ORLANDO, Fla. — For 10 years Emma Watson put her real life on hold as played the plucky Hermione Granger in the eight films that brought J. K. Rowling's wizardly world of Harry Potter to the screen. It made Watson rich and famous beyond her wildest imaginings.
But it made her live her life "in a very weird order," she says. "Harry Potter pushed my life back." Now 22, she finds herself "having a delayed adolescent experience" — a years-late turn at high school, for instance.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" has been one of her favorite novels. And being Emma Watson, one of the most photographed, Internet-searched and adored young women in the world, she could have a hand in getting it turned into a film. No, she wouldn't be the lead, and yes, she would have to fake her way through a "real" American high school experience. But the young Briton was game to give it a try.
"American culture and American high schools are like another world to me," Watson says. "I had to do a lot of research just to get myself comfortable with an experience that Logan (Lerman, the film's lead) and Ezra (Miller, who plays her half-brother) would have absorbed just by growing up in America. I felt very much like the outsider."
She had to master the accent and absorb the American high school vibe. And it was worth it, she says, just to get on film a work that fills what she saw as a lengthy gap in the "authentic adolescent experience, as presented in movies." In other words, she says, her generation never got its "Breakfast Club."
"I hope that's what we've made, something that feels that real."
Watson's star power — playing Sam, "the muse, the inspiration" for Charlie, a troubled, bookish teen played by Lerman — allowed novelist-screenwriter Stephen Chbosky to make his movie. But more than that, he feels blessed at being able to cast a still-rising star who seems perfect for Sam, a sexy, smart and sensitive character who drives the protagonist's actions from the moment Charlie casts his eyes on her.
"She's been through this whirlwind of attention and come out of it kind and thoughtful," Chbosky says of Watson. "That's Sam, too. Emma's personal history" connected the actress to the role.
And Watson has matured into a model and an actress with this "piercing, delicate aura," director Sandra Goldbacher, who directed her on the BBC production of "Ballet Shoes," has noted. "You just want to gaze and gaze at her."
The fame the Potter pictures brought her is still a driving force in Watson's life. It's what caused her to delay finishing college (Brown University, and Britain's Worcester College-Oxford). And it's what allows her to pick and choose "visionary" filmmakers to work with, even though all her box-office clout is based on a role she's no longer playing.
She landed a plum supporting role in "My Week With Marilyn." She's one of the stars of Sofia Coppola's teen-thieves drama "The Bling Ring." She's currently filming "Noah," director Darren Aronofsky's take on the Biblical story.
"And I really wanted to work with Guillermo del Toro," so she's helping prep the "Pan's Labyrinth" director's take on "Beauty and the Beast," which they expect to film next summer."
"If I am going to keep learning, that's how I will do it," Watson says. "I am very much aware that I have learned on the job my whole life. There hasn't been much time for experimentation or training. I get on the set and I learn in front of everyone. It's intimidating and scary, because when you make mistakes — and I make my share — you make them on a set where everyone's watching.
"If I am going to keep doing this and not get around to going to drama school, I very much want to be around people I know can teach me something."
For half her life, Watson's comfort zone was the sets for Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter films. Today, fans of that series may not have moved on, but Watson certainly has.
"Even though it wasn't so long ago that we finished with all that, it feels a VERY long way off — the distant past," she says. "I know that the entire series still feels very present for fans, because they can pop the DVD in and it's there, immediately. It's back! But not for me.
"It's something I am fond of having done, and very proud of. But I don't know how I'm going to feel about people hanging on to it or trying to relive it years down the road. We'll have to see."
Chbosky, her "Wallflower" director, sees instincts that "are going to give her a remarkable career" in the movies — an eagerness to work in ensembles, a generosity, and "because she chooses projects rather than parts." Watson is more interested in the whole movie, Chbosky says, than the number of lines she might have in it.
But with all this work lined up, you might fret that she won't ever have time to get to all the things she missed during her teens, which she says is still a priority. Watson herself is not worried.
"The shape of my life has been a bit odd. But it's not going to be any less full, as a result. I'll get around to it. All of it.
"I started to figure that out only recently, that everything, all those big life moments, will happen," she says. "But thanks to Harry Potter, they'll just happen out of order for me."
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