When Emma Watson was cast in theHarry Potter films as Hermione Granger, the serious, smart role model to countless young girls, the actress, who was only 9 years old, set a nearly impossible course for herself. Not only did she have to bring life to a beloved fictional character for generations to come, but in an increasingly prying Internet-tabloid culture, she also had to measure up to the perfection of Hermione while creatively moving past that ideal. To grow up in public is brutal on many levels, but Watson, 23, has managed to escape both the bad behavior and the career paralysis that afflict so many child stars. Her biggest act of defiance seems to be her recent move to the United States. She is currently an English major at Brown University in Rhode Island. And although roles in corset movies surely have been offered to her in abundance, she has chosen, post-Hermione, to play two different American girls: Sam, the charismatic object of desire in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, in 2012, and Nicki, an aspiring actress and part-time thief in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, out this month.
Interestingly, The Bling Ring, which is based on a true story about a group of teenagers who broke into the homes of celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, could be read as the chronicle of Watson’s road not taken. The break-ins were not particularly malicious but, rather, a chance for the gang to live in the aura of stardom by stealing some glitzy baubles and designer duds. Alexis Neiers, the real-life Nicki, has even had her own reality show. “I was dying to play her,” Watson confessed. “Nicki is so different from me. How do I try and understand a young woman who loves these things so much that she is prepared to commit crimes to have them?”
While wildly dissimilar in almost every way, Nicki and Emma do share a keen interest in image control. At our shoot, Watson was meticulous about her hair and makeup, and aware of every frame. It was not diva behavior; she was lovely and polite yet exacting. Perhaps this is how you gracefully transition from child to adult in the global eye: Be bold but never, ever sloppy.
What is the first movie you remember seeing?
Pretty Woman. I was 7, which was way, way too young. That was when I started loving Julia Roberts and American movies. As a child, I loved being onstage. I loved singing, I loved the lights, I loved the adrenaline. I even loved learning lines. I was completely obsessive. A friend of my mother’s found a tape of me auditioning for Hermione. I wanted to get really, really good at my lines. There was reel after reel, take after take, of me doing the same thing over and over again.
How old were you?
Nine. I was crazy. I did eight auditions, and I would literally sit by the telephone in my house and wait for each call. When they had me in for the ninth audition, I was like, Wow, nine! They called me into the producer David Heyman’s office, and he said I was the “preferred” candidate for the role. Before I could obsess over what “preferred” meant, they took a photograph of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and me, and it was broadcast on the Internet that we had been cast in Harry Potter. By the time I got back to my house, there was press waiting outside. We moved straight into a hotel.