Since the first Harry Potter novel was published in 1997, millions upon millions have dreamt of being transported to Potterworld. But what they probably don’t know is that, in reality, it’s only a few miles northwest of central London—part of a former WWII aircraft factory turned movie set called Leavesden Studios. This is where Emma Watson, known around these parts as Hermione Granger, sits, like most days, perched in her trailer, squeezing in a lunch of french fries, as she waits for a shot to be set up in a converted hangar.
For Watson, the series of soundstages, dressing rooms, and art departments—a.k.a. Potterworld—has been both a place of work, and, in many ways, a second home for the last decade. She was handpicked at age 9 to play one of contemporary fiction’s most beloved characters, and since then, she’s been acting opposite Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) on a grueling, all-consuming filming timetable to unleash the eight installments for an exceedingly hungry, Potter-obsessed public. (To date, the five films that have already been released have grossed more than $4 billion worldwide. The sixth chapter, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, out this summer, is expected to bring that number far higher.) The films that have made Watson famous are not mere child’s play. They can be quite dark, unsettling affairs, which, for Watson’s character, has meant following the progression of a goody-goody little girl with muggle parents (muggle means “unmagical,” for any Potter neophyte left out there) into an over-achieving, articulate young woman who punches villains yet still works a pink ball gown.
While Watson has committed her formative years to this Leavesden Studios set, she doesn’t seem to resent that she’s had to trade slumber parties, nightclubs, and football games for rehearsal, filming, and premieres. Although now that she’s finally an adult, the 19-year-old has started to steer her own ship (or, in Watson’s case, the Prius she bought last year). She recently moved out of the family home and into a London duplex she shares with a roommate (its proximity to Potterworld was a deciding factor in the choice of location). She’s picked up an interest in high fashion (and a new fan in Karl Lagerfeld, who recently photographed her for a magazine–see photos here). And, most interestingly (at least to celebrity rags), she’s considering leaving the U.K. this fall to start school at an Ivy League in the U.S. She’s even suggested that her acting career may end when Potter does.
Watson’s life is suddenly falling off-script—but it’s definitely not falling apart. What little naïveté she does possess revolves mostly around her own sense of celebrity. Sure, she acknowledges paparazzi outside of a restaurant, but she is completely unaware of the perks. She once asked me if it would be possible to get her a ticket to a fashion show in Paris—little did she know that the designer’s PR would have picked her up in a helicopter if they had known she wanted to attend. I’ve waited for a table with her at her favorite Mexican dive in Covent Garden, London. I’ve taken her to concerts in Brooklyn clubs that were carpeted in empty beer cans. And once we played pool in a London pub frequented by big hairy gay men in leather chaps. She seems to be just as happy outside of Potterworld as she is working in the center of it. As expected, her schedule is ridiculous: Days are meticulously planned, call times are often before sunrise, and she’s Hermione for entire days that turn into entire weeks. Unlike most English girls, Watson had never been to a traditional football match. So, the day after my visit to Potterworld, we took in a Chelsea vs. Manchester City game. Afterward, we went back to her apartment, which is on the top two floors of a row house. Despite the fact that Watson hosted a dinner party the night before, the place was tidy. She proceeded to make tea and jammed toast as we sat down to talk about Potter, Hogwarts and all.DEREK BLASBERG: I can’t believe that was your very first football match ever. What have you been doing your whole life?
EMMA WATSON: Oh, I don’t know. I did these little films that no one’s ever heard of. Just a few independents.
BLASBERG: And I hear you just hosted your first-ever dinner party last night. How did that go?
WATSON: Well, it was a disaster. Not because I’m a terrible cook, but because the time limit was too short. I was only able to make half the pie—a cottage pie, which is this very British beef mince meal—so I had to abandon it.
BLASBERG: Was this one of those situations where you wish you had a magic wand?
WATSON: Oh, my god. That is the first time in the whole course of my knowing you that you’ve resorted to making a bad Harry Potter joke. This is a sad moment. But, yes, I ran out of time. It was like MasterChef in my kitchen last night, a really stressful atmosphere . . .
BLASBERG: With sweat dripping down your nose, and you panting heavily?
WATSON: Exactly. But as a debutante foray into entertaining, I aced it.
BLASBERG: What a weekend of firsts: first dinner party, first football game. What else?
WATSON: First time I worked with [photographer] Nick Knight. He was very nice, very English.
BLASBERG: Do you prefer working with an English team? When I visited you on the Harry Potter set, the majority of people were Englishmen.
WATSON: Well, I shouldn’t say I have a favorite director—that wouldn’t be very diplomatic. But one of the people I enjoyed working with most was Alfonso Cuarón [who directed Watson in the third Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisonerof Azkaban (2004)]. I have a real thing forMexican directors. And I love Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu.
BLASBERG: Is that why you were in Mexico earlier this year?
WATSON: I went because I wanted to travel and I had heard such great things about the country.I didn’t get to see any of those guys.
BLASBERG: Of course not. A young girl in Mexico means spring break! Cancún, baby! Tequila shots at Señor Frogs!
WATSON: That was the weirdest place ever. In Cancún, I felt like I had walked into an American teen movie. I was only there for two days—thankfully my friends and I were more interested in traveling around other parts of the country. But I seriously thought it was only like that in movies.
BLASBERG: When I was in high school, we went to Mexico for spring break, and it was surreal. Like, school nerds entering wet-T-shirt contests, and high-school jocks screwing the secretly slutty goth theater girls.
WATSON: It’s so exciting.
BLASBERG: This is what you missed while you were doing Harry Potter, Emma.
WATSON: I know. I feel so deprived. But Cancún was certainly not my favorite. We went to Ixtapa, where the ruins are. It was a beautiful, chilled-out part of the country. We went to Mexico City, which was amazing, but quite dangerous. We were happy to get out of there in the end. And we went to Cuba—I would tell everyone to go to Cuba now, because in 10 years it will be completely different.
BLASBERG: Do you like to travel?
WATSON: Yes, and that’s where the films have helped. With Harry Potter, I’ve been all over the world. I probably wouldn’t have gone to New York so young if it weren’t for the films. I was 11, and I remember it distinctly because it was just after 9/11. I was at ground zero, looking at this gallery that had messages and drawings all over the walls.
BLASBERG: That’s heavy stuff for an 11-year-old.
WATSON: Yeah, it was. I remember one of the producers gave this great speech while we were there, saying that maybe the reason Harry Potter was so successful, particularly then, was because people really wanted to be uplifted or taken to another place.BLASBERG: I find it intriguing that you started this journey when you were 9. How did you even know about the books?
WATSON: My dad used to read them to me before I went to bed and while on long car journeys.
BLASBERG: So then you just went to an open call?
WATSON: No, there was no open audition—they went all over England to find these characters, and not just drama schools. They came to my school and asked if they could put forward a group of 20 children between the ages of 9 and 12. They took my photograph in the school gym, and then I got a call three weeks later.
BLASBERG: What happened between that gym photo and the first day of shooting?
WATSON: It was a long time—eight auditions . . .
BLASBERG: Did you meet any of the other girls who were going out for the parts?
WATSON: Yes! I won’t say the name, but there was this girl who had already done a film before. I can remember just crumbling at the sight of her, thinking, “She’s been in a film before, and she knows how to do this. I have no chance.” Even worse, one time I came to the studios, and she was there playing cards with one of the other boys auditioning for Harry—not Daniel Radcliffe. And I was like, “Oh, my god, they’re making friends already! I’m definitely not going to get it.” I was so, so upset.
BLASBERG: I bet those two have pictures of you and Daniel Radcliffe on their dartboards now.
WATSON: Probably. But I wanted it so badly.
BLASBERG: Why? Because you wanted to be in movies and be famous, or because you identified with that role?
WATSON: I loved the books—I was a massive fan. I just felt like that part belonged to me. I know that sounds crazy, but from that first audition, I always knew. At the beginning, they were casting the other characters as well—but I always knew I was going out for Hermione. She came so naturally to me. Maybe so much of myself at the time was similar to her. Of course, all this terrified my parents—there were literally thousands and thousands of girls going out for the audition, and my parents were anxious about what I would do if I didn’t get it.
BLASBERG: I’m sure they were like, “What are we going to get her if she doesn’t make it? A pony?”
WATSON: They were trying to make me stay realistic—but I wasn’t having any of it. I was going to get that part. This is a sweet thing: My dad did a roast on a Sunday, and he gave me the wishbone, and I obviously made the wish that I would get this role. I still have that wishbone upstairs in my jewelry box.
BLASBERG: It’s been a pretty effective good-luck charm. And now you’re not only doing movies, you’ve become chums with Karl Lagerfeld. How is that friendship going?
WATSON: I’d met Karl a few times before, at parties or something where we really couldn’t talk. But this was a dream come true. We spent the whole day together, and he can talk about anything—literature, art, science, modern culture. I was totally seduced. I felt spoiled to be spending so much time with him.
BLASBERG: Now that you’ve made a little bit of money, are you spending it all on fashion?
WATSON: I don’t really buy designer stuff. I have a few nice things, but I don’t really have the occasion to wear couture too often. When I’m in a situation where I do need to dress up, I’m
typically lent something—which means I have to give it back at midnight, like Cinderella.BLASBERG: What was your first big splurge when the Potter money came in?
WATSON: Hmm . . . I got myself a laptop. I took my dad to Tuscany. He works so hard, my dad, so I rang up his secretary and asked when he was free, and I booked us a holiday. What else? Oh, I got myself a car.
BLASBERG: I saw the car. I think it’s very good that Hermione Granger drives a Prius.
WATSON: I got my license last year, and I love the Prius, even if my friends say it’s ugly. They say I drive a brick. And, to be fair, it’s not the prettiest car on the road, but it’s good for the environment. It’s sensible and boring—like me.
BLASBERG: It’s polite and efficient, like you.
WATSON: Yes, I am the Prius of my peer group.
BLASBERG: You’ve said previously that after the Harry Potter films are done you’re not sure you’ll continue to be a full-time actress. I personally thought that comment got a lot of unwarranted criticism. When I was 9, if someone had asked me what I wanted to be forever, I would have said a pirate, or a fire engine. Can you imagine if someone held me to that?
WATSON: Ha! I was a little bit shocked by people’s responses, too. Maybe it’s because, at the moment, there are so many people who want to be famous, so how could I not want this? Or, how could I not want to keep it forever? But I guess I just want to be sure it’s what I want. I was so young, and I don’t think I really knew the greatness of what I was signing on for. I really want to study. I would love to try theater. I need to try stuff out. But I say all this now—I’m sure I’ll still be here in 10 years, making Harry Potter 30.
BLASBERG: Maybe you could play Hermione’s mom?
WATSON: Oh, don’t! That would be so cringe! Don’t you think people would be bored of seeing me in Potterworld by then?
BLASBERG: Not only that, it’s probably tiring being Hermione. I was on the set with you, and those are long, long days. What time are you there every morning?
WATSON: At the moment, we’re there at about 6:30 a.m., which means I’m picked up at about 5:45 a.m. We’re filming both the seventh and eighth movies at once, and I’m trying to do all of my scenes now and through the summer so I’ll be available for university come September—though it already looks like I’ll be working on Christmas and March breaks.
BLASBERG: In these next two films, are most of your scenes with Dan and Rupert?
WATSON: Yes. In the last book, they’ve left Hogwarts, and they’re traveling around together. It feels right that it started with the three of us and it’s ending with the three of us. It’s about our friendship.
BLASBERG: How are you with those young men off set? Are you friends?
WATSON: To be honest, we see so much of each other when we’re working that hanging out together would be overload. I love them, but I need to see other friends off set. They’re like my siblings now.
BLASBERG: You three have this weird shared experience, though. There’s no one else who will truly know what it was like to grow up in these roles, in this franchise, in this sudden fame, like the three of you do.
WATSON: I completely agree with that, but we’re three different people, too. We will always be very important to each other. But, at the same time, after eight Harry Potter films, we’ll be ready to go and do other things, and be other people, and have time for ourselves.
BLASBERG: Can you imagine that last day of shooting?
WATSON: I can’t. I will be . . . uncontrollable. It’s been half of our lives. It’s made us, it’s formed us. It’s such a big part of my life, so it will be really sad—and so much of the crew who have been there since the beginning are like my family.
BLASBERG: Like your lovely driver, Nigel.
WATSON: Yes, I love Nigel! You know, he drove me to that first audition, and he’s been drivingme ever since. He’s like my best friend—he knows everything about my life. If you have to sit in the car with someone for two hours a day, you had better like him! I get very jealous when he drives someone else.BLASBERG: We’ve spoken about you possibly coming to America for university. What’s so appealing about going to an Ivy League school?
WATSON: I never thought that I would want to go to America for university. As a child, I aspired to go to Oxbridge, because that’s where my parents went. When my dad talks about his time there, he says it was the most incredible experience.
BLASBERG: So what made you entertain the idea of the States?
WATSON: Well, I did a Shakespeare course at RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] last summer, and three quarters of the students were from abroad, mainly the United States. I started talking to them about what they were doing at their schools, and I respected the approach. Here, I feel the specification is very narrow, whereas in America, you’re encouraged to be broad and choose many different subjects. For someone who has missed as much school as I have, I want to go back and discover what else there is. I always loved school—I was a proper, proper nerd. I just want that back again.
BLASBERG: What are you going to study?
WATSON: History, English . . . I want to keep learning French, maybe some politics. I want to continue studying art.
BLASBERG: I think you should absolutely devote some studies to your painting. I keep looking at this big picture that you did of your stepbrother, which is hung above your couch.
WATSON: I guess I’m a little shy about my art, but I love painting people and expressions and faces. I’ve always done art, though not a lot of people know it.
BLASBERG: Which artists have influenced you?
WATSON: For this particular piece, I’d say Jenny Saville. Most of her stuff is quite gruesome, but I love her painting technique. I like anything to do with the body . . . I love Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, and Francis Bacon. You and I went to the Bacon exhibit at Tate Britain last year, and I thought it was so moving.
BLASBERG: So that’s a requirement when you hit the Ivy League—time in the studio?
WATSON: It’s really important to me to do that. Since I haven’t been in school since July, I’ve only now realized how much I miss it. I don’t make time for it now, and you really have to sit yourself down and think about it and do it. As much as I could, when I wasn’t filming, I would go to school. When filming, I would send all of my work back to be marked by my teachers. As I got older, though, it was harder to slip in and out.
This is an excerpt of the May cover story. To read the full Emma Watson interview pick up a copy of Interview.
Derek Blasberg is a New York–based fashion journalist and writer. He is one of V Magazine’s senior editors and a contributing editor at style.com.