Emma Watson: Outgrowing Hermione

STEPHANIE BUNBURY
Last updated 14:31 19/07/2013

In the fame-obsessed world of Los Angeles, a group of teenagers take us on a thrilling and disturbing crime-spree in the Hollywood hills.

Emma Watson
ECCENTRIC CHARACTER: Emma Watson as Nicki in The Bling Ring.
Emma Watson
SWEET HERMIONE: Emma Watson was nine when she was cast for the Harry Pottter series.

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There is a page on the internet called "Emma Watson Memes That Will Make You Fall in Love with Her", where you can take in a succession of moments where Watson laughs with abandon, dances, wrinkles her nose and does an ironic double-take on a talk show.

You can't hear the posh schoolgirl voice but, after seven Harry Potter films, we all know what she sounds like. She sounds adorable.

Against a tide of gloomy prediction, Watson has emerged into adulthood from that long adolescence as Hermione Granger, the Hogwarts swot, with striking aplomb.

After two years when she didn't make a film at all, she admits to choosing not only the films that speak to her - because with an estimated fortune of £27 million ($44.5 million), making the rent isn't the point - but agrees that her recent choices are about as different from Hermione as they could be.

"This is going to sound really cheesy," she says, "but I try to make my decisions from the heart, based on what I really love and really identify with ... I'm still studying, so I'd rather do nothing than go, 'Oh, I will just do this because it will look good.' "

So far this has meant no wizard films, no teachers' pets and no bossy-boots. Her first non-Potter role was in a TV adaptation of Noel Streatfeild's classic Ballet Shoes; since then, she has broken into Hollywood with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring as an arty high-school outsider who helps the hero feel comfortable with his outsider status.

And thus we come to The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola's enigmatic true-crime story about a bunch of teenage burglars. For nine months, a loose group of fame-obsessed kids found ways into the homes of stars and celebutantes they admired - Paris Hilton's villa was a favoured destination - to come home with armfuls of designer souvenirs.

Watson's character, Nicki, is based on Alexis Neier, who was already starring in a reality TV show about her flaky family when she was arrested as part of the Bling Ring.

For anyone outside it - which Watson, as a girl from rural Oxfordshire, certainly is - everything about her world seems weirdly askew. "I remember when I arrived in LA, it just felt like an alien planet," Watson remembers. "It felt like a very voyeuristic experience to me, very alien and very foreign and yeah, I mean, I grew up in the countryside in a small town in England.

"They are really like polar opposites. But that's what is so much fun about my job - I really do get to explore different places and people and mindsets. I feel like I am repeating myself, but I think it has made me much less judgmental. There are always reasons for people's behaviour."

Those reasons can be difficult to grasp, however. Nicki is not conscious of anything much beyond wanting to look hot, which is "so not me", Watson says. "I am quite a shy person, very private, and Nicki is an exhibitionist. She wants to be seen and she dresses to impress, whereas when I'm not working, I dress to draw as little attention to me as possible."

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And while she has been widely congratulated for mastering the accent specific to the Calabasas area of Los Angeles where the young burglars went to school, she says the things she had to say in that accent - most of which were taken from real interviews - were the real challenge. "How do you sell a line like 'I could rule a country one day' and not make it sound completely ridiculous?" she laughs.

"I realised my biggest challenge was going to be making this surreal, delusional, eccentric character real in some way, because she is really larger than life."

Actually, the Alexis Neier who raided Paris Hilton's shoe closet no longer exists. Her chequered life since the Bling Ring was busted in 2009 has included multiple addictions, a period on the street, rehabilitation and, finally, marriage and motherhood with a man she met in a recovery group.

Recent pictures show a woman who could be the poster girl for '50s-style housewifery, such is the potential for remaking yourself in Lala Land. Which is, of course, what the Bling Ring longed to do. "I think anyone can relate to those teenage years when you don't really know who you are and you're trying to find an identity for yourself," Watson says.

It is also why the Bling Ring gravitated to stars who were more famous as tabloid fodder than for anything they had actually done. There are different kinds of stars, Watson agrees, who get treated in different ways: "That's why I think I blanch a little bit when people call me a celebrity.

Because that word has taken on a new meaning. It's a whole industry, it's a business and it's a full-time job if you want it to be: creating a lifestyle brand, turning up at events, blah-blah. And that's a very different thing from what I think I do."

Life of a rising young star

AGE 23

NATIONALITY English. Emma Watson was born in Paris and moved to England at the age of five, when her parents divorced.

FIRST FILM She was nine when she joined the Harry Potter cast; author J.K. Rowling supported her from her first audition.

EDUCATION Watson attended Headington girls' school in Oxfordshire and gained 10 GCSE subjects, all at A-grade or above. Being brainy thus became hot.

After some deliberation over whether to do the last two Potter films Watson announced she would, but that she would then take time out to study. She attended Brown University at Rhode Island in the US, with further studies at Oxford.

POST POTTER She returned to the big screen in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and plays a version of herself in This Is the End, a Seth Rogen comedy, to be followed later this year by Noah starring Russell Crowe and directed by Darren Aronofsky (who made Black Swan). Curiously, both films are about the end of the world.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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