The countdown to “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” continues today with a dressing-room interview with Emma Watson. We’ve already posted the on-the-set interview with Rupert Grint; tomorrow it’s the title star himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Keep checking back for a story a day between now and the July 15 release of “Half-Blood Prince.” (This is a longer version of a feature that will appear in the special “Harry Potter” section in this weekend’s edition of the Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar.)
How many people get to meet their maker and live to tell the tale? Emma Watson, with a chuckle, said that’s how she has viewed the recent blossoming of her friendship with “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.
During the filming of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” Watson contemplated the relationship she’s developed with Rowling, as she sat one brisk afternoon in her dressing room (relentlessly pink in its decor). “We talk, we e-mail each other now,” she said, nodding toward her laptop and that morning’s missive from the woman who is arguably the world’s most famous living young-adult author.
“I must admit I still feel quite intimidated by her,” Watson said. “Not because she is actually intimidating, but because I admire her so much, and we have all been such mad fans of the books and her and everything.”
Rowling has said that Watson’s character, the sweet but swotty Hermione Granger, is based in part on her own persona as a child. That has led to a mutual fascination between the actress and the writer, who together have shaped the character. In “Half-Blood Prince,” Hermione is the wounded heart of the film, dealing with her stirring feelings for childhood chum Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) as well as the dark threats gathering at Hogwarts.
“There are serious dangers brewing, but there is also a lot of romance and humor in this film,” Watson said, “which I enjoyed quite a lot.”
During the filming, Watson, who is now 19, had a certain famous pair of eyes looking over her shoulder far more often than in the past. Rowling was a rare visitor during the making of the first five “Potter” films — she was simply too busy with writing the series of novels — but with the final book published in summer 2007, the writer dropped by the bucolic Watford set outside London.
To hear cast members tell it, Rowling became like one of the wise old ghosts who populate the fictional wizard academy of Hogwarts: She was a fairly common presence but one who never failed to startle and amaze.
That meant more to Watson, perhaps, than anyone else in the cast and crew. The other lead actors spoke about Rowling in casual terms, but Watson could barely tamp down her awe.
“I just really want her to like me,” Watson said, sounding a bit like the insecure overachiever Hermione. “I’m always really keen to tell her how I feel, and maybe it’s a bit much. She is so down to earth and funny and witty. . . . I definitely see Hermione in her. She’s genuine and brilliant.”
Those are terms others use to describe Watson herself.
“Emma is astonishingly bright and just anxious to move forward with life,” said “Potter” producer David Heyman. “She’s been amazing to watch. She has these choices. She could be an actress or a model, but with her studies and success she could also be a lawyer. She could also be an artist. . . . It’s pretty amazing to see.”
The day she was interviewed on the set, though, Watson was most excited about the new possession she proudly showed a visitor: her first driver’s license. “My makeup lady gave me a car freshener as a gift,” she chirped. “It’s all quite cool.”
The actress, like the other two members of the “Potter” trio, seems remarkably grounded despite the oddities that come her way, such as the roomful of Bibles that have been sent to her by fans. Why Bibles? “I have no idea. They just come in the mail. People think I need spiritual guidance. Everyone sends Rupert pajamas. He has no idea why.”
Aside from school plays and the “Potter” franchise, Watson’s only acting credits are her voice role in last year’s “The Tale of Despereaux” and the BBC’s 2007 movie “Ballet Shoes,” which was met with mixed reviews. Watson just made her debut as the new face of Burberry for its autumn line (Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino took the pictures, including the one on the left) and she is on the cover of the new Elle looking nothing like the little girl from potions class.
A big topic of speculation in England is where the daughter of two attorneys will be attending college (the latest rumor: Columbia University) after she finishes the final two “Potter” movies, which are being filmed in Watford. She spoke glowingly about life at Hogwarts but said it has been a lot of pressure on her through her teen years.
“I will look back on this part of my life and I know it will be special, but it used to be that if I ever had a bad review or someone said, ‘Oh, she is too this,’ or ‘She’s too that,’ I got upset about it,” Watson said. “Now what I have worked out is that it would actually be physically impossible to be perfect for everyone. Everyone has a distinct idea in their head of what each character is like. So I’ve kind of had to lower my standards. I can’t be perfect for everyone. J.K. thinks I’m perfect, and that’s good enough for me.”
— Geoff Boucher
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Credit: “Harry Potter” images courtesy of Warner Bros. Photo of J.K. Rowling and Emma Watson by David Hogan / Getty Images. Mario Testino photo of Watson and fellow model courtesy of Testino Elle.