Monday, February 15, 2016

Emma Watson: "I learnt a lot from Lena. I'm more courageous now"

[Version française]

Translated by Emma Watson Updates. Credit if you use it.
Literally took me 3 hours. I'm crying.

The British actress Emma Watson has become a model for many young women. In an interview with FR, she explains how she found herself and has overcome the hype after the Harry Potter films.

For at least a generation of moviegoers, Emma Watson will probably always remain Hermione Granger, the best friend of Harry Potter. She tried to distance herself from this image, and unlike many other child-stars, she was definitely successful. In her new film Colonia Dignidad, she plays a young woman in the Chile of 1973, in the turmoil of General Pinochet's regime of terror. A film with a firm political statement. We meet a cheerful Emma Watson in a luxury suite of London's Corinthia Hotels. She wears a dress of her favorite designer Alexander McQueen and black boots. Her short haircut à la Mia Farrow is dark brown, her nails blood red. She sits in front of a steaming cup of green tea, which she'll look at, thoughtful, repeatedly during the interview, but will never drink from it. She greeted me with a firm handshake and immediately looked for eye contact. She is petite, almost fragile, but not shy. In a few days she will open the World Economic Forum in Davos to talk eloquently and firmly about equality between men and women.

You are a very dedicated young woman. Was the political thriller aspect of "Colonia Dignidad" the reason to play in the movie?
Definitely. When I read the script, I was like stunned. Because then I had never heard of these sect settlements in Chile. But now of course I am very fully informed. And the more I read, the more incredible it was for me that this Paul Schäfer held people captive for almost 40 years, like in a concentration camp. And all under the protection of Pinochet and even in cooperation with the German Embassy. The story we tell is fictional, but the historical background is absolutely authentic. And that's really scary.

You play Lena who infiltrate the so-called "Colony of Dignity" because of her friend who was imprisoned there, to free ...
... which I think is incredibly brave of her. Everyday while filming I asked myself how I would probably behave. And I must honestly say that I do not know. But I find it very inspiring to play people who are bigger and better than ourselves. It makes you grow in your own life. I learnt a lot from Lena. And I think I'm even more courageous now.

In what way?
(Laughs) That's too private to me. But what I also found exciting in this film, is that the girl rescues the boy. In this film the typical role behavior was - thankfully - reversed. You wouldn't believe how many scripts I get sent where should I play the nice girl who is then rescued by her male protector ... How deadly boring!

One of your directors has sometimes described you as: "Emma is like an octopus. She has many arms that simultaneously juggle many different things." Do you recognize yourself in this?
(Laughs) Maybe not as octopus ... But it is true that I still have a lot of different projects going on. This is because I'm just very much interested in what happens in the world. And I really think it's a great gift that I have the opportunities to do so many things at once. I've actually always had many balls in the air simultaneously.

A large ball is acting. What's next?
For example, I created a feminist book club earlier this year, with the beautiful name "Our Shared Shelf". My plan is to select every month a very specific book and then all the readers can discuss it at the end of a month on the Internet. I start by posting some questions about the book or some quotes. And I hope that I initiate a very lively exchange of ideas. I would be especially happy, of course, if then the author would join the conversation. The first book that I have chosen is "My Life on the Road" by Gloria Steinem, an American journalist and women's rights activist. The literature is - besides acting - one of my great passions in life.

Therefore, you have probably studied English literature ...
... yes, my great love was the modern literature. This was also the topic of my thesis, focusing on Virginia Woolf.

Why have you not actually studied at Oxford but instead went to the American elite university Brown University in Rhode Island?
I just wanted to get out of the familiar England and Oxford. I wanted to get away from a culture that has influenced me since I can remember. Away from it all, of all the routine. And away from my friends and relatives. That was - in retrospect - a pretty radical decision, but I did it at a time I urgently needed to. Of course, I sometimes felt lonely in faraway America, but it was also very liberating.

How liberating?
I could do what I wanted. I could be myself, test my limits. And I have not only studied English literature, but also went to philosophy seminars. I remember well the one entitled "The philosophy and psychology of love." (Laughs) Unfortunately, I don't have much use for it in real life. Apart from the realization that there are no rules in love.

Is it true that you have at that time also painted?
Yes, and I still do. That's another ball, with which I juggle. And since I got a keyboard as a gift from my grandmother a few years ago, I try and play the piano. But that is the very private side of me. This is actually not so interesting.

But on the contrary. For many young women, you are a great role model ...
... oh God, I hope not.

Why not? You are young, beautiful and extremely successful. If that is not the description of a dream woman then ...
But that is much too superficial. People who see me like this, actually really don't see me. Frankly to me this kind of attention is suspicious. Because when I was a so-called "Celebrity" with the "Harry Potter" films, I was very quickly aware of how it can become out of hand. Therefore, I have become more cautious in my private life.

You were just nine years old when you were shooting the first "Harry Potter" movie; 20 in the last one. You were already a multimillionaire then. How did you actually cope?
(Laughs) Very well, I believe. And I have to thank my family especially. My parents divorced when I was five, but they have nevertheless always been with me all these years, both very loving and supportive. When it comes to money I can only say that for years I got about 100 pounds of pocket money a month. And that was completely sufficient.

Have you changed a lot in the five years since the end of the "Potter" movies?
Yes, and I am very happy. It has indeed took long enough to free myself from this legacy of the "Potter" films and to emancipate myself as a young, independent woman. Today when I see myself in the early "Potter" movies, I abrely recognize myself. Because I feel like a stranger. I think to myself: "Who is this strange girl? What is she thinking? What is she feeling?" Sometimes I go through my diaries, that I wrote since I was ten, twelve - and I can hardly identify with it.

Was this process of self-discovery very difficult for you?
Yes, really. And it took quite a while. There were also several dead ends, from which I had to search again to become who I am today. At 25, I feel very comfortable in my own skin. And for nothing in the world I'd want to be 20 again.

Was it that bad?
If you have to lead a life under a magnifying glass, it is always very complicated. And especially as a teenager. Since you have a thousand questions yourself and the world: What I want to achieve in life at all? Where will I live? What friends I want to have? And what kind of people I want in no way in my private life? It is exactly the time when you have to take all those decisions that are so important and decisive for the future. All this was quite violent. Eventually I just protected myself and numbed myself emotionally.

And have freed yourself from this mental numbness?
I have worked a lot on myself. I had support from my family, from genuine friends. The time in the US certainly helped and also - as banal as that sounds - my life experience. Also, I have considerably extended my horizons and thus my radius.

Do you mean your social and political commitment?
Yes, mainly. Against the madness and the shallowness of show business, it is a healthy and above all very meaningful compensation.

You have described yourself as a feminist. What is feminism for you exactly?
This is actually quite simple: I believe that men and women around the world should have the same rights and opportunities. That's why I brought the solidarity movement "HeForShe" to life, which has set itself the task to work for gender equality and discrimination against women and girls. It is actually something that should be long taken for granted in the 21st century, but unfortunately it is not. That is what I mean by modern feminism, what I am working on as a goodwill ambassador for UN Women. Men and women would ultimately benefit equally. Therefore I wish nothing more than for men and women to work together to achieve this objective. Nowadays feminism unites much more than divides.

You are very vocal with this topic. And so you are - at least in the film business - quite alone.
I would not say so, because in the film industry there are many women who are committed to equality. And luckily also a few enlightened men (laughs). I certainly feel we are on the right track. But of course, we all know it will be a long way.

To be so committed must certainly ask a lot of energy. How do you fill up?
I draw a lot of energy and strength from my yoga exercises. I have been practicing Ashtanga Yoga for some time with great passion. This is a wonderful way to get my head and my soul free. It is a form of meditation from the Indian Hatha-Yoga.

Can you describe how Ashtanga affected you?
I get by a completely new perspective on the world in me and around me. I can, for example, go down a meditation tunnel and be focusing on the smallest things. Such as a cup. It is quite outstanding. All the stress, all the worries and everything else I do not get out of my head, taken away from me. Everything is clear. And since I'm not religious, this type is very close by transcendence of spirituality. So I get a lot of energy and strength back. I feel sometimes like I could actually have superpowers.

Do you actually such a thing as a life plan?
As the saying goes: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans" Seriously, though. Of course I have desires and needs, but I'm trying to plan my life less, and to let more come to me.

Can you tell us what motto you live by?
I still like what my former cricket coach once said: "Being in good shape won't last. But class remains!"

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