x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The kids are alright

Cover story The sixth Harry Potter film is in cinemas now, and with the adaption of the seventh and final book under way - it is being shot in two parts - Jasper Rees looks at the trio of stars from the franchise, and how they might adjust to life after Hogwarts.

The sixth Harry Potter film is in cinemas now, and with the adaption of the seventh and final book under way - it is being shot in two parts Jasper Rees looks at the trio of stars from the franchise, and how they might adjust to life after Hogwarts. It has been a mixed summer for child stars. A curious coincidence occurred on the day they said goodbye to Michael Jackson in a basketball stadium in Los Angeles. As the gold-plated coffin was serenaded by Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder and the rest, thousands of kilometres away, the cobbles of Leicester Square in London were lined with screaming fans awaiting the arrival of the world's currently most idolised teenagers. Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, the film adaptation of JK Rowling's penultimate book in the series, had its long-awaited premiere. For the sixth time in their lives, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint tipped out of their limousines and felt the startling adoration of vast numbers of children, as well as adults who ought to know better. The skies welcomed them with a very English downpour. The first time she attended a premiere back in 2001, Watson took the precaution of bringing along her autograph book to nab the signatures of the stars. It soon became clear to all three that they would be filling the autograph books of others, squeezed behind crash barriers and feverishly holding out their official Potter merchandise for signature. These days, the young actors are not only recognised but mobbed everywhere they go on the planet where there are cinemas. They planted their handprints in Hollywood's famous pavement. Radcliffe can claim to have become, at 14, the youngest non-royal to have had his portrait hung in the National Portrait Gallery in London. And, of course, they have all raked in enough money never to have to lift a finger again. How on earth can such distorting experiences not mess with the head of a hormonal pubescent? The entertainment industry is far more aware of the damage that can be inflicted on precocious talents than it was when Jackson first performed with The Jackson 5 or his best friend, Elizabeth Taylor, starred in National Velvet. Legislation nowadays restricts working hours. There are chaperones and tutors and obligatory study periods. But it still seems miraculous that the three young stars of the Harry Potter films have reached the end of their teenage years without morphing into monsters, egomaniacs, nervous wrecks or basket cases. There is a lovely scene in the new film, which more than the previous ones deals with the raging emotions experienced by teenagers the world over. Harry fancies his chances with a toothsome girl who has her eye on him. Hermione Granger, the incipient bluestocking played by Watson, reminds him that the girl is after him only because he's the chosen one. "But I am the chosen one," he cockily replies. With her preferred weapon, a pamphlet, she thwacks him on the head. To keep their feet on the ground, the chosen ones of Potterland have had to find a way of thwacking themselves on the head. They have all done it differently. In the case of Grint, he has been slightly protected by his own status as a junior character actor. He was partly cast as the loyal sidekick Ron Weasley for his flame-coloured hair, but mostly for his ability to play clueless. He has ferried that shtick across into real life. Pitching up to premieres in scruffy civvies, without the faintest concession to any sense of occasion, he wears a permanently baffled look whenever someone pokes a microphone at him and asks, for example, what it's like to kiss Hermione on screen. (That scene from the last book was recently filmed. It was, says Grint, "weird". Watson explains in more articulate detail that, as Grint and Radcliffe are in effect her siblings, she closed her eyes and shut out the connotations of incest.) It's not been quite the same for Radcliffe and Watson. For Radcliffe because he's Harry Potter. For Watson because she's a woman. The two of them seem destined for a larger celebrity. So how do they cope? Radcliffe in particular has taken every chance to send himself up in Ricky Gervais's comedy Extras and in the celeb guest spot of the West End comedy The Play What I Wrote. He has also worked up a shrewd line in witty self-demystification. "If girls like me, then that's fantastic," he says. "Girls scream all over the world when I'm on the red carpet. The me who sits in the dark watching cricket for eight hours in my socks is not really the same person." Watson's tactic for keeping her feet on the ground is the same as it has always been. She escapes into the inner freedom of fiction. "My way of dealing with the stress is reading a book," she says. "I sound like Hermione Granger. So geeky. But it's what got me through it." The films have, by common consent, been getting better. Warner Bros initially optioned the first four books. But so leaden was the first adaptation that, despite huge box office success, it was widely believed the series might end there and then. Regrettably, Chris Columbus, hired for his track record of teasing good performances out of children in films like Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire, kept his job for the second outing. By the third film, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Alfonso Cuaron had taken over in the director's chair and things started to improve. The darker the stories grew, the better the films. Radcliffe happily nominates the fifth, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, as his favourite - "because of my relationship with Gary Oldman" (Oldman played Harry's godfather Sirius Black). Equally, Watson enjoyed filming the fifth book because that was when Helena Bonham Carter, who was also thrust into the profession young and untrained, came aboard. "Actors haven't particularly given advice," she explains. "But Helena is as close as anyone to being a mentor as she had quite a similar experience to me." The Half-Blood Prince, directed by David Yates, continues the upward curve. Some elements remain the same: the miraculous special effects, the gold-standard playing of Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith and, more than ever, Alan Rickman as Professor Snape. The seasoned pros are entertainingly joined this time round by Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn, owner of a memory that Dumbledore must retrieve in his epic fight against Voldemort. Meanwhile, the sexual politics give the young actors a chance to flex their comic muscles: Hermione falls for Ron, who is in turn pursued by the ravenous Lavender Brown (played by Jessie Cave), while Harry has his first kiss with Ron's younger sister Ginny. Those who have read the book will know the climactic immolation that awaits. Even the hardest heart will find itself moved. The film was ready a year ago, but its release was delayed to even out Warner Bros' prospective profits after last summer's blockbuster hit with The Dark Knight. During the wait, Potter watchers might have expected the actors they have seen transform slowly into adults to come back looking a bit older. For some reason it hasn't really happened. Watson says that "we're always a year or so older than our characters so we experience it all first and then apply it. Working from the age of 10, we had to grow up a lot quicker." But while the actors have been growing up, they've not necessarily been growing. Watson has the measured manner of a woman a decade older than her 19 years, but she still has the sylph-like body of a girl. At 5ft 5in, Radcliffe is barely taller now than the Harry who took on the basilisk in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets in 2002. In more important respects, though, water has flowed fast under the bridge. And Radcliffe and Watson have both blossomed. There have been extracurricular acting gigs in British television. Radcliffe played the son of Rudyard Kipling who went off to be killed in the trenches in the First World War. Watson was one of the dance-mad orphans in an adaptation of Noel Streatfeild's much-loved children's book, Ballet Shoes. More intriguingly, they have also stepped away from the screen to be seen in entirely different lights. For Watson, it is a case of something completely different. This year she was named the new face of Burberry. The partnership makes good sense for both parties. The impeccably English fashion house has found for itself a young woman who, though she lived her first five years in Paris and can claim a French grandmother, could not seem more English. Following the divorce of her parents, both lawyers, she grew up and (when not on set) went to school in Oxford. For a young actress chained to one role, turning herself into a clothes horse provides a way of graduating from the world of school uniforms and slightly sexless jeans that, as Hermione, she is required to wear for work. "Maybe that's becoming a way of expressing myself," she says. "Because it would be hard for people to separate us from our characters, my way of playing different characters is in photoshoots." Her interest in fashion came about almost as a retaliation to the media interest in her. "Being a girl," she says, "I have more press interest in what I wear. I don't feel pressure to alter my appearance in any way, but as I've got older I've got more aware that people are interested in what I put on my body." She is happy to admit that she does have help from a stylist who finds clothes for her. Until deep into next year she is working six days a week as the final book, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, is filmed in two parts. If there is interest in what Watson wears, for Radcliffe there has been rather more interest in what he didn't wear when, in 2007, he took the lead role in Peter Shaffer's Equus. The study of a lonely teenage stable lad who has blinded several horses and his psychiatrist's struggle to fathom his motivation, the play concludes with a hugely demanding nude scene. Radcliffe was cleverly cast by producers who knew they'd sell tickets to Potter fans by the shedload. But for the actor himself it was a potentially reckless move away from his comfort zone of wands, broomsticks and Dementors. Radcliffe had already determined by the third Potter film that he wanted to act for a living. "I thought, 'Well, if you want to do this you have to get out there as soon as you can and start doing other things. Just to start to sow the seeds. If I'd gone on to the stage and done anything that wasn't as challenging, people would say, 'Oh well, it's hardly a departure.' They can say I'm good or they can say I'm terrible but the one thing they can't say is I haven't challenged myself." Among seasoned theatregoers in London, not a lot was expected of him beyond a display of youthful passion. And with good reason. He had no theatrical grounding. In the early films, it was not entirely clear that Radcliffe would be accepted as Harry, let alone as anyone else. He was the last of the three young stars to be cast. His father has since given up being a literary agent to become his manager, but it was his mother's job as a casting agent that initially linked him to the business from a young age. When he went up for Harry, he had already played the young David Copperfield on the BBC. The jury stayed out at least until film four, Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire. But in Equus Radcliffe surprised everyone with a performance of psychological depth. It was his soul that he stripped bare. The show sold out in the West End and went on to Broadway. It's never certain that child actors will make it into the profession as adults (see box). But Equus at least bodes well. He has also taken to writing poetry. Look out for a publication called Rubbish It's What Everybody's Talking. A couple of his are in there under a pseudonym. Despite his efforts, it remains to be seen whether his fans will let him grow up. Asked which of Harry's magical abilities he'd like to deploy in real life, he chooses the obvious one first. "Invisibility would be good," he says, then adds, "Also it would be cool to be able to fly." It would indeed be cool to fly free of the gilded cage that is Harry Potter. But Radcliffe has spent enough time signing programmes at the stage door in London and New York to have worked out that for some there is no erasing the lightning-shaped scar in everyone's eyes. "The thing is there are certain people who will be more than happy to see you in any other role you like, there will be some people who will find it hard initially but will get into it, and there will be some people who will never, ever see you as anything other than Harry Potter. Once you've accepted that you will never change their minds, it's fine, because you just do whatever you like. I can't go into every individual person's home and go, 'Look at me differently.'" Whether Watson will go on to act professionally is less certain. She had done only local school productions when she was told, like any job applicant, that she was "the preferred candidate". For the role of Hermione on those first two films she remembers, "We were so young that we very much relied on Chris Columbus. He would sometimes switch off the sound and direct us over the dialogue." She made it easier for herself by playing "a caricature of myself. When I was younger I probably was Hermione. I didn't need to act too much." It probably explains why JK Rowling was behind her from the start. Since then, the Hermione clone who devoured books on set has done well in her final school exams and secured a place at Brown University in America. "I'm very excited," she says, "and looking forward to being a normal teenager and meeting people my own age. But that doesn't mean I'm never going to act again. I seem to have managed to act and study at the same time so far. I think anything's possible. I'm 19. I've got no idea what I want." For the moment, though, the office job continues. The Deathly Hallows has been divided in two, either because it's too unwieldy to do justice to in one film, or because Warner Bros want to maximise its profits: take your pick. Either way, the young stars of the Harry Potter films don't get to clock off from their decade's work until deep into next year. And when "cut" is called for the last time, how will they feel? The films will have consumed much more than half their lives. To all intents and purposes, the set at Leavesden Studios north-west of London and the meticulous mind-numbing rhythms of life on set are a large part of all they have ever known. "We will all miss it," says Watson. "There will be a big hole." But on the plus side, that hole can be filled with almost anything. Apart from anonymity. "I will be sad to leave," says Radcliffe. "Every scene will be linked to some memory from formative years of my life. I've loved it. But there will be an element of excitement when a script comes in and I don't have to go, 'Oh I'm sorry, I'm busy for the next four years'." Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince is out now.