IF there was a magic spell for alleviating the pressures and pitfalls of childhood fame, I imagine Emma Watson would have it at her fingertips.
Back in 2001, Emma Watson hopped aboard the Hogwarts Express en-route to unimaginable success and fame. She would spend the next decade of her life on an epic eight-movie journey portraying everyone’s favourite brainy and gutsy magic student Hermione Granger.
But when Harry Potter finally vanquished Voldemort, it was time for Watson and the gang to look out beyond the gates of Hogwarts and into the muggle world. The daunting challenge for Watson then became: how do you outgrow Hermione?
Tiptoeing from Hogwarts
FOR actresses, the transition out of beloved child roles can be as awkward and public as walking into school with a shiny spot on your nose. Many have made drastic moves to announce their adulthood, rejecting their clean-cut child images in distinctly sexualised fashion.
YWatson’s first step into adult cinema, however, was subtler than Miley Cyrus’ swinging wrecking ball. Instead, she opted for a supporting role in Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn – a biographical film about young British filmmaker Colin Clark’s brief fling with mega-star Marilyn Monroe. Taking the role of wardrobe assistant Lucy, this quaint and classy British drama was the tailored-made fit for Watson’s image.
Lucy, a smart and headstrong woman not too dissimilar from Hermione, is courted by young second director Colin (played by Eddie Redmayne, who is now ironically heading up the next era in the Potter cinematic universe). After an initial spark between the two, Colin’s head gets turned by the blonde hair and flickering lashes of Monroe – a growing infatuation that does not go unnoticed by Lucy.
With five minutes of screen-time, the role of Lucy marked a gentle and sensible first move away from Hogwarts for Watson. A tiptoe approach in comparison to others.
The Perks of Being Indy
WATSON’S next step was more daring, but one the 22-year-old actor was clearly passionate about.
She cut her hair and took on an American accent (for the first time) to play flirty teen Sam in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It was a project dealing with serious topics such as sexual abuse that may never have got off the ground had Watson not waved her wand of influence and persuaded Summit Entertainment to finance the film.
Watson’s belief in Perks paid off. The clique-bucking drama found its YA audience and showcased Watson’s on-screen genuineness alongside her equally impressive cast mates Ezra Miller and Logan Lerman. It turned out to be a huge financial and (largely) critical success.
Watson followed up this cinematic success with another notable performance in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (2013). This time she took on a vapid Valley girl, named Nicki, who gets involved in a string of high-profile celebrity robberies.
Shedding her well-spoken, intelligent and extremely engaging image, Watson traded reading glasses for oversized LA sunglasses. A transformation that Coppola could not envisage until Watson auditioned – and one that was well-received by critics when the film arrived in cinemas.
This included high praise from Empire critic Ian Freer for Watson’s ‘pitch-perfect delivery of Valley-speak and self-delusion’.
Watson, now riding a wave of small-budget success, then elected to appear in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s anarchic comedy This is the End. Wielding an axe and being the punchline for a few uncouth jokes, she showed a willingness to leave her comfort zone (she admitted the film was not her type of humour) and learn from some of America’s most popular comedic performers.
By the end of 2014, Watson had chanced on smaller projects and come up trumps. Now it was time for her first post-Potter big budget test.
Surviving the Storm
HER test came in the form of Darren Aronofsky’s controversial Old Testament tale Noah. Starring alongside Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins and Jennifer Connelly, Watson played Shem’s pregnant girlfriend Ila – the vulnerable heartbeat of this surprisingly dark biblical account.
Ila, a character who was expanded with creative licence by Aronofsky, presented a unique test for Watson. One which included an ark-load of paranoia and an incredibly intense birth scene.
The actor passed with flying colours with the Telegraph’s Robbie Colin labelling her performance ‘excellent’. Vanity Fair, meanwhile, dedicated a whole story to Watson’s ‘mammoth, earth-rattling performance’.
Despite criticism of the film, Watson came out of the storm looking better than when she signed up. Noah showed she could stand out in a crowd of big name stars – Connelly was the only other actor to shine – and turn in a performance of blockbuster proportions.
WATSON steered course yet again in 2015, working with Florian Gallenberger on Colony and Alejandro Amenabar on Regression.
Both films marked Watson’s first noticeable stumbles. Luke Ryan Baldock of Hollywood News said of Watson’s role in Colony: ‘Watson, although fine in her role, still comes across as too drama school. Her lines seem so rehearsed and forced she rarely seems to be reacting with those she is in a scene with.’
Headlines about the film’s £47 opening weekend (it had a simultaneous VOD release) only added misery to the less than complimentary reviews.
Regression, Watson’s first dip into the horror genre, was also maligned although the Telegraph’s Robbie Colin was quick to absolve Watson of blame – instead pointing his finger at the film’s corny script.
He said: ‘By all rights, Watson should be the film’s unnerving heart, but her role – through the fault of the script, rather than the actress – is pure dramatic cardboard.’
It was a similar story for Watson in James Ponsoldt’s technophobic Netflix drama The Circle. Like Regression, Watson’s best effort (and she brings the best of the film) were not enough to lift a disappointing script – even with the likes of Tom Hanks and Karen Gillan also attached to the film.
This period was marked by a few errant choices from Watson. A run of films that, as The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw said in his review of Regression, would best be airbrushed from her CV.
AFTER being slated to star as Mia in La La Land, Watson turned her focus to the biggest role of her adult life – bringing Belle to life in the live action adaptation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
With Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) writing and Bill Condon directing, Watson could feel in safe hands after the underwhelming films of 2015. Especially as the two shared Watson’s vision for a more developed Belle. A character that the actor, known for championing and campaigning for women’s rights, could dive into with the gusto of a ballroom waltz. A Belle who was more of an inventor and a teacher than her animated iteration. As The Guardian’s Wendy Ide put it, Belle got ‘an injection of feminist sass’.
The new Belle – and the new film – was warmly welcomed and were a gigantic commercial success. Watson’s performance was greeted positively, albeit not with the same whipping superlatives as Noah.
Still, Watson did her best to propel her Belle into the 21st century. The iconic role also brought Watson back before Potter and to her first public performance in a school production of The Prince and the Swallow. A chance to show off her singing and dancing talents, this time on a much grander and critical stage.
The Next Journey
AS the dust settles on Watson’s performance as Belle, it feels as though the first stretch in her post-Potter journey is over.
In that time, she has shown bravery in her film choices, taking on interesting characters and stories (even if they turned out to be flawed) and always seizing upon an opportunity to learn something new.
Watson has shown a clear thirst for learning and taking on new challenges that would make Hermione proud – and that any young women, for that matter, should aspire to.
It has been less a case of outgrowing Hermione for Watson. Rather, it has been about taking her Potter past in stride. She has used the momentum of childhood fame to tell the stories she wants to – and with that continues to develop as an actor.
Although her career is still framed through the lens of Hermione, I feel Watson’s most iconic role is yet to come.
Given her taste for new challenges, I am excited at what she will take on next. Watson is never predictable.