown up on set and are perfectly normal. It's a great story, but it's not what some parts of the media want."
    When Watson got the part in 2000, a photo was taken of Harry, 11, Hermione, 10, and Ron, 12, and "the announcement was on the internet, everywhere, within five minutes. My stepmother grabbed a bag of clothes for me and we all went to stay in the Landmark Hotel. The day after I was doing a press conference for 50 journalists." Watson shakes her head, as though she's still wondering what possessed her.
    It's been like that ever since. "Sometimes on a publicity tour I can't remember what time it is, what country I'm in." She is so deeply immersed in the final Potter double bill, that she can barely recall filming Half-Blood Prince last year. "I was muddled up. But thankfully I've read all the books about seven times, so I remember eventually."
    The media whirl never stops. As soon as Watson popped up a couple of times in clubs in London, dressed in Chanel or Burberry, the press glommed onto her. Davies says that on Watson's 18th birthday, she had to warn her to make sure she carefully did her hair and lipstick before leaving the party, to keep the paparazzi at bay. On the web, there are "upskirt" shots taken in a taxi, and headlines like "Snogwarts!" when Watson was photographed kissing her boyfriend, 26-year-old Jay Barrymore.
    "When they write, they make him older each time, like some 40-year-old," moans Watson. She says she mostly laughs it off and takes Davies' advice: "Don't go to any premieres except your own." When Watson saw a couple of her words misquoted after the first Potter film, she cried, but now she reads "everything about everyone with a pinch of salt". The internet is particularly frustrating. "Why do people put so much negative stuff out into the world? Apparently I'm going to four different universities" - she has been tipped for Harvard, Brown, Yale and Cambridge - and dozens of articles claim wrongly she is the new face for Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle perfume.
    Watson now lives, rather discreetly, in Hampstead in her father's house, with her best friend. Her parents, both lawyers, divorced years ago and she has step siblings. She travels between her mother in Oxford and her father in London. But with the delights of the big city awaiting her, she says she is mostly too tired to go out after shooting. Watson is also an avid reader, and is in the middle of The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
    "The last couple of days we've been running for our lives, chased by Snatchers again and again, through the forest," says Watson. One of the Snatchers, a grey-skinned werewolf, is lining up for pasta Bolognese at the canteen trailer. "They're real men, which is easier than doing it with an imaginary creature in front of the green screen, but I'm so used to the green screen I don't mind. I suppose it's a useful skill." All those computer-generated Hippogriffs and Trolls only appear to her in the final cut.
    Over the years, Watson has found different sides of Hermione emerged depending on the different film directors. "With Chris [Columbus] it was the very comic side - Hermione was swotty and bossy, a little madam. Then Alfonso Cuarón brought out the girl-power element in her, and that fitted me well when i was becoming a teenager. Then Mike Newell brought out her sensitive side, a vulnerable, insecure teenager. He'd directed Four Weddings and a Funeral and was interested in how relationships worked. It was then that I really started acting, and stopped just playing the part. It became deeper." The cast enjoyed Newell. "Dan started calling him Sir, and Mike would say to me, 'Lovely take, Emma darling.' I loved when he called me darling."

Leaving Hogwarts
    Watson's director for the final three films is David Yates, whom she says brought more shade and subtlety to Hermione. "David taught me that the only thing that matters is the truth. His version is the truest, purest form of Hermione, the most real." Watson says she is more emotionally mature than Hermione, and sometimes it shows on the screen and she needs a retake. "I have to think myself back a couple of years, because Hermione's never had a boyfriend, never been kissed by a boy," she says. But in the final book, Hermione at last kisses Ron. "The Kiss," says Watson, looking sardonic. "I expect I'll have to talk a lot about The Kiss. We did it two weeks ago. Four takes one way, and two takes with the camera in the other direction. Six takes altogether."
    As well as learning from the directors, a whole raft of Britain's finest thespians have passed through the Potter portals, including Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and John Hurt. But Watson's two major mentors have been Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter. Recently, Watson went round to Bonham Carter's house to talk through a scene where her character, Bellatrix, becomes Hermione after taking polyjuice. Bonham Carter wanted to know everything about Hermione, to get the role right, and as Watson admits, "I am a Harry Potter lexicon." She also found Bonham Carter's advice incredibly useful. Both actresses started young and are not traditionally trained. "I don't come, like Dan [Radcliffe], from a very actorly family, so I was Bambi in the headlights - I never had anyone to guide me," explains Watson. "I hadn't been to LAMDA or RADA, and I had a chip on my shoulder about it. But Helena said I don't need to get trained: she taught herself, read Chekhov, books, theories, and she prepares herself so deeply for every role - the more you know about a person, the more you move intuitively."
    Watson sighs. "I admire her so much, she is so confident in herself, so happy. When she appears on the 'worst-dressed' list in Heat she says, 'Who cares?' She is comfortable with who she is. She probably has no idea how important those two or three hours with her were to me." Watson is all emotional. You want to hug her, except she's far too English and proper for that.
    In the end, she has come out of the Potter tunnel alive and well. It has been a most peculiar education. Watson has suddenly realised this and confesses that she is writing everything down. "I wasn't aware of it at the time, but now it's coming to an end, I'm trying to hold on to it. So I have a book, and everyone I've met has a page. I want to remember them and not just be left with the media version of what happened to me." She pauses. "I don't want to ever forget the way I feel right now."

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