June 9, 2013

What would Hermione say? Emma Watson joins the gangsta robbers

Emma Watson's preparation for The Bling Ring was like an anthropological study
Emma Watson went all gangsta for her latest movie. She’s part of an LA burglary gang who plunder celebrity homes in Sophia Coppola’s film The Bling Ring.

It wasn’t just the accent she had to pull off, either. ‘It’s the mannerisms,’ she tells me. ‘And then there’s this almost nasal way they speak.’

One cast member wrote her a list of slang words she could practise. She’d go out and say things like: ‘That’s so chill.’

‘They sound like hip hop lyrics — they’re very gangsta, which was weird for me,’ she admits, with a laugh.

She remembers being at a club in LA and going up to the DJ and asking, ‘in my  English accent’, if he would play a tune. ‘I said: “Excuse me, could you play Niggas In Paris?” (the Kanye West-Jay-Z song).

Emma did not approve of her character's behaviour, and was concerned about how she could play Nicki if she didn’t sympathise with her

‘He almost died laughing and thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard,’ she says.

Her preparation for The Bling Ring was like an anthropological study. ‘I was taking notes on everything for a five-month period. It felt very voyeuristic. I can’t express to you how foreign LA feels; coming from Headington in Oxford, it was like another planet.’

Yet none of her exploration was wasted. Her transformation from Emma to ‘Nicki’, the character she portrays, is such that if you’d never seen a single Harry Potter film (in which she played Hermione Granger for 11 years) you’d think she was a native inhabitant of an LA suburb. That’s how good she is.

The Bling Ring was premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival and opens here on July 5.

Emma is good at analysing the  psychology behind Nicki’s behaviour. Her on-screen mother (played by  Leslie Mann) was herself raised in the Sixties, by parents who were part of a self-esteem movement.

‘You can positively reinforce your children,’ Emma explains of the idea. ‘You can’t be negative towards them; and you really have to build them.’

So, Nicki’s mother is very lenient. ‘This gives her superhuman confidence — but also a sense that there were no negative consequences to anything.

‘She could come in at four in the morning, and it would be fine. She could rob someone’s house, and she wouldn’t go to jail. So there’s this sense of unreality. Nothing bad had ever happened to Nicki.’

Emma does not approve of such behaviour, and was concerned about how she could play Nicki if she didn’t sympathise with her. ‘She’s delusional — an awful human being — and she makes me squirm, but I’ve got to be her, and people have to believe me as her.’

Emma talked to her mother and friends and spent hours studying Nicki, close-up and personal, and came to realise that Nicki has a different face for everything: her  family, her friends, Facebook.

The actress, too, has different sides, as most famous thespians must.

‘I think you have to have a bit of public-private you, to stay sane,’ she says. ‘I try my best to be as authentic as I can, without feeling so vulnerable that I don’t ever want to leave my hotel suite. It’s about finding that balance.

‘I try to be real, but I also understand there’s a distinction between the me that walks red carpets, and the me that is just myself, at home.’

When I saw her in Cannes she was in a  different outfit every time, often making four changes in a day. None of it belongs to her. ‘I probably own about eight pairs of shoes, max,’ she declares.

I look at her with incredulity, and she explains: ‘I get lent all of these beautiful clothes, but a bit like Cinderella they all go back at midnight and I just go home and put my jeans on. I haven’t got wardrobes full of gowns.’

Out of the limelight, she dresses to avoid attention. ‘I don’t carry a designer handbag. I think people recognise me less when I don’t wear make-up. I just try to be as  low-key as I can possibly manage when I’m not working.

‘If you go out in glamorous clothes, people will just naturally pay more attention to you. If that’s what you’re trying to avoid, then that’s what you’ve got to figure out.’

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