Australian Women’s Weekly (Nov 2010): Goodbye, Hermione

So this is it. Emma Watson is without a script, a filming schedule or a studio set for the first time in more than a decade.

The sage of ‘Harry Potter’, the most successful series of films ever produced, has consumed more than half her life. It has made her very rich, universall famous and afforded her dizzying opportunities. Yet now, with the release of the first part of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, her cinematic existance as the quick-witted, brainy Hermione Granger is coming to an end.

There are several reactions your average 20-year-old might have to this. Some might embark on a journey of enthusiastic hedonism. Some might simply do nothing. Others may sink into a permanent gloom at losing their screen identity.

Emma Watson, however, is not your average 20-year-old. At 18, ‘Vanity Fair’ ranked her the highest paid actress in Holywood, having banked $33 million in 2009, and she’s set to bank that same amount again for ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ parts one and two. She is too clever and too sensible to fall in a heap. She perches on the sofa in a London hotel suite, a tiny figure dressed in jeans and a white jumper. Her skin is as perfect as her manners. She jumps up to shake hands. Would we like water? Or coffee? What a well brought up woman.

“How do I feel about it ending? I haven’t decided yet,” she says, with a laugh. “Freedom? Or panic? It’s both. Of course, it’s exciting and liberating in a way. But it’s always, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to be over and it’s been such a huge part of my life.’ So I’ll miss it a lot.”

A new elfin haircut gives her a sophisticated glamour that her tumbling long hair never did, accentuating her most arresting feature, enormous, expressive brown eyes, which elevate her from mere prettiness to unusual beauty.

There’s something else unusual about Emma Watson. there are none of the well-rehersed answers favoured by the famous. It’s politely made clear that she doesn’t discuss subjects such as family and boyfriends, but for the most part, she says what she thinks and thinks about what she says.

“I’ve come to realise that playing Hermione may be the biggest thing I ever do and that is scary. I can’t imagine I’ll do anything that will be more widely acknowledged, praised or loved.”

Here, she smiles. “Yep, done the fantasy blockbuster, ticked that box. But Hermione might not be the best thing I do. There are different things I’ll get out of different roles, although I haven’t made any decisions about anything yet. And you’re right, I’m very lucky. I’m free of so many things, like financial worries. But people keep asking me what I’m doing with all my free time and I’m still waiting for it to appear. This summer, I went to Bangladesh for [the Fair Trade and organic clothes label] People Tree, then I did photo shoots and I’m still doing voice recordings to finish all the films.”

“To be honest, hwile I’m running a career along with my education, time on my hands is not really going to happen. I had a list of 10 books I was going to read this summer and I’ve read just one, Tracey Emin’s ‘Strangeland’.”

The remaining nine books, including Vladmir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22′ are listed on her mobile phone. So is just about everything else in her life. There is her schedule at Brown University in Rhode Island, US, where she’s about to enter the second year of her degree, her appointments with the fashion icon Burberry and her design ideas for People Tree, and that’s just for starters.

Emma confesses to being a compulsive list-maker. “I feel if I put things down on paper they won’t rattle around in my head so much. I cross things off as I do them.”

She fishes her phone out of her bag. “I’ve got lists of blogs, books, boxes, Brown, California, cars, fashion, favourite brands, food, friends, health, People Tree, therapy to get … on it goes.”

Therapy? as in psychotherapy? Emma blushes then laughs. “No, it’s actualy physical therapy. I pulled something in my back near the end of filming.”

Most would understand if she did sign up for a bout of couch time, but with characteristic common sense, she has devised her own strategy for dealing with stress. “Down time would definitely be good for me and I’m making an effort to have fun. At university, the holidays are long – four months – so if I want to do anything else, I will. Although I’m not much of a hedonist and I’ve never known anything else in my life but to work. I’ve just been living my life at 100 miles per hour and it’s probably not sustainable.”

She agrees mooching might be difficuly, given her personality. “I really can’t do 50 or 60 per cent. I have to give myself wholeheartedly to everything I do.”

Even as an eight-year-old, when casting agents came to her primary school in Oxford and teachers put Emma forward for auditions, she didn’t just learn her lines. She rehersed for hour upon hour. “I felt very strongly that I was Hermione and that I should have the part. It just sparked my imagination.” Happily for Emma, the film’s producer, David Heyman, and author J.K. Rwling agreed with her.

Emma’s drive comes in part from her parents, both lawyers. When she was born, the family was living in Paris. They moved back to England when Emma was five years old and her parents divorced soon after. She and her younger brother, Alex, grew up with their mother and stepfather in Oxford. Her father moved to London, where he remarried.

“My parents are both pretty high achievers … and it’s quite hard to win their approval.” They are proud and supportive but praise is not automatic. when Emma told her father she wa going to get all her hair cut off, he replied, “Don’t get carried away. you’re not Audrey Hepburn yet, darling.”

“But now he loved it,” says Emma. “So hopefully he’ll be eating his words.”

She’s very close to her brother, who appears with her in a series of Burberry advertisements, and has a strong relationship with both parents. “Although I think divorce has a huge effect on children and I’d never make light of that,” she says. “But it’s not something I’m happy or comfortable talking about. I have a good relationship with both parents. [But] it’s very rare to seen an amicable and harmonious divorce, and it makes a huge difference to children.”

Along with her ‘Harry Potter’ co-stars and friends, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint (”we grew up together”), Emma juggled filming commitements around school in Oxford, and tutors on set. She achieved exam results impressive enough for entry to Brown University on Rhode Island, one of America’s Ivy League colleges. Although Emma likes school in England, she decided America would afford her more privacy.

“I absolutely love Brown. We did a broad range of subjects in the first year and, this year, I’ll probably concentrate on modern history.”

“Also, I’m less famous in America. The ‘Harry Potter’ films are very popular, but I’m not a local celebrity. There’s more anonymity over there, which I treature.”

In England, the gossip is constant. For some months, there was much speculation about a possible new boyfriend, fellow sudent Fafael Cebrain, after a two-year relationship with English banker Jay Barrymore ended. Of alte, she has been snapped with English model and singer George Craig. While she doesn’t like the attention, she is honest enough to acknowledge the advantages.

Already, there is a townhouse in London and the ski lodge in Meribel, France. Emma can pick and choose future acting roles. She’ll never have to worry about a mortgage or a bank loan. And being famous means she can generate valuable publicity for People Tree or any other charity she supports.

“I’ve done three collections so far, although I think I’m going to have to stop because it’s very time consuming. I went to Bangladesh this summer. One hundred per cent of the proceeds go to People Tree, which supports teaching and clean water programs in developing countries. I do feel some celebrities attach their names to a charity, like it’s ticking a box. I want to be involved, to feel I was doing something more than just being a pretty face showing up for a photograph.”

It’s also a good balance for her current Burberry fashion campaigns and her two-year contract as the face of Chanel. Emma admits she loves clothes, but she is also aware that much mass-market fashion exploits workers in developing countries. “I’m not hugely political but being involved in People Tree has opened my eyes. People ofen form opinions from a distance. If you actually se it first-hand, you have a right to your opinion. So I’m please the ideas I’ve formed are now first-hand.”

What’s not so pleasing is the number of people who scream, cry or try to embace her when Emma is walking down a street in the UK. “I do find it frustrating that people don’t treat me as a human being. It’s like celebrities are animals, another species. The media are pretty good to the three of us. Some stuff isn’t particularly kind, but I can’t complain.”

“For the most part, it’s the people. I know they get excited and love the books and films, but they forget I’m just a person. I’m just Emma. I’m quite a shy person and it’s unbelievable to me the way some people act. I’m just a 20-year-old girl.”

She’s right, of course. And wrong as well, because she’s not just any 20-year-old girl. In fact she’s probably the most extraordinary 20-year-old girl you will ever have the pleasure to meet.