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Life without Harry Potter?


“It’s basically impossible for me to imagine,” says Emma Watson, “because it’s shaped so much of my life. I went from being somebody who wasn’t famous to being very famous. I went from someone who just went to school to being someone who worked long hours, like I had a proper job, like my parents.”


Watson was 9 when she was cast in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as Hermione Jean Granger, a Muggles-born student who joins the wand-slinging prodigy and his pals at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The 2001 film, based on J.K. Rowling’s first Potter book, earned $974.7 million worldwide, launching a daunting film franchise.


Watson, who has appeared in all six of the pictures (the latest, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” opened Wednesday), is 19 now. Hermione, brainy and industrious, becomes a fast friend of Harry’s and Ron Weasley’s. And in “Half-Blood,” it turns out that her relationship with Ron (Rupert Grint) is considerably more than platonic.


“She realizes she has feelings for Ron,” says Watson, by phone last week from New York, where she had already appeared on “The Early Show,” “Today,” “Live With Regis and Kelly,” and “Late Show With David Letterman” — all before scurrying off to the Ziegfeld Theatre for the U.S. premiere.


“I think the film is much more a romantic comedy, and much more about the relationships between the students, with, you know, hormones running high,” the British actress observes. “I think it’s very accurate, as well — what it’s like to be 16, 17, at school. J.K. Rowling obviously remembers a lot, or just knows it instinctively.”


Timing-wise, the secondary-school educations of Watson and her fictive alter ego are coming to an end in sync. Watson, daughter of lawyer parents, finished preparatory school in Oxford, England, this spring. Hermione (daughter of dentist parents), Harry and Ron are out of Hogwarts’ Gryffindor House at the end of “Half-Blood Prince.” The final two features based on Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” transpire outside of Hogwarts.


“Yes, they’ve paralleled, it’s worked out nicely,” says the actress, who’s decided to continue her studies in the States this fall. Brown and Columbia are among the schools that admitted her. She’s not saying which Ivy League campus she’ll be treading across, but she confirms that her college years will be spent in the United States (at Brown, according to some press reports), with holidays back home in the U.K. She’ll start her turn in “Deathly Hallows” Part I over the Christmas break.


“I just wanted a change, and I also didn’t really know what I wanted to study,” she explains. “And in England you have to (declare a major) when you’re 18, and you don’t have to do that here until much later. I’m taking a liberal arts degree.”


As for acting, Watson’s “pretty sure” she wants to continue on that path. Apart from the Harry Potters, her work to date includes providing the voice of Princess Pea in “The Tale of Despereaux,” and appearing in the much-praised British telefilm “Ballet Shoes” — a “kind of old-time classic” about three orphans “trying to make their way in the world.” “Ballet Shoes” is available on DVD, Watson happily reports.


“Acting is something that I’m reasonably certain that I want to continue,” she says. “But I also don’t want to compromise my university experience — and I feel like I could do with a bit of a break. I’ve been working solidly since I was 9, and I kind of feel like I need some normality for a while.”

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