Emma Watson Interview – ‘The Bling Ring’ – “So I found myself in this bizarre situation where I was switching from reading Virginia Wolfe to watching Kim Kardashian!”
CANNES – By her own admission, Emma Watson was very determined to reinvent her screen image following what seemed like a lifetime as the immaculate Hermione of the billion-dollar Harry Potter film franchise. With her charismatic performance in Sofia Coppola’s THE BLING RING, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this week, Watson should be relieved to know that she’s accomplished her mission. Playing Nicki, one of the real-life group of teenagers who between 2008 and 2009 ransacked the homes of their favourite celebrity icons – Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lhan, Megan Foc, Miranda Kerr et al. – Watson has convincingly crossed over to the darker side and established herself as a serious Hollywood player.
“This was a fairly intense transformation for me,” Watson smiles. “Coming from England, I’m not accustomed to the club scene in Los Angeles or the kind of celebrity culture my character was obsessed with. Even the clothes my character wears in the film were a bit shocking, but it was a really great experience for me.”
Arriving in Cannes wearing a tight-fitting white dress, the 22-year-old Watson has delighted paparazzi and fans alike. She dazzled crowds who followed her during her first full day along the Croisette by wearing three fabulous outfits, ranging from a maroon ensemble from British designer Christopher Kane to a chic and short basic black dress that showed her legs to full advantage and culminating in a glorious off-white Chanel Couture gown with a black embroidered bodice from the Spring 2013 collection.
It’s about as spectacular an appearance as one could hope to make at Cannes, and judging by the positive reviews that have greeted the film as well as her performance, Emma Watson has emerged as Hollywood’s newest “It Girl.”
Q: Emma, how did you approach playing Nicki, your fame-obsessed character in The Bling Ring?
WATSON: I watched a lot of reality TV and material with Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton and some of the girls from the Hills and gradually put together this picture of who Nikki was and what her psychology was like. I wanted to try to understand how she saw herself and why she was do drawn to that kind of celebrity culture. Sofia and I were trying to strike a balance between being funny and entertaining and still being conscious of presenting Nicki as a real person who was part of this wild circle.
Q: What are your personal feelings about Nicki?
WATSON: I kind of hated her at first because I’m so against the superficial values she embraces. It would have been easy to turn her into a parody, but then I started to find more insight into her perspective and how Sofia was trying to explore the way fame has become so important in society today. I also learned a lot as an actress from playing a character that is so different from me and finding a way inside her psychology.
Q: What do you make of the reality show era and the way fame has exploded into every aspect of modern culture?
WATSON: It’s a very interesting phenomenon. Reality TV stars are a new and very different breed of actors and actresses. It’s a different way to tell stories and something which is very specific to my generation. Many people thought the whole reality TV trend would fade away but it’s still very much alive and it seems to be just as popular as ever. It’s a strange thing.
Q: You were still studying at university while you were preparing for the role, weren’t you?
WATSON: Yes. I was watching a ton of reality TV while at the same time I was doing an English course at Brown university (in Providence, Rhode Island). So I found myself in this bizarre situation where I was switching from reading Virginia Wolfe to watching Kim Kardashian! (Laughs) But in some ways I loved that contradiction and immersing myself in this mix of super-high and super-low culture.
Q: How much did you already know about the Bling Ring robberies before you got involved in the film?
WATSON: I had read the Vanity Fair article (on which the film is loosely based) but I didn’t know as much as I do today from having researched the whole affair and making the film. But it’s very reflective of how deeply ingrained into modern culture the reality TV show phenomenon and the fascination with celebrity has become. Reality TV has become a huge industry. It’s incredibly lucrative and where there is a demand there will be a supply,
Q: How did you find your experience working with Sofia Coppola?
WATSON: I’ve been a big fan of Sofia’s for many years and I was so anxious to work with her. She has a very acute perspective on celebrity culture and I am very appreciative of the fact that she writes and directs her films and has a very distinct and uncompromising sensibility. Sofia is a very smart and strong woman and I feel privileged to have had the chance to work with her.
WATSON: I didn’t approach things that way. The main driving force was wanting to work with Sofia rather than the role itself which was terrifying in some aspects. I don’t feel in any way dismissive of the time I spent playing Hermione and so I’m not trying to find roles which are completely opposite her. I take each role as it comes and consider how great an impact it will have on my evolution as an actress.
I am trying to find roles which define me as a character actress because that’s how I see myself and the type of films I want to make. I learnt a lot from my work in (The Perks of Being a) Wallflower and I think I’ve grown a lot with Bling Ring.
Q: One obvious question is how you yourself relate to your own celebrity?
WATSON: It’s become easier to handle — once I accepted it. I feel fortunate in that I’ve never really known what it’s like to have total freedom and anonymity. It’s not like I had it and it was taken away from me. It was something I grew up knowing and a process that happened gradually. I’ve never known anything else, so I guess in a way that’s a blessing.
Q: Is your celebrity ever a source of aggravation for you?
WATSON: I try not to let things bother me. I find it too stressful and too exhausting to become aggravated or annoyed about something that’s been written which is completely untrue or being misquoted. You simply can’t allow yourself to get caught up in that or you would become a crazy person. When I was younger I would sometimes become upset, and I still do, but I’m able to just brush it off more easily now.
Q: How do you think you’ve managed to stay focussed and not get distracted by the so-called celebrity culture or trappings of fame yourself?
WATSON: My parents have helped me in terms of keeping my life very down to earth and I’ve tried to live as normally as I can, attending university and creating a life away from my film career. Going to university enabled me to define my identity apart from my work and all the attention. When you’re making big movies and being chauffeured everywhere that’s a very strange and isolating kind of life. At university, I enjoyed being treated like everyone else and meeting people who have no interest in celebrities or films or anything like that. That’s been very important to me. You also need to live and be part of the real world if you’re going to grow as an individual and add more layers to your work as an actress.
Q: Is it harder to have a social life given the level of recognition you have?
WATSON: I suppose it is, but I’ve never known it to be any other way. I try not to let myself feel trapped and I will still go out with friends as often as I can even though sometimes the paparazzi will catch up with me. The worst part is being photographed with someone who I might be out on a date with or who is just a friend and suddenly everyone assumes it’s a new boyfriend. (Laughs) It makes dating more complicated.
Q: Now that your film career is heading in a new direction, are you even more conscious of dealing with the perks and pressures of being famous?
WATSON: I want to live as normally as possible. Of course, I can’t just go to certain places and hang around too long before people start noticing you and you start signing autographs and soon a crowd gathers around. I’m used to that, though, and I’ve learnt to accept that.
For a long time I tried to pretend that I wasn’t really famous and I would try to live as if that were the case. Of course, you very quickly discover that that’s not the case and you have to learn to adjust your life accordingly. But now I’m quite comfortable with it – I just have to be careful!
Q: Is this an exciting time for you now, being in a film like Bling Ring, being in Cannes?
WATSON: It’s thrilling in many ways. I’m enjoying everything and trying to take it all in and not feel overwhelmed by it all. I’m also glad that a film like this will help more people see me in a new light and that I can keep being part of projects where people will be surprised at different sides of me. I’m still evolving and learning more about myself and I hope that journey is going to inform my work and lead to good things.