Sometimes an actor is so closely identified with a character that in the public’s eye he practically becomes the same person.
In the case of Rupert Grint and Ron Weasley, the character Grint has portrayed in five “Harry Potter” movies (the latest is “The Order of the Phoenix,” opening Wednesday), you have to wonder if they really aren’t the same person.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Imelda Staunton, Katie Leung
(Warner Brothers; US theatrical: 11 Jul 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 12 Jul 2007 (General release); 2007)
“I’ve always felt similar to Ron,” Grint, 18, said recently in a phone conversation from London. “We’ve both got ginger hair”—that’s what the British call redheads—“and we both come from big families”—Grint has four siblings.
Also, they both pepper their conversations with gee-whiz exclamations like “Smashing!”
So how are they different?
“Well, Ron’s not really very brave. He’s on the wimpy side. I like to think I’m braver than he is. Though of course I’m afraid of spiders ...”
Potter-heads know Ron as a good-natured bumbler who sometimes doesn’t seem to know which end of his magic wand is up. Grint likes to think of himself as more competent, then sheepishly admits he had to take his driving test three times before getting his license.
“It was really quite embarrassing,” he confided. “I’m driving now, so it’s all good. The written test was all right, but on the first practical test I made a few mistakes. I hit the curb or something.”
Whereas Ron tends to be laid-back practically to the point of sleep-walking, Grint describes himself as “quite competitive.” He said that side of his personality is most in evidence in the golf matches he regularly plays with James and Oliver Phelps, the twins who portray Ron’s twin brothers in the movies.
But if you really want to understand the difference between Grint and Ron, you need look no further than the manner in which Grint got the job.
A fan of the Harry Potter books, he had appeared only in one school play when he heard auditions were being held for young actors for the first “Harry Potter” movie. So he created an audition tape of himself performing a rap he wrote about Ron and why he should get the role. That’s a bit of audaciousness seemingly quite beyond a tentative fellow like Ron.
But lest we take this Rupert-is-Ron-is-Rupert business too far, Grint emphasizes that while he loves all things Potter and the recognition the film series has brought him, he’s aiming for a career beyond wizards and broomsticks.
Last year saw the release of “Driving Lessons,” the low budget film Grint made with Julie Walters, the veteran actress who plays his mother in the “Potter” films.
He played a teen torn between his strictly religious mother (Laura Linney) and the eccentric, over-the-hill actress (Walters) for whom he becomes a part-time chauffeur and companion.
The challenge wasn’t just from playing a different character, Grint said, but also from working on an independent film with a budget just a fraction of that of a “Potter” project.
“I’d heard it would be different, and it was,” he recalled. “It was much harder, a six-day work week with none of the luxuries you have on the `Potter’ set. We had a much smaller crew and filmed in real locations around London. No big sets ... we were filming in people’s houses.
“But I really enjoyed it. In fact, I preferred it. There wasn’t so much waiting around. With a `Potter’ film, before each scene you have five or six rehearsals, then you do around 10 takes with the camera rolling.”
All that repetition is a bit of a pain, Grint said. “You do get quite tired of it after a while. Partly it’s my own fault. I have this problem with giggling at the wrong time.”
Looking to the future, Grint is committed to completing the final two “Harry Potter” films, though he’d like to find some other juicy roles to squeeze into his downtime.
“A few things have come up, but it’s hard to fit them in. I’ve only got three months off between `Potter’ films, so mostly I just enjoy myself. I play golf with the twins, draw, paint.”
And he says he keeps his eyes and ears open on the “Potter” set, which boasts some of England’s finest actors—Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane.
“It’s a pretty amazing lineup, pretty cool people,” Grint said. He doesn’t grill the older cast members about their performing techniques, but he picks up a lot just by paying attention.
“It’s definitely an actor’s education.”