Emma Watson has been struggling with fame for more than half of her young life. As Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, she experienced worldwide stardom before most little girls had given up their dolls. She has walked red carpets, graced the cover of Vogue and become a millionaire many times over, but has also had her private life splashed all over the papers, been harassed by paparazzi and had every stage of her adolescence scrutinised. And all by the tender age of 23.
“How do we feel about celebrity culture and obsession? How do we feel about the fact there is no privacy, not just for celebrities but for everyone? How do we feel about social media taking over the world in this way?” she frowns.
All of these questions are addressed in her upcoming film The Bling Ring, in which the oft-publicity shy actress plays a fame- and fashion-obsessed Californian teenager who, together with her friends, breaks into the homes of celebrities and steals designer clothes, shoes and jewellery. It’s a tale of our times and based on the true story of a gang of teenagers who targeted and robbed the homes of celebrities in the Hollywood Hills – a crime spree that lasted nearly a year, with luxury goods worth $3 million stolen.
“These kids took obsession with celebrity to a completely crazy level,” she says. “You can Google anyone and find out everything about them, for example you can see where people live. With this film, Sofia [Coppola, the writer/director] makes you think about the underbelly of all of that and about an industry that is so often over glamorised, sensationalised and scrutinised.”
One of the targets of the gang’s glamorous crime spree was the Bling Queen herself, Paris Hilton, who makes a cameo appearance in the movie, and gave Coppola and her crew permission to film at her home.
For Watson – who says, “I’ve got about eight pairs of shoes and that’s it” – stepping into Hilton’s vast walk-in wardrobes, stacked with hundreds of pairs of designer shoes, racks of dresses and boxes overflowing with expensive trinkets, was like entering an upmarket department store.
“It’s almost like consumerism as a form of kleptomania,” she says. “She could never wear all of those clothes and half of them were brand new and still had the price tag on. But I suppose she just bought them to have them. We’ve all bought things on impulse, but that’s an entirely different thing.”
While the likes of the Hiltons and the Kardashians court publicity at every turn, Watson is apparently still racked with nerves just stepping out onto a red carpet.
“I still get very nervous about red carpets,” she smiles. “I couldn’t get to sleep after the Cannes premiere of the film because I was trying to come down from the adrenaline. It’s just not normal to have people yelling at you at the top of their lungs. It is almost like playing another role and I think that’s how I get through it. I think deep down it makes everyone feel uncomfortable and to a certain extent you just have to get used to it.”
Since the last Harry Potter film, 2011’s Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Watson’s been taking an English literature degree at Brown University in the US, interrupting her studies to make films, including The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Bling Ring (released in cinemas on Friday 5 July) and the biblical epic Noah, which is due out next year.
“Every year or so, a set of articles comes out saying, ‘Oh, she’s quitting university’ or ‘Oh, she’s going back again.’ To be clear, if I’m 30 and I’m still getting credits towards my degree, that’s fine. I’m not in any rush to get it. One of the reasons I chose Brown is that it doesn’t require you to study in a certain period of time or in a certain location. You put things together yourself. So I did two terms at Oxford and I might study in New York and get some courses there and put them towards my degree.
“I’ve always juggled my education with working and I’ve always really liked the balance of that. I’ve always liked being able to go and do a film and then take a break and use my brain and do something different. I hope one day to do a Masters. But I’m just going to keep gently moving towards it and I’m not in any particular rush.”
Despite the fame and the fortune, Watson clearly has no intention of giving herself over to the role of Hollywood starlet permanently.
“There’s a whole new definition to celebrity now,” she says. “And I think that’s why you see a lot of actors blanching at being associated with that word ‘celebrity’ because it’s become something that isn’t really associated with having a craft or having a trade or having a job or working hard for something.
“But it’s easy for me to sound like a total hypocrite talking about celebrity and consumerism because, of course, I’m dressed in designer clothes right now.”
The Bling Ring is in UK cinemas 5 July.