Emma Watson’s breakout moment is here.
Sure, Watson is already known for making one of the most publicized debuts in modern movies when, at age 11, she starred as the precocious Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But, even while she grew up in front of our eyes in the seven ensuing Potter movies, her career was limited to just that role.
Watson turns 27 in April, and it’s a bit shocking to think of her closing in on 30 when in our mind’s eye she’s still running around Hogwarts with Harry and Ron.
That all changes with the release of two films in the next two months, both of which cast Watson in demanding lead roles — March’s live-action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and April’s thriller The Circle, in which she plays a fresh new employee at a mysterious, perhaps nefarious, tech company.
So why these movies?
Before she took on Belle, Watson was offered the lead role in Disney’s earlier live-action remake of Cinderella but turned it down. That particular Disney princess didn’t speak to her, and post-Harry Potter Watson was focused on shaking free of Hermione with diverse roles like a self-involved L.A. teen in The Bling Ring, a Biblical survivor in Noah and a badass caricature of herself in the Seth Rogen comedy This is the End.
Then came the opportunity to star as Beauty and the Beast’s Belle. Here was a princess she could embrace.
“I have no idea how I ended up being so lucky as to play two of my childhood heroes,” says Watson on the phone from L.A. “I think that’s pretty rare for an actress. Belle is whom I watched as a child, and Hermione is whom I read about as a young teen, and to get to play both of them is pretty unbelievable really.”
Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Parts 1 & 2), Beauty and the Beast is set in 18th-century France and finds an arrogant prince (Dan Stevens) transformed into a beast by an enchantress. The spell, which also changed his staff into household objects, can only be lifted if he falls in love and is in turn loved by another, all before the last petal from a rose falls.
Enter free-spirited Belle, who agrees to take the place of her father (Kevin Kline), who is being held prisoner by the Beast for trespassing. And like the animated Disney pic, this film is a musical,which meant Watson had to sing on screen for the first time in her career.
“There was trepidation because I had never sung professionally for a film before,” she says. “It really is a proper, full musical. So I had to take singing lessons, do a fair amount of horse riding, which I had never done before, I had to take waltzing lessons, I had to go into a boot camp essentially.”
Watson, who is known for her women’s rights work, was adamant the flesh-and-blood Belle was going to be a fully formed young woman, something that was lacking in the character’s animated form.
“It was important to me to understand a bit more about Belle,” she says. “I wanted to fill out some questions about her — how does she fill her time other than caring for her father, what is she passionate about? We expanded her love of books and reading, and we also made her a little bit more of this wacky inventor character, which helps us understand why she is sort of an outcast and why she feels she doesn’t fit in.”
Watson’s April movie, The Circle, also casts her as a young woman trying to fit in. Based on Dave Eggers’ novel and directed by James Ponsoldt (The End of the Tour, The Spectacular Now), the film casts Watson as Mae Holland, a new hire at The Circle, a giant tech company (think Google meets Facebook).
The company was founded by the“Three Wise Men,” one of which is charming Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), the public face of the company. As Mae gets sucked into the cult of The Circle, she realizes the company is hiding secrets, especially when it comes to its new product the See Change camera, which provides real-time video for all to see.
“So often with these tech movies, they are presenting this kind of dystopian future that is a long way off,” notes Watson, “but The Circle represents something that could take place in five years. It felt — especially the way in which the American election went — it felt incredibly prophetic. It really speaks to what’s going on right now and the complexities of that.”
And it is about as far away from Belle as she could get — an ambitious, tech-savvy, modern-day woman.
“Mae is likable, and incredibly unlikable, all at the same time and I find that fascinating. She has a bit of Nicki from The Bling Ring in her. She is a little bit like Nicki, part two, to me. And I had so much fun playing Nicki. I have so much fun figuring out the motives and intentions of characters.”
The film also made Watson question some of her social media habits.
“I was already someone who acknowledged that my relationship with technology is one that is incredibly addictive,” she says honestly. ¬¬
“I see my phone or I see my laptop in the same way that I would see other addictive substances, and I’ve always viewed it like that and am aware of it and I enforce periods of having my phone off or not checking emails. I do take little retreats from it.
“This technology is something that is very new in our lives and like everything else we have to figure out how to manage it and make sure it is something that is useful to us and is not something that owns us.”
The Circle hits theatres April 28th