Wednesday, May 8, 2013

David Heyman: "Emma Watson has this knack of capturing the truth of a moment"

[Version française]

The Bling Ring serves a transparent function in Watson's career: it's a classic post-franchise reinvention.

She began that process partially with her confident, nuanced and funny performance in last year's likeable teen drama The Perks of Being a Wallflower (only her second post-Potter role after a small part in My Week with Marilyn). But now the time is right for her to set about dispelling the past comprehensively. We no longer look at Jodie Foster or Drew Barrymore through their childhood performances and Watson is doing her damnedest to ensure that the slate is wiped clean for her too.

This extends as much to what she won't do as to what she will: it's telling, for example, that she has turned down the lead in Disney's new live-action Cinderella, but accepted enthusiastically the invitation from horror visionary Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) to star in Beast, his new version of Beauty and the Beast.

David Heyman, the producer behind the Harry Potter series, has been watching Watson's progress with some admiration since the series ended. "I think she's a really fine young actress," he says. "And I think it's very exciting that she's continuing to study academically and also to learn her craft. What I think she's realised, and this is a testament to her intelligence, is that she needs to work with really fine directors who challenge her and support her as she experiments."

"Look at Harry Potter, where she worked with David Yates, Mike Newell, Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuarón. These are directors who know how to get the best out of actors in any situation."

Heyman has a point: Watson is currently shooting Noah, a biblical epic with Russell Crowe, for Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky. "For Emma, working with people like Darren Aronofsky, Guillermo del Toro and Sofia Coppola is a way of ensuring that she will continue to be pushed and challenged."

Not that any of this looked like a foregone conclusion as the Harry Potter films drew to a close. Watson's co-star Daniel Radcliffe had been attracting acclaim for his stage work, while it seemed that Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasley, would be the first to light up the sky, post-Potter: a news story claiming that Martin Scorsese had predicted great things for Grint turned out to be fabricated but, more importantly, not in the least bit implausible. And yet two years after the release of the final episode, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, it is Watson, rather than either of her male colleagues, who looks like the world-class performer, the daredevil, the movie star.

And she's playful with it. Radcliffe might have starred as an absurd version of himself in the Ricky Gervais sitcom Extras, but Watson has gone one better by playing "Emma Watson" as an axe-wielding tough-nut in the forthcoming Seth Rogen/Jonah Hill celebrity-apocalypse blockbuster comedy This is the End.

Those who were present at Watson's earliest auditions for Hermione were impressed immediately by her assurance. "Emma was fiercely intelligent," says Heyman. "You knew from the moment you met her she was formidable. Bright as a button."

Tanya Seghatchian, a producer on the first four Harry Potters, was similarly gobsmacked. "I watched Emma's screen test and wrote in my notebook beside her name five stars and also: 'Perfect! But she is rather beautiful.' We did wonder if we should give her a more bucktoothed look, like she has in the book. But in the end, we decided that this was cinema and those were some of the compromises we were happy to make."

It was fascinating to watch her development as a performer through the series; there may not have been a great deal of scope for actorly invention within the confines of those slavishly faithful films, but you can see her confidence growing. And some of her scenes are watershed moments for young viewers raised on the series – such as Ron and Hermione's big kiss.

"We felt this pressure to make it look like we wanted to do it, when in reality we didn't," Grint told me in 2011. "I've known Emma since she was nine; we're like brother and sister. The thought of kissing her just seemed so weird."

Heyman says he could see Watson changing as an actor as the series went on. "Her intellect obviously grew during her time but also her sensitivity, her ability to tap into her emotional reserves and bring those appropriately to the screen. She has this knack of capturing the truth of a moment; you could see her blossom as an actress."

Watson, who had not acted professionally before being cast as Hermione, has described her shock at the degree of entrée that Harry Potter afforded her: the fact that Hollywood studio bosses were willing to clear their diaries to meet her when she came to Los Angeles spoke volumes about the power she had accrued unknowingly while she had been beavering away for 11 years in the Harry Potter cocoon at Leavesden Studios.

"I really didn't understand that I had that kind of power. I genuinely didn't. I think my parents were very focused on keeping me down to earth." Those parents, both of whom are lawyers, divorced when Watson was still a child. It would be presumptuous to imply that she got her professional nous from them, as well as her level-headedness, but her career certainly has about it an element of the tactical as well as artistic.

What audiences will see with movies such as The Bling Ring and This is the End is a star associated previously with one role, one persona, announcing its imminent extinction. In other words: Hermione is dead, long live Emma Watson.

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