As part of our Tribute Series, FF2 Media celebrates artists who support the work of female filmmakers. Be sure to click on the film titles for full reviews & see where you can stream on JustWatch.com.
It’s hard to believe how much Emma Watson has achieved at such a young age. At 30, the actress, activist and gifted academic has had some of the strongest influence on popular culture, from iconic roles like Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise to Belle in the Beauty and the Beast live-action remake. FF2 Media celebrates her work with female directors and the ways in which she has used her position and her voice to help others.
The daughter of two lawyers, Watson was born in Paris. She grew up in Oxfordshire and trained at Stagecoach Theatre Arts. In 1999, when Watson was nine years old, she was cast as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series. She had never acted professionally before being cast and when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released in 2001, she and her co-stars were rocketed to fame. She was singled out of the young cast for her performance and continued to receive praise for her portrayal of Hermione across all eight films.
While it took five years, having to take time off to film several movies, Watson earned a degree in English literature from Brown University and also spent a year at Oxford University as part of her studies. Watson has been in 10 films since the last Harry Potter movie was released including My Week with Marilyn (2011) and Noah (2014). After playing Hermione, she also took on another popular book character, Sam in Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) opposite Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller.
Watson’s first role outside of playing Hermione was as Pauline in Sandra Goldbacher’s Ballet Shoes, which was released between the fifth and sixth Harry Potter films in 2007. Based on the classic 1936 children’s novel by Noel Streatfeild, this BBC movie follows a trio of orphans adopted by an eccentric and absent paleontologist who train as performers to help keep their family afloat. Watson has an easy chemistry with the two younger girls (one of which is Lucy Boynton, now known for Bohemian Rhapsody) that makes them believable as sisters.
Watson plays the eldest sister Pauline, who discovers a talent for acting and pursues a career first on the stage and then in film. Pauline is the portrait of wide-eyed innocence, but also girlish pride and determination. It was Watson’s first chance to prove that she could play a different sort of character and she is particularly charming when reciting a Shakespearean monologue in an audition scene. Watson’s portrayal of Pauline’s vanity and arrogance when playing the lead in “Alice in Wonderland” goes to her head is worlds away from the bookish Hermione – and in her screen test for a Hollywood director, she truly captures the charisma of a real 1930s film starlet. Ballet Shoes is a delightful film and Watson proved that she would easily have a career outside of the Potter franchise.
Watson certainly plays against her type in Sofia Coppola’s 2013 The Bling Ring. She portrays the vapid, fame-obsessed teenager Nicki, based on Alexis Neiers. The film depicts the robberies by the Bling Ring, a group of Los Angeles teens who stole $3 million in goods from celebrities’ houses in the late 2000s. It’s Watson’s best accent work and she’s nearly unrecognizable in sparkly eye makeup and lip gloss, low-slung sweatpants and UGG boots. The film is missing Coppola’s normal aesthetic, instead opting for extremes of bold color and darkness.
Watson’s reading of the line, “I wanna rob,” has become iconic, but she truly does a great job of disappearing into this role so unlike all of the others that she has played. At one point, she even dances on a stripper pole in Paris Hilton’s house (Hilton let Coppola film in her actual house). One of the best aspects of her performance is how she switches between the Nicki that she is in front of her friends and the cleaned up version of herself she is in front of adults, and later the court and reporters. Nicki is the most unique role that Watson has played to this day and showed off a range of talents many didn’t expect.
Last year, Watson starred in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women as Meg, the eldest of the four March sisters. Rather than pursuing an artistic career on the stage, Meg chooses to start a family with poor tutor and family friend, John Brooke. Meg has often gotten the short end of the stick in “Little Women” adaptations, but Gerwig and Watson make her a worthy character alongside the other three girls. Watson does a great job at striking the right balance between Meg’s mothering of her younger sisters and her yearning for fine things. She has great chemistry with the other girls, Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen, and Florence Pugh.
Watson also meshes well with James Norton, who plays John. One of the most genuinely moving scenes in the film, and easily Watson’s best, is the one in which the couple discuss their finances and Meg laments how difficult it is to not be able to afford the luxuries that her wealthier friends can. It’s a point of view that could easily seem insipid or spoiled, but Watson makes clear that Meg is more motivated by her desire to fit in than the actual luxuries themselves, drawing the audience’s sympathy. Emma Stone was originally cast in the role and had to pull out because of scheduling conflicts, but it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Watson embodying Meg so well.
Perhaps even more impressive than her work as an actress is the way that Watson has used her platform to elevate causes she cares about like women’s rights and environmentalism. As early as 2009, Watson became the creative adviser to People Tree, a Fair trade fashion brand. Watson has become not only a style icon, but a proponent of more environmentally friendly fashion. In 2014, she became a UN Women Goodwill ambassador and launched the UN Women HeForShe campaign later that year. In July of 2019, she helped launch Rights of Women, an advice line for those suffering from sexual harassment in the workplace and seeking legal help. Several organizations have honored Watson with awards for her activism work.
Watson also is passionate about reading and has taken part in multiple organizations to get people excited about it. She launched a feminist book club on Goodreads called “Our Shared Shelf” in 2016. She is also involved with the Book Fairies, who leave books for people to find across the world. In honor of the release of Little Women, she launched a worldwide campaign to hide 2,000 copies of the novel across thirty-eight countries. A passion for books is one thing that Watson shares with several of the characters she has portrayed.
With nearly two dozen films to her name and an impressive career of activism in just 30 years, one can only imagine where Watson will go next. At the age of just 17, she had her handprints and footprints cemented at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, but Watson seems keenly aware of the power of her fame and determined to use it correctly. Even now, she is using her Instagram account to urge people to stay home and quarantine properly.
Why not celebrate her birthday by watching one of the great films she has been in that are directed by women: Ballet Shoes, The Bling Ring, or Little Women? With all of her feminist work, we can only assume Emma herself would approve.
© Nicole Ackman (4/25/20) FF2 Media
Featured image: The Bling Ring