I am one of probably four people my age who have never read any of the Harry Potter books or seen any of the movies,* but that seemed unimportant when I headed to Emma Watson’s apartment to interview her back in January. I’d just rewatched The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I’d been reading about some of her upcoming projects, so I had a squillion questions about the work she’s done since Potter ended and the work she’ll do in the future.
If you haven’t seen it already, Perks is a flawless high school movie (based on the book by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote and directed the film) that will make you laugh and cry your eyes out in equal measure. Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring, which comes out June 14, is based on a group of real teenagers who robbed celebrities’ homes in Los Angeles 2008 and 2009. I saw a screening of it in April (after this interview, unfortunately), and as soon as it was over I just wanted to rewatch it for all of eternity. Like any Sofia Coppola fan, I was psyched that Emma would be her next ingénue, but this movie is not pretty or dreamy, it’s insane and funny and scary, and I couldn’t believe how hard I was laughing whenever Emma did something as small as stare at her phone. Watch the trailer—you will DIE at the end:
Emma also recently filmed a leading role in Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic Noah, due out next year. It’s sure to be drastically different from anything we’ve seen her in, and I obviously can’t wait.
We sat at her kitchen table while she generously indulged my curiosity and Perks geekdom. Her cat slinked around the chairs, her roommate introduced herself and served some banana bread they’d baked together. It felt sort of like a gals’ lunch, or something that sounds less like a yogurt commercial. Emma showed me her journals and we all watched her favorite TED talk. Even though she’s been interviewed thousands of times over the 12 years since the first Potter movie, nothing she said felt like a stock answer. Every word seemed carefully chosen, save for a few moments in which she let her thoughts carry her away, and then that was exciting in the way watching people think and seek and find is exciting. She also got almost as hyper as I did when we got to talking about Pretty Wild, and she threw her head back in laughter when she admitted to getting through final exams with the help of The Carrie Diaries.
My dad came by after a couple hours and we’d started saying our goodbyes when I spotted her record player. The needle rested next to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and I couldn’t help thinking about what a turning point that album signified in Joni’s career and life. Her first three records established her as a commercially successful and critically respected artist, then she decided to take a break from performing to travel and write these incredible songs where she just totally lays herself bare. Those songs became Blue, which was a huge and instant success on basically every level. It’s widely regarded as Joni’s best album, and 42 years after its release it’s still gaining new fans, all of us attracted not just by her mindblowing talent but also by her honesty as she sings about her deepest secrets and desires.
These days Emma Watson seems to be writing her own Blue. She’s managed to protect her private life while using her work to reveal the kinds of vulnerabilities that feel the most private. It’s taken for granted that starting a career and becoming famous at a young age means sacrificing the space and peace necessary to learn about yourself or the rest of the world, but Emma has made time for both.
She also made time for me, and us, and this interview, and for that I thank her.
TAVI: I have watched Pretty Wild, the reality show about the real-life Bling Ring, so many times. I’m obsessed with Alexis Neiers, the girl you play in the movie. Have you heard from her about the film or anything?
EMMA WATSON: No, I haven’t. To be fair to Alexis, [my character] is like three steps removed from who she might be in real life. A lot of the material in the movie was based on an article which was based on a reality show, which we all know isn’t real life. I wasn’t trying to impersonate her—she just inspired the character. I watched Pretty Wild so many times to try and get her into my brain, though. It gave me anxiety. How do you watch it?
I think I have to pretend that it isn’t real. If you think about it too much it’s depressing. You have to shut your brain off and be like, “They’re not real people!”
But they are! Sofia filmed it in such a nonjudgmental way, though—she never tells the audience how they should feel about these characters, which I think might be quite unsettling for people who want to be told, “We should hate these people.” She made it so true to life, it almost feels like a documentary.
My final is tomorrow, so I’ve been living like a hermit. The only thing I have been watching—such a guilty pleasure, it’s the perfect study break ’cause you just don’t have to concentrate too hard—is The Carrie Diaries. Have you been watching it?
[Laughs] So embarrassing to admit that! A 23-year-old that’s fully been watching The Carrie Diaries.
Yep. No, it’s absolutely true. That’s been my study break.
What was it like working with Sofia Coppola?
It was a real dream of mine. I came to the part in a very roundabout way: I told my agent how much I loved Sofia’s work, and she’s like, “You should meet with her producer and [unofficial] casting director, Fred Roos,” and I did, and we got on really well, and that led to meeting Sofia, and she told me she was working on a project with young people in it. I read the script for The Bling Ring and I just got obsessed. For Sofia Coppola to be making a film which is a meditation on film and celebrity culture and what that all means, how it impacts society, and the psyches of young women in particular—I was like, “OK, I have to be in your movie. I really, really, really want to be in your movie.” For my audition I went out and bought hoop earrings and this crazy hat like the one Alexis wears when she goes to see her lawyer, and I put on tons of bronzer and a fake tan—I just went full-out, and had the best time doing it. ’Cause it’s really the first time I’ve gotten to play someone who’s a real character, someone just so different from me.
Sofia is incredibly smart, but she doesn’t try too hard. She’s very, very careful about the casting process, because when we get to the set she just wants to give everyone the space to do their own work. That attitude is so conducive to making a really interesting film, because she’s completely prepared to switch around the scene that we’re doing on a whim. She’ll be like, “You know what, guys? The light looks really beautiful in the room next door, so let’s just not do this scene today, we’ll do this [other] scene instead.” And everyone just moves next door. As an actress working with her, you have to be prepared for anything, because she likes capturing organic things, transcendent moments, changes in the wind and sun—which is awesome because you feel like you’re really part of creating something beautiful, but also very unnerving for me because I’m used to being inside a studio at Harry Potter and being incredibly controlled and sticking to a schedule. So it was fun—it felt very freeing.
I’ve read that the process of filming The Perks of Being a Wallflower was also quite different from the usual rigid studio schedule.
Yeah, we shot it in six weeks. I’d never worked such long hours or so hard in my life, but it was also obviously the most fun. We did a lot of night shoots, and [after shooting] you have so much adrenaline running through your system, it takes a few hours for you to wind down even though it’s like four in the morning. So oftentimes we would sit in the parking lot and—it sounds so cheesy—just watch the sun come up. When you make a movie on location, where you have to go and live somewhere outside your comfort zone, you have to create your own family, and you get so much closer than when you’re making a movie somewhere where everyone can stay in their own homes. And you’re all trying to create something, and through that creative process you make this bond that you wouldn’t really have under any other circumstances.
I got to work with Logan [Lerman], who plays Charlie, again in the last movie I did, Noah. He plays my brother, and it was great because we already had that chemistry; we didn’t really have to push for it. It was intimidating stepping onto that set, because [the movie] is Russell Crowe and Darren Aronofsky and Jennifer Connelly, so to have Logan there was just immensely comforting.
My understanding is that you read the script for Perks and called your agent and said you wanted to do it, and you found out that it had been sitting on a shelf for a while because no one wanted to make it. Why did you think it was so important for this movie to exist in the world?
Well, I’d been reading scripts for two years before Perks came along, and nothing had really resonated with me in the same way. It was just on my brain, it was on my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It didn’t even occur to me that it wouldn’t be made, because Logan was already attached, and I’d met with Stephen [Chbosky] and it was like he’d been waiting 12 years, really, to make this film. Then I got a call saying that no one wanted to back it financially. So it took more than phone calls: I actually flew out to L.A. and met with all the different studio heads and basically pitched the movie, which was crazy—I’d never done anything like that before in my life. [The story] just really spoke to my teenage experience and my friends’ teenage experiences. I felt like I’d watched too much Gossip Girl and was just dying to see something that spoke to the kinds of issues that I’d encountered as a young woman. It felt unique, and like someone had really written it from the heart.
* I have nothing against HP, I just never got around to it! I didn’t expect it to be “my thing” when the first one came out (I was like seven) and then I was too intimidated to start because I was so behind. It’s on my reading/watching list, though, I swear.