Emma Watson is visibly nervous. After all, she has to present perhaps the greatest acting challenge of her career so far. After her epic feat of the Harry Potter series, she changes gears completely as the eccentric, vivacious, yet confused heroine in Stephen Chbosky’s film adaptation of his own bestseller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But with this nervousness comes a palpable feeling of excitement and exhilaration, as she is clearly relieved having left behind the confinements of her adventures as Hermione Granger. The 22-year-old is clearly hellbent on discovering life to its fullest, as she shares with us the challenges of her new role.
"I was worried I didn’t have a single personal experience to draw on for the movie, having never been to an American high school, in fact never having been to a high school at all."
The Perks of Being a Wallflower may be the most challenging role of your career. What were your feelings when you took this on?
I was angry at myself. I was worried I didn’t have a single personal experience to draw on for the movie, having never been to an American high school, in fact never having been to a high school at all. And I was really worried that someone else could do the role better. I sent an e-mail to the director that I was worried someone could do the role better than me. And he said, “the experiences are not the reason why I cast you as Sam – it’s because I really see her personality in you. So you need to stop worrying about the external things”. That was really nice and gave me a lot of confidence, but I really needed Steve to hold my hand for the first month, because I was so nervous; I was really concerned about getting the accent right. Thankfully he was so generous and such a nice man that he did that. I was really lucky. He really helped me believe in myself.
But you have so much moviemaking experience. Do you still have moments when you get insecure?
I do have a lot of experience, but it was specifically playing one character. It was really weird, because I was much more experienced than any of the other actors on the set, but I was the most nervous of all of them. It was funny.
Did you see parallels between Hermione and yourself?
There are parts of me that are a bit more spontaneous. I do have a more vulnerable and emotional side to me than Hermione does.
Are you glad that you are no longer confined by this role – not in your personal and not in your professional life?
I didn’t realize how restrained I had made myself, by playing Hermione and living so much in the public eye. I was very restrained and kept a tight leash on myself and was very hard on myself. To play Sam, who is so alive and free and spontaneous and young, was the best thing I could have done. I helped me break down a lot of barriers, listen to myself, and not care so much about what anybody else is thinking about me.
Have you had moments recently where you felt totally liberated and elated?
I have been to a lot of music concerts recently. I try and go every week. That’s my favorite thing to do. Listening to live music and getting to dance and be in a crowd are things I really like. I love dancing; you can always find me on the dance floor.
What concerts have you been to recently?
I went to see the Black Keys, Ellie Goulding, and I went to Coachella for my birthday in April, so I saw Florence and the Machine, I saw Beirut, I saw Patti Smith, and I saw Bon Iver. They were all amazing.
Are you in General Admission with the crowd or do you prefer seats?
Sometimes I have seats and sometimes I am in the crowd, if I can get away with it.
You’ve said before that you are living you life backwards, as you had your professional life first and now you are exploring life and making mistakes. Are you afraid of that as well, as you may make unpleasant experiences?
I am not afraid of it. I have got some learning to do. I probably do have some mistakes to make. But I get to figure out who I am a bit more and do things that are true to me. I am more honest.
How important have your parents been for your personal development?
They help to keep me grounded. They definitely don’t let me off the hook, as they are quite strict. They were very disciplined with me as a child. They are quite serious; they make me take learning and education very seriously. My father particularly emphasizes how important it is to have manners and honor. And my mom is more emotional and creative; she encouraged me to be an open thinker.
Did you always know you that wanted to become an actress?
I was not 100% percent sure I wanted to be an actress. I only really knew that when I did Perks and took some time off and went to university and really thought about what it meant. There are also other aspects of myself that I like to explore. I really love to paint and draw and to make art. Maybe at some point, I will do something with that.
You have been involved with fashion brands, and have even consulted for some of them. Is this something you want to explore further?
I don’t think so. It was fun when I was younger, but I don’t think it will be quite as much part of my future, honestly.
Why have you lost interest in that?
Now that I know that acting is the thing I want to do, that’s more where my passion is and my focus is. I still find fashion very interesting, but it’s quite full-on. I am finding more and more that I don’t want to wear a dress and heavy makeup… I want to wear jeans more. It’s quite intense to do it all the time.
This movie is also about the effect that books can have on people. What books have influenced your life?
I have had Patti Smith’s Just Kids on my bedside forever. I just read Siddhartha, which was recommended to me by a friend. Russell Crowe, who I am working with on a film, gave me John Fowle’s The Magus. Of course I love Roald Dahl, like anyone else in the world. And Willliam Blake, who is a genius poet. And Oscar Wilde, who is really wonderful.
You are shooting Noah with Russell Crowe. Does director Darren Aronofsky push you to new limits?
Yes. This film is giving me the potential to do something far beyond and above everything I have ever touched before. He is making me go further than I have ever gone before. He is incredibly passionate and uncompromising about his vision, which I really admire. In this industry you are constantly forced to make compromises, which he won’t. He is very, very supportive of his actors. We have time for rehearsal. I have never been given time for rehearsal before, ever. He is really interesting to have a conversation with and very professional and dedicated. It is amazing to work with him.
What makes you laugh and puts you in a good mood?
Animals make me laugh a lot with their mannerisms and characteristics. They have real human personalities. For me, getting to hang out with my dog makes me smile, and in New York I have two cats who are so hilarious. One of my cats definitely thinks she is a human being and wants to do human things. Animals are a huge, huge sort of comfort. And then just being able to see the funny side of life and to laugh at yourself is very important. Comedy is what can get you through trying situations.
Is there something that you pine and wish for in life?
It sounds like a cliché, but I would like to be able to be still. I would like to find a way to be content with myself and where I am. That’s something you find internally more than you do externally. And I am not good at being still. I am always moving and doing different things. I am very driven, but I would like to find a way to be happy on my own and being still.
Wait till you have your family…
I definitely will have one some day.
Photos: Courtesy of TRUNK ARCHIVE