Emma Wat­son

‘I of­ten won­der what mis­chief I can make to spread fem­i­nism in a play­ful way. You can’t take ev­ery­thing in life se­ri­ously, can you?’ – Emma Wat­son

ELLE (UK) - - Contents - In­ter­view Lor­raine Candy Pho­tog­ra­phy Kerry Hal­li­han Styling Anne-Marie Cur­tis

The mod­ern ac­tivist talks lit­er­a­ture and fem­i­nism with Lor­raine Candy

EMMA WAT­SON HAS HAD A YEAR OFF – BUT NOT THE KIND of year off you or I might have, more a Hermione-style one. Dur­ing her break, Emma has done the fol­low­ing (brace your­self, it’s a long list): vis­ited Malawi with UN Women, given sev­eral high-profile speeches on gen­der equal­ity, in­ter­viewed fem­i­nist ac­tivists and ac­tresses for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions and web­sites, met with the coolest of PMs, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, to take part in the One Young World youth-lead­er­ship con­fer­ence (and se­cretly toured Toronto on the back of the first lady’s Vespa). She’s guest-edited Esquire with Tom Hanks, at­tended the Davos gath­er­ing to launch a gen­der-par­ity re­port, beat-boxed with the mu­si­cal Hamil­ton’s Lin-Manuel Mi­randa as part of the UN’s HeForShe cam­paign, taken part in the World’s Largest Les­son for the Global Goals move­ment, worked with Eco-Age on how to dress more sus­tain­ably, and launched her own book club, Our Shared Shelf, with a series of one-to-one in­ter­views with au­thors in­clud­ing Caitlin Mo­ran and Glo­ria Steinem ( just imag­ine the research you’d have to do be­fore meet­ing any of that lot). Oh, and she’s also read 46 books – al­most one a week – and the year hasn’t even fin­ished when we meet to chat in Man­hat­tan.

‘Crikey,’ I say, ‘that sounds ex­haust­ing. Couldn’t you have just gone to a few spas? I mean, what were you try­ing to prove?’ Emma laughs. I have to wait for her re­ply, be­cause she’s quaffing a gi­ant piece of cho­co­late cake and an ac­com­pa­ny­ing glass of red wine.

‘It wasn’t about me nec­es­sar­ily prov­ing any­thing,’ she says with a smile. ‘I was just think­ing that I have this year to my­self, so let’s see what we can do to move the nee­dle and make a dif­fer­ence.’

In truth, I’d ex­pect noth­ing less of Emma, who I first en­coun­tered when she was on the cover of the Au­gust 2009 edi­tion of ELLE UK. She was 19 and at the be­gin­ning of her post-Harry Pot­ter jour­ney. For a while, ‘Em’, as her friends call her, fought to prove she was noth­ing like Hermione, but then, with ever-in­creas­ing and im­pres­sive emo­tional

ma­tu­rity, she re­alised she and her wizard al­ter ego ac­tu­ally had a lot in com­mon, from their stu­diously per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies to their need to ‘do the right thing’. Now 26, there is what I call a ‘con­trolled cu­rios­ity’ about Emma, an at­trac­tive qual­ity in a woman who truly re­alises and val­ues the huge in­flu­ence she wields in an un­cer­tain world.

She was never go­ing to waste a year off pot­ter­ing about at home, though she does love her Lon­don and New York flats and is, by her own ad­mis­sion, ‘a fa­nat­i­cal nester’. ‘I’m the kind of per­son who needs 24 hours where I don’t see an­other liv­ing thing,’ she says.

I have been con­sis­tently in­trigued by Emma since our first meet­ing. She is an ex­tremely pri­vate per­son, yet was will­ing to ex­pose her­self for fem­i­nism, a cause she strongly be­lieves in, weath­er­ing some bru­tal per­sonal crit­i­cism along the way. Some­times this level of se­ri­ous ac­tivism can en­dow a fa­mous face with a rather earnest per­sona. In Emma’s case, it risks giving a one-di­men­sional view of the ac­tress, who is more com­plex, and in­deed fun, than the sum of her cam­paign work.

LAST TIME WE MET, TWO YEARS AGO, WE WALKED through Cen­tral Park the day after her his­toric and states­man-like HeForShe gen­derequal­ity speech at the UN HQ, which I’d wit­nessed. It was a heart­felt plea to en­gage men in the bat­tle for equal­ity, which reached 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple on YouTube alone and made global front-page news.

She was un­der­stand­ably, but sub­tly, eu­phoric. The speech was a suc­cess, but Emma was ma­ture enough to be mind­ful of ap­pear­ing to be an ex­pert on a sub­ject she was still learn­ing about. She’s come a long way since then. She has, in­deed, ‘moved the nee­dle’.

For such a shy per­son, Emma is an en­thu­si­as­tic hug­ger, and this al­ways takes me by sur­prise when we meet. Friends de­scribe her as fiercely loyal, and she pays spe­cial at­ten­tion to any­thing that in­volves fam­ily, of­ten kindly point­ing out to me, a mum of four, new facts or sta­tis­tics she’s read on why work­ing moth­ers shouldn’t feel guilty. This is en­dear­ing. Half the celebri­ties I in­ter­view barely re­mem­ber my name, let alone the fact I have kids.

This time we meet to talk about her fem­i­nist book club and her new film, the Dis­ney block­buster Beauty and the Beast, a lus­cious mu­si­cal retelling of the fairy­tale, out in March. The trailer has be­come the most-viewed teaser ever, with more than 127 mil­lion views in the first 24 hours after its re­lease. Emma has a ‘killer singing voice’, as some­one who has seen an unedited ver­sion of the film tells me. Beauty, which also stars Dan Stevens and Luke Evans, was filmed the year after HeForShe, and Emma refers to it as ‘princess boot camp’. She learned to ride, as well as hav­ing in­ten­sive waltz­ing and singing lessons.

‘For me, Beauty was the per­fect, most joy­ful thing to do after a heavy year,’ she says. ‘It felt very “full cir­cle”, be­cause the day we fin­ished film­ing was the an­niver­sary of the day 15 years be­fore that I’d been cast for Harry Pot­ter. There was some­thing con­nected about Hermione and Belle, and it was good to be re­minded that I am an ac­tress; this is what I do. This film is pure es­capism, which came be­fore my year off.’

And what a year – one in which she ac­knowl­edges she has grown up.

‘It re­ally tough­ened me up,’ she ex­plains. ‘There is a level of crit­i­cism that comes with be­ing an ac­tress and a pub­lic fig­ure, which I ex­pect, but once you take a stance on some­thing like fem­i­nism, that’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ball game. There were a cou­ple of days when I just didn’t want to come out from un­der the du­vet. At first I wasn’t sure if I should al­low my­self to be up­set by it, but then I re­alised I needed to give my­self 24 hours to sulk, and then move for­ward. I got a lot of sup­port from other fem­i­nist voices, too. Laura Bates [of Ev­ery­day Sex­ism] sent me a care pack­age with se­quins and glit­ter, notes of en­cour­age­ment and cho­co­late, which more or less said, “Don’t let the bas­tards grind you down.” I had to re­mind my­self that the crit­i­cism wasn’t per­sonal and it was par for the course.’

Per­haps the most dif­fi­cult were the at­tacks from other fem­i­nists, who sug­gested the cam­paign po­si­tioned men as saviours of women, and blasted Emma for speak­ing from the ‘priv­i­leged po­si­tion of a rich white woman’. ‘It’s dif­fi­cult to hear crit­i­cism from peo­ple you con­sider your peers and who you be­lieve are on the same side. But, you know, I just car­ried on, and some of the stuff made me more thought­ful and ques­tion­ing of my ap­proach. But some of it you just have to not en­gage with, and you be­come more ro­bust. And, of course, some­times you just have to laugh at the ab­sur­dity of it all. Fem­i­nism can be hu­mor­ous, and we all have a dif­fer­ent way of ap­proach­ing that. I of­ten won­der what mis­chief I can make to spread the word in a play­ful way. You can’t take ev­ery­thing in life se­ri­ously, can you?’

Last Novem­ber, as part of her book-club project, Emma left copies of Maya An­gelou’s fi­nal book, Mom & Me & Mom, in tube sta­tions all over Lon­don, and then across the New York sub­way the day after Don­ald Trump was elected. She posted pic­tures of her ‘book ninja’ an­tics on her In­sta­gram. ‘Peo­ple are so busy

look­ing at their phones that no one no­ticed me,’ re­calls the star, who is usu­ally swamped by Harry Pot­ter fans ev­ery time she leaves a build­ing.

Emma’s Our Shared Shelf, on the Goodreads web­site, is an in­for­ma­tive list of great books – both new and old – that ev­ery woman should read, dis­cussed by mem­bers in a use­ful way. The power of book clubs is un­doubt­edly huge. Oprah’s Book Club saw many ob­scure ti­tles be­com­ing best­sellers, with sales in some cases in­creas­ing by as many as sev­eral mil­lion copies.

I’d asked Emma to rec­om­mend books that had moved her dur­ing her year off so that we could dis­cuss them, and the list she sup­plies is mainly made up of women like Maya An­gelou, who’ve been fear­less, even reck­less, in their life jour­neys. I ask her if this is some­thing she seeks. ‘I grav­i­tate to­wards these women,’ she says. ‘I am try­ing to fig­ure out their se­cret, be­cause I don’t think I’m fear­less, but I try to push through to be­ing it. It isn’t ef­fort­less for me.’

I say I think per­haps fear­less­ness comes from not car­ing what peo­ple think about you, but Emma thought­fully cor­rects me: ‘I’m not sure I care too much now what peo­ple think; it’s more I don’t live up to my own ex­pec­ta­tions. This is ex­haust­ing. I cer­tainly feel that, after this year off, I care much less about of­fend­ing peo­ple or try­ing to make ev­ery­one around me com­fort­able all the time. You know, some­times you have to do what you have to do, and you will live.’

Aside from An­gelou’s Mom & Me & Mom, there is Glo­ria Steinem’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal My Life on the Road; Marjane Satrapi’s graphic mem­oir, Persepolis; the crit­i­cally ac­claimed Hunger Makes Me a Mod­ern Girl by Car­rie Brown­stein; The Color Pur­ple by Alice Walker; Caitlin Mo­ran’s How To Be a Woman; Half the Sky by Ni­cholas Kristof and Sh­eryl WuDunn, and fi­nally, Mag­gie Nel­son’s The Arg­onauts, about the ex­pe­ri­ence of build­ing a trans re­la­tion­ship and queer fam­ily.

Emma says she chose Persepolis be­cause her grand­par­ents spent time in Iran and her fa­ther was born there. ‘I had a sense of con­nec­tion with that book and it paints a larger pic­ture of fem­i­nism around the world,’ she ex­plains.

Half the Sky: How to Change the World is a jour­ney through Africa and Asia, meet­ing women in poverty-stricken sit­u­a­tions, many of them sex work­ers. It’s a harsh but in­for­ma­tive read, and one Emma ad­mits to dip­ping in and out of be­cause ‘it re­ally af­fected me emo­tion­ally’.

I ask Emma if she would con­sider writ­ing a book, know­ing she has been ap­proached to do so, par­tic­u­larly around fem­i­nism. She has 12 jour­nals she’s kept over the years but, wisely, says she thinks she will save her writ­ing for later in life, ac­knowl­edg­ing it’s a craft that takes time to learn, and Emma would do some­thing only if she could do it well.

‘I need to see and do a bit more first. It’s not like I have been read­ing this ma­te­rial for years and I don’t have an en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge. It can be a lot of pres­sure some­times, as peo­ple ex­pect me to know so much. I’m no ex­pert, and when peo­ple push me into a corner of “here’s Emma Wat­son to lec­ture you on fem­i­nism”, it’s un­com­fort­able be­cause I am aware I have a long way to go. I am not sure I de­serve all the re­spect I get yet, but I’m work­ing on it.’

And one can sense there is enor­mous pres­sure on Emma to be knowl­edge­able, as some­one in the full glare of the new fem­i­nist spot­light. She will no doubt meet Trump this year as part of her UN Women work – and what book would she give him, I ask. ‘Prob­a­bly bell hooks’ Fem­i­nism is for Ev­ery­body,’ she says, ‘as it’s sim­ple, well ar­gued and rea­son­able.’

Right now, she is read­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary but un­usual Nights at the Cir­cus by the late An­gela Carter, but I ask her if she ever dips into any­thing as fluffy as Jilly Cooper?

‘Of course,’ she gig­gles. And she tells me she is drawn to self-help lit­er­a­ture, some­thing I did not ex­pect to hear. ‘I love it. I will get re­ally ex­cited read­ing some­thing like Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton’s The Sleep Revo­lu­tion. I am a sucker for any­thing that prom­ises to change my life.’

No con­ver­sa­tion about fem­i­nist books is com­plete with­out ask­ing the in­ter­vie­wee about their favourite love story. For Emma, who has stud­ied all man­ner of his­toric ro­man­tic lit­er­a­ture, at both Brown and Ox­ford uni­ver­si­ties, it is a sur­pris­ing choice: Just Kids, the evoca­tive New York mem­oir of punk po­et­ess Patti Smith’s life­long love af­fair with pho­tog­ra­pher Robert Map­plethorpe. ‘I adored the idea that their love was like a ship that al­ways needed bal­anc­ing, and their af­fair tran­scended a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship and lasted right to the death. It was so ahead of its time.’

It’s good to dis­cover a softer side to Emma, and it’s some­thing I sus­pect we’ll be see­ing more of as she grows in con­fi­dence head­ing to­wards her thir­ties. She seems less se­ri­ous this time round and there is a grow­ing light­ness to her man­ner that shines a hope­ful light on the fu­ture of our fem­i­nist role mod­els.

Beauty and the Beast is out on 17 March; join Our Shared Shelf at goodreads.com

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