Drew Barrymore. Jodie Foster. Lindsay Lohan. We’ve seen them on screen as girls and then grow into women before our eyes. Few career transitions are trickier than the stage that “Harry Potter” superstar Emma Watson navigates now: morphing from naive child star to sexually aware lead actress. In “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” she plays Sam, a stylish high school senior with a gay best friend Patrick (Ezra Miller) and the dream-girl of the wallflower himself, Charlie (Logan Lerman).Her extroverted character, the princess of a circle of misfits, also has a history of abuse, no spoiler for the many millions that have read the book. In one holiday scene, Watson’s nipples are clearly visible under Sam’s tight red sweater. Hermione would have worn a cardigan! I sat down at the Trump International at Toronto and talked to a barefoot and travel-weary Watson and her charmingly protective director Steve Chbosky, who also adapted his own hugely popular novel for the screen:
THELMA ADAMS: Emma, why this part, when you could step out of Potter and pick any roles? And, Steve, why cast Emma?
EMMA WATSON: I read a lot of high school coming of age pieces they didn’t feel authentic. This spoke to me. I love that Sam is such a unique individual girl: creative, fun-loving, spontaneous and big hearted. I loved her.
STEVE CHBOSKY: it is true that I saw Emma in all the “Harry Potter” roles. She was always getting better. I saw her in “Goblet of Fire” in this beautiful scene in front of the staircase with Daniel Radcliffe. It broke my heart. But it was meeting her that was the icing on the cake. In Emma I saw a kindred spirit that takes the weight of the world on her. I knew she would make me a better director because I felt an enormous responsibility to her as an artist and a person because of the transition from what she was to what she was going to be. Because what i recognized in Emma was greatness. This is the beginning of an amazing discovery of a young actress.
TA: There seems to be a rite of passage for child stars to transition to adult roles through taking more sexually explicit parts. Why is this evolution such a challenge?
EW: Gosh. I guess it is a difficult transition for child actors because you catch someone when they are still forming themselves and identity and they haven’t yet become what they are going to be. You don’t if they are even going to want to be an actor. It’s a tenuous path. I went through a point where I didn’t know if I was a good actress or even wanted to be an actress. One of the reasons I wanted to work with Steve, was that he was my Charlie: he gave me so much belief in myself. This movie really helped me find my feet. It made me want to go and do more.
SC: Can I add, one of the reasons in terms of the message about sexual abuse in the movie, and Sam’s revelation of her past abuse at the hands of her father’s colleague, is that Sam’s past would be especially powerful because when she says it first happened when she was eleven, we know what she looked like. We knew Emma at eleven. It’s quite a respectful way of making something typically swept under the carpet relatable. It helps girls — and boys — who have been through it.
TA: Another powerful message of the movie – and the book – is what it can be like to be gay in high school, embodied in the character of Patrick, Sam’s best friend.
SC: What I wanted Patrick to be, when I thought of the character to this movie, was Ferris Bueller. I looked up to Ferris Bueller when I was growing up. He was the cool guy who did it all. In this movie that guy was gay. I thought: he’ll be the most protective. When people call him a bad name he’s going to turn around and clock them. The idea of gay acceptance is so second nature to hundreds of millions of gay people all over the world. Patrick a character any gay kid could look up to. They don’t have to be victims. Similarly the character of Brad…
TA: …Patrick’s closeted football player boyfriend…
SC: Yes. Brad is a cautionary tale for not being true to who you are.
TA: Emma, one “Harry Potter” question. Is the cast of “Harry Potter” like your outsider high school clique in “Perks” – or is it completely separate.
EW: I would say more so the “Perks” cast. They were the companions for my accelerated American high school teenage experience – onscreen and off-screen. In “Harry Potter,” we went through a completely unique experience together and that will always bond us.
TA: You grew up together in front of an adoring audiences eyes for over a decade. Is it odd to be out promoting a movie without Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint at your side?
EW: Yes and no. We always did interviews on our own. It’s weird not to be promoting a “Harry Potter” film, because I had all my answers then. I don’t any more.