Emma Watson has been in the public eye for what seems like forever. We all became aware of her eight years ago when she was cast as Hermione Granger in the first Harry Potter film, and it has gone on since then. So maybe its not that surprising that her publicity machine is fretting somewhat. Its her first interview away from Potter, the PR whispers to me on our way to meet the 17-year-old Watson. She may be rather shy.
We turn a corner to find Watson skulking around a kitchen, nervously sipping some juice and looking very pretty and gamine in the current teenage uniform of three-quarter-length leggings, faux leopardskin pumps and brown soft-leather bomber jacket. She has long blonde hair, a neat face and very dark plucked eyebrows, and she still seems terribly young, despite everything shes experienced in her short life.
In many ways, its hard to separate her from Hermione Granger. Yes, it is, isnt it? she says all in a rush. Sometimes even I get muddled which one I am, because I know Hermione so very well. My little brother, Toby, whos three, gets very cross with me sometimes because when he sees me in Harry Potter he cant understand how I can be Emma and Hermione at the same time, she says.
This Christmas, though, she is being not Hermione but Pauline Fossil in Ballet Shoes, an adaptation of the popular Noel Streatfeild novel on BBC One. It has a starry cast including Victoria Wood, Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon in the Potter franchise), Eileen Atkins, Harriet Walter and Emilia Fox. The story of three impoverished orphans, Pauline, Petrova and Posy, who have to triumph over adversity by their own talents, has entranced generations of young girls. It is a heartwarming tale full of organza dresses, velvet frocks, tantrums and tears. Pauline turns out to be a brilliant actress and Posy a brilliant dancer, while Petrova is brilliant at fixing cars and flying aeroplanes.
How her performance is received is obviously terribly important to Watson. Its the first time Ive been anything but Hermione, she says, fiddling with the cushions. Pauline is headstrong, so in that way she is quite like Hermione, but she is not academic. In fact, she actually reminds me of myself as a child, much more than Hermione does. Pauline is utterly obsessed with being an actress and I was just like that when I was younger. I dreamt of it. I practised speeches in front of mirrors. I was probably a bit of a show-off in the sense that any chance to get up and be seen, I did it.
She sounds like a nightmare.'I was such a drama queen, she says, blushing a bit. I used to wail and moan and cry, and little things were blown up into being big things. I dont know how my parents stood it, really. She says she isnt like that at all now. Ive grown up a bit, she says. Ive had to.
It could be said she is playing safe with the wholesome Pauline Fossil, unlike Daniel Radcliffe who gained notoriety for stripping off on stage in Equus. Didnt she want to do something a bit more radical, to break out a bit more? Oh, God, no! she says. This was nerve-wracking enough. I was so nervous I nearly turned it down. Id just finished the last Harry Potter film, and it was the summer holidays and I hadnt had a break, but then I thought, I actually really want to be an actress, a proper actress who makes it her career. Im always expecting to be found out and I thought, If Im no good, now is the time to find out.
Does she think shes any good in it? She tells me that on the first day of Ballet Shoes she could barely speak, but that once she had got into it the whole part flowed. Also, she worked so hard she barely had time to think. It was shot over four weeks. Potter movies go on for months. Im not classed as a child actor any more, so I dont work restricted hours; I was amazed at how hard it was. I enjoyed it, though.
In many ways, Emma Watsons career so far has dealt in fantasy — the fantasy-land of Harry Potter, the fantasy performing-world of the Fossil children. Even her own life appears to have been as fantastical as that of her characters. She was only nine years old when the producers of Harry Potter appeared at the Dragon School in Oxford looking for their Hermione. I think there were about 18 of us, she says, and we werent sure who we were auditioning for, but I knew I wanted to be Hermione. I had no interest in any other part. I felt I really was Hermione. She then went through a rigorous round of auditions and screen tests and pretty quickly she realised she was a contender for the dream role.
I am very focused and very motivated, so I have tried very hard to combine being an actress with being a student, and so far it has worked out OK. Not many girls could be filming for nine months of the year and somehow get A grades in all four AS levels as Watson did last summer. She still has two Harry Potter films to shoot — she will be 20 when the final one is completed — but is applying to Cambridge to read English and philosophy. Sometimes I miss the fact that I have never really been a teenager because I have been Hermione for such a long time.
Shes always being asked about her relationship with Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, who plays Ron. Were good friends, she says. She was then rumoured to be dating the young Wasps rugby star Tom Ducker (reports said they split up last month). Then she hit the front pages of the celebrity mags when she turned up at a ball with her fellow actor Henry Lloyd-Hughes, who had a bit part in the fourth Harry Potter. The thought of all this publicity chills me to the bone, she says.