EMMA Watson gives a friendly wave as she cycles past on the set of the final Harry Potter films.
Riding her personalised bike, she negotiates the labyrinthine passageways of the enormous converted aircraft hanger in London’s north like an expert – which, of course, she is.
Having spent more than a decade – and more than half her life – making the eight Harry Potter films, the set is like a second home and its long-serving crew part of her extended family.
Soon she will be sitting 4m in the air in front of a giant green screen, fastened by a harness to a broom and pretending to duck and dodge fire and fiendish foes.
Approaching the end of the most successful film franchise of all time, with $5.5 billion from the six chapters released so far, she is still finding new challenges – it’s her first time on the broomstick.
‘It can be tough – you obviously have to engage your imagination,” she says of the green-screen work. ”Things aren’t really there, so you have to use eye lines and cues. It’s more demanding.”
As the bookish, brave and brainy Hermione Granger, confidante of boy wizard Harry Potter and love interest to his best mate Ron Weasley, Watson has often had to look on while co-stars and good friends Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint tear around like mad things.
But in the film version of the final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which has been split in two (with part one due out this month and part two out next July), Watson is relishing a return to the action as the trio hit the road to hunt down the dastardly Lord Voldemort.
”I haven’t done any action for a while, since about the third film,” she says. ”I haven’t really been involved in any stunts or fights or anything. So this has been fun as a break from some of the more heavy, emotional stuff.
”This film is quite intense and emotional and the plot is very fast driven – a lot happens. There is a lot of death and blood – it’s quite heavy and that can be quite tough on you. So it’s nice to have a release from that sometimes.”
Filming the last two films together has also meant saying goodbye to the people and places Watson has literally grown up with.
The svelte, pixyish actor, now 20, was only 10 and had only acted in school plays when she was cast in the crucial role of Hermione.
It’s strange to hear her describe the films as her ”life’s work” at such a young age, but given the place J K Rowling’s books and their movie adaptations have in the hearts of millions of fans around the world, she admits the pressure is on to give them an appropriate send-off. She has mixed feelings about the long-awaited finale and life post-Potter.
”On the one hand I am very excited to go away and do new things,” she says. ”On the other hand it’s really sad to say goodbye to people I have cared about here, friends I have made. I have literally grown up here and Harry Potter is such a massive part of my life, I have to find new things to fill that gap. It’s a big change.”
Thankfully, Watson is not short of options. Having been named as Hollywood’s highest-paid actress this year, with a fortune of more than $30 million, she never has to lift a finger to work again, should she so choose.
After living frugally with her parents through her early teens, she says she was shocked – and a little sick – when her father told her just how much money she had at the age of 17.
But, for now, her focus is on education. She aced her final school exams last year and is studying Liberal Arts at the prestigious Brown University in the US and trying to live as normal an existence as possible.
She says she was worried about how she would be received at university, fears that were founded on her first day when she was approached for an autograph, causing her to break down in tears.
But since then, she has embraced campus life – living in a dorm with a shared bathroom and going to friends’ parties – and it has embraced her by not making a big deal of her celebrity and not posting candid pictures of her on social networking sites.
After living in a bubble for so many years, Watson is loving the new experiences and friends, but says she doesn’t yet have a long-term plan for acting or anything else.
”I am not looking that far ahead,” she says. ”I have four years at university. I am constantly being asked to look ahead and about what I am going to do. I don’t know.”
Unlike her co-stars Radcliffe and Grint, Watson has only made brief acting forays beyond the walls of Hogwarts – once to voice a princess in the animated Tales of Despereaux, once in the BBC telemovie, Ballet Shoes, and she has just started filming the indie drama My Week With Marilyn opposite Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench.
With generally positive reviews in Ballet Shoes, she says the experience was ”amazing” and prepared her for acting outside the role for which she is so famous.
”In Harry Potter, we will maybe get a scene in a week,” she says. ”In Ballet Shoes we did three or four scenes in a day. Getting used to that pace and working with a smaller crew I really enjoyed.
”I proved to myself that I could play a different part.”
Watson’s other passion is fashion. For the past two years she has been the face of Burberry as well as involved as a ”creative adviser” with People Tree, a Fair Trade fashion brand.
But despite regularly dazzling on the red carpet and gracing the covers of high-end fashion magazines, including the Christmas edition of British Vogue, Watson describes her fashion philosophy as ‘’simple is better”.
”Be yourself and be comfortable,” she says. ”Wear what you feel confident in and don’t wear things just because they are in fashion or whatever. If they don’t suit you and you don’t feel good in it, just don’t go with it. I am a less is more person, I hate wearing too much make-up or jewellery.”
Watson says she will especially miss Radcliffe and Grint. The eldest child in her family, she says she likes to be the ”baby” on set and says ”it’s like having two older, protective brothers”.
This made things rather odd when the much-vaunted first kiss between Hermione and Ron finally rolled around.
”That was a very strange day at the office,” she says, laughing. ”It was very awkward. He is like my brother and we grew up together so it was a very strange position to have to kiss someone you don’t really feel that way about.
”We were worried we wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face and stop laughing for long enough to get the shot. But we managed it and I hope it looks good.”