SANTA MONICA, Calif. - Having played Hermione in the Harry Potter movies, Emma Watson was used to acting around special effects to be filled in later, but her work in the computer-animated “The Tale of Despereaux” raised such guesswork to a new level.
Playing the sad Princess Pea, who at one point is kidnapped and thrust into a “Gladiator”-like arena by some fiendish rats, the 18-year-old English actress had to concentrate all of her performance in her voice, little knowing what the final product would look like.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I read the script. They showed me some sketches of how Pea was going to look. I saw a couple of clips. Aside from that, I didn’t know where they were taking it.”
Over an interview in a beach-side hotel earlier this month, Watson discussed her surprise at the finished product, her decision to stay in school, her desire to act, and, of course, her ongoing life in the world of Harry Potter.
Q. What is it about acting with just your voice that’s different?
A. To be honest, you feel like an idiot a lot of the time, particularly for my part, because it was quite physical: I was being kidnapped, and I was being dragged around, and there was a rat in my room. There were moments you had to be out of breath. You have to kind of re-create this in a dark room, and you have to be quite imaginative about it all. So when I’m screaming and being kidnapped, I was jogging on the spot for a couple of minutes beforehand trying to get me out of breath and get me in the moment.
Q. What surprised you the most when you finally saw it?
A. How much I liked it.
Q. ‘Cause you thought, ‘Oh, this is crap’ while you were making it?
A. No, not at all! (laughs) I guess you try and set your expectations at a certain level before you go and see a film. It exceeded my expectations.
Q. When I come across “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” on cable, I think, ‘Oh, they were so little then.’ Do you do that?
A. It is strange. It is incredible how young we were, and we have been depicted in a time of our lives where we’ve changed so much, we look so different, we are so different. It’ll be over a decade when I finish making the Harry Potters, so it’s quite something.
Q. Are you filming now?
A. No, I start again in February to film “Deathly Hallows,” which will be split into two parts.
Q. Was this movie a nice break for you?
A. It was. It’s really nice to be part of something different. It’s nice to talk about something that isn’t Harry Potter, actually.
Q. I hear you like to sing.
Q. Are you going to be the next Duffy?
A. (Laughs) She’s great, but I’d rather focus on my acting and get that really good before I branch out into anything else. So I guess it would be on film or on stage or whatever. I would love to do that.
Q. You’ve stayed in school while you’ve been doing all of this.
A. Mm-hmm. I go to university in September.
Q. You think it’s important to keep the schooling going rather than to be solely career focused?
A. Yeah. I hope that having my life and having an education will lengthen my career.
Q. If you could change one thing about the entertainment business, what would it be?
A. All the baggage that comes with fame, being an actress. The down side to it is the intrusion into your life and this expectation that because they’ve seen you onscreen, they kind of have a right to you as a human being and personally and in your life.
Q. What’s the maddest you’ve gotten reading something about yourself?
A. I really have very little to complain about in terms of what’s written about me. The worst it gets is that I’m dating Dan (Radcliffe, who plays Harry) or Rupert (Grint, who plays Ron) or Tom (Felton, who plays Draco) or whoever it is. That’s kind of the silliest that they get, really.
Q. Do you find that performing quieter scenes is harder than running and screaming?
A. Actually, it’s funny: I find it easier to cry than I do to laugh convincingly. It’s incredibly hard to pull off a laugh that feels natural take after take after take, that feels real. You can tell a fake laugh (snaps fingers) the minute you hear it, and that’s something I really struggle with more than producing tears.
Q. You can just turn on the waterworks.
A. Well, I’m a girl, aren’t I?