“It feels like I’ve been handed my life back, like I’ve been let off a leash,” says actress Emma Watson on an overcast November morning in a suite in the Hudson hotel, just days before today’s release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.”
Although fans the world over may be mourning the penultimate film in the magical franchise, its star is comfortably toying with a life post-Hogwarts. Perched delicately on a sofa sipping orange juice and wearing a tweedy Chanel jacket and elaborate necklace, skinny All Saints jeans and an impish smile, Watson looks more like the eager Brown University sophomore she is — albeit better dressed than most — than a girl confronting cinematic Armageddon.
“Journalists keep saying to me, ‘So this is the end, how do you feel about it being the end?’ And I’m like, ‘It really doesn’t feel that to me.’ It feels like the beginning,” says Watson, who arrived at the photo shoot with a retinue including her stepmother, a personal publicist, film publicist, hair stylist and makeup artist. “It’s actually really an exciting time for me rather than this kind of the end. I can’t stand everyone calling it the end. I’m 20 years old. Seriously, guys.”
Watson has certainly earned her impending freedom, having spent the better part of the last 10 years of her life on movie sets, in Hogwarts-appropriate togs, and, when off, on globe-trotting press junkets. And as the grip on that leash loosens (it will disappear in July, when Part 2 of the finale comes out), audiences are being given a glimpse of the mature actress she has become. “Deathly Hallows” marks Watson’s most sophisticated and nuanced performance to date, a product of both the dark story line (a violent, often scary wizard war) and her own personal growth.
“I felt like I was showing more of myself and just had so much more opportunity to show what I can do as an actress,” says Watson, who has also shown more of herself in her personal life with her recent headline-making cropped do (more on that later). “[Director] David [Yates] really, really pushed me. He wouldn’t call cut until it was perfect. He really just wouldn’t settle for ‘acting,’ ” she says using air quotes.
“I think in the first movie, she really didn’t have much to do and she served the story diligently and well. I think [film] seven reveals that Emma actually has an acting brain, frankly,” says Yates. “It’s quite rare, and she’s hugely intuitive emotionally, and you’re starting to see that she can be a really compelling and fantastic actor.”
Whether Watson chooses to pursue that route remains to be seen, as she is experiencing something of a watershed moment after what has been a long and unwavering road. The daughter of two divorced lawyers, Watson was raised in Oxfordshire, England, the eldest of two children (younger brother Alex is in high school; she also has three half-siblings). She was nine when she was cast in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and seems to be only now exploring the wealth of post-Harry Potter possibilities at her disposal — most prominently, that haircut, inspired by film icons like Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby” and Jean Seberg in “Breathless” and personal ones like her mother.
“This has been her signature look since she was like 16. Yeah, she’s a bit of a babe. So I’ve always been around women who have short hair. I think it’s really sexy, having all your hair off your neck and your skin bare,” says Watson, checking out her crop in a mirror behind her. “I’m still getting used to it, but I feel like I have ownership over it. Because I kind of felt my hair was half me, half Hermione, and with this, I can obviously completely disassociate myself from that role.”
Ironically, Watson credits her uniform-wearing cinematic incarnation with her current fashion-plate status, a journey that began with donning Chanel Couture for premieres at age 17 and continues to this day with her support of designers from Proenza Schouler to Christopher Kane, her appearances in a Burberry ad campaign and even an ethical fashion line she designs for People Tree.
“I have Hermione to thank, in a weird way, for my sense of style,” says Watson. “Playing this role, fashion was my way of expressing myself away from that school uniform. When I got the chance to dress myself, I was so thrilled to be able to be Emma and show a different side of myself. Maybe I would never have been this interested in fashion if I hadn’t played that role for so long and sometimes felt so constrained by being identified with her so much,” she continues, getting heated as she recalls, “I mean, I just wasn’t allowed to do anything: wasn’t allowed to cut my hair, put on nail varnish, tan, wear a bra that made my boobs in any way look [larger], have any flesh showing, wear any makeup when I was playing Hermione. I always had to back-comb my hair — ‘She looks too pretty, take down the blush or the mascara, take it off.’ Fashion was my rebellion.”
That love affair is clearly a two-way street. Just days ago, Watson revealed that Alberta Ferretti had e-mailed her about collaborating on an organic capsule collection for her brand. While details are still murky, Watson waxes poetic over the organic lace and denim fabrics Ferretti was able to unearth and describes the line as “inspired by the South of France, Jane Birkin-esque, so it’s a lot of blousy, kind of feminine [silhouettes]; it’s very summery and a little gypsy, as well.”
With all these opportunities on the horizon, not to mention her history degree studies at Brown (where, she says, “I would be so shocked if someone came up to me and asked me about witchcraft”) and an upcoming part in the film “My Week with Marilyn,” opposite Eddie Redmayne, it’s understandable that the otherwise polite, soft-spoken Watson becomes passionate when grilled on her plans for the future.
“People are constantly like, ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘What is your career plan?’ ‘What direction do you want it to take?’ ‘What roles do you have lined up?’ And I’m just like, “ ‘Sorry, I haven’t got everything mapped out, I’m only 20,’ ” says Watson. “And they look at me as if I’d have this perfectly calculated life plan and how I want my career to look. And I really don’t know yet. I’m still open to possibilities.”