#letthecultureshine: Win a pair of Tickets to The Beauty of Ballet!

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An Interview with Emma Watson

It has come to be expected that child stars, whether stellar or small fry, will go on to dazzle or dismay us in one way or another, but few young actors have amazed quite as much as Emma Watson. Since the Harry Potter series, she has transformed herself from precocious Hermione Granger to serious performer, intellectual, and humanitarian powerhouse.

For Watson – who was born in Paris but raised in Oxfordshire – the desire to use her fame for good stems from a reluctance to be in the spotlight in the first place. “Fame is not something I have always felt comfortable with; I have really grappled with it emotionally,” explains the 26-year-old. “And, in a funny way, my philanthropic work is my way of making sense of the fame, of using it. I have found a way to channel it towards something else, which makes it so much more manageable for me. And this is something I really believe in.”

Emma Watson

One might think being up on the silver screen would be every young girl’s dream, particularly in the enormously popular Harry Potter franchise. For Watson, however, the experience proved alienating. Pupils at Headington School in Oxford, where she attended, were strictly told not to approach her – doing so would incur ‘penalty points’. Following her graduation in 2008, the actress returned often to the school, but the myth around her remained. One pupil told The Tab: “I even put up a poster saying ‘Welcome back Hermione.’ But nobody ever dared to ask her for an autograph. I remember being told about it quite formally, and was really scared of getting a penalty point. At the time it would have been so embarrassing.”

As the Potter franchise drew to a close, Watson set her sights on higher education, landing a spot at Brown University in America. But as filming once again clashed with her classes, she put her studies on hold and eventually spent a year at Worcester College in Oxford, before returning to Brown to complete her degree. During these years, the erudite actress established herself as a human rights activist, with a focus on female empowerment, and has been a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador since 2014.

“The chance to make a real difference is not an opportunity that everyone is given and is one I have no intention of taking lightly,” she said of her appointment. “Women’s rights are something so inextricably linked with who I am, so deeply personal and rooted in my life that I can’t imagine an opportunity more exciting!”

Given her passion for literature – last year she launched a Goodreads book club called ‘Our Shared Shelf’, where women could come together online to discuss books – Watson’s casting as Disney’s beloved bookworm Belle in the re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast is a dream come true. Brave, witty and bright, Belle is one Disney Princess Watson thinks young girls can aspire to. “I think Belle really inspired me as a young woman,” she states. “That kind of self-belief and defiance and inner strength is definitely something that, as a young woman, I remember watching her as she sang and feeling: ‘Oh, this woman is for me; she’s speaking for me; I see something there that resonates.’ She is definitely a part of who I have become now.”

When promotional shots of the dazzling brunette in the famous golden ballgown emerged, as she twirled and whorled with Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens (playing the Beast) in an empty ballroom, fans of the film went wild. But did the pressure of playing another globally adored character put extra weight on Watson’s shoulders? “It’s really funny because people have been asking me if I was nervous and if it was a big deal to wear the yellow dress for the first time. Honestly, all I was thinking about was how Dan and I were not going to kill each other while doing the dance,” she reveals with a giggle, before adding: “Dan is on stilts and I am on heels and we are doing a full-blown Strictly Come Dancing waltz across a massive ballroom.”

Beauty and the Beast opens in cinemas 17 March.

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