Exclusive: Emma Watson speaks to The New Arab on 'The Circle' and her film career

Exclusive: Emma Watson speaks to The New Arab on 'The Circle' and her film career
5 min read
16 July, 2017
Emma Watson speaks to The New Arab about her latest film "The Circle" and of its message on the dark undertones of the new social age of technology.
Emma Watson is a global superstar [Getty]
For legions of Harry Potter fans across the world, it was just yesterday when an unknown fresh faced 11-year old girl called Emma Watson burst onto the screen to forever implant herself as the indomitable Muggle-born Hermione Granger.

Sixteen years later and now aged 27, Watson is a global superstar who successfully combines an ever-bourgeoning career as actress and model with a life of prominent public activism dedicated to promoting gender equality.

Having starred in all eight of the Harry Potter films [the last in 2011] and collecting a panoply of awards for her acting work along the way, Watson was just 24 when the UN appointed her a Women Goodwill Ambassador.

Her vaunted profile as campaigner in the public eye, and her career as the voice of major international campaigns on women's rights, led her to be chosen when just aged 24, as number 26 in Time Magazine's list of the World's 100 most influential people in 2015.

Acting still remains central to Watson's career, and in this guise the superstar speaks to The New Arab about family life on set, working with an old-guard of the Hollywood elite and the dark undercurrent of the new age of technology that frames her recent role in The Circle alongside Tom Hanks.

To add to her already heady list of accolades, the UN ambassador conducts the interview entirely in French. 

"I was born in Paris," Watson explains, "I lived here for about three years, before moving with my family to England. I continued to visit France frequently until I was a teenager. I speak French and normally enjoy talking to journalists I meet in France in French – as long as they don't object!"

Having grown up as one of the leading and most beloved faces of one of the 21st century world's most successful book series and film franchises, Watson tells of the difficulty in moving on when the era of Harry Potter ended.

"The difficulty was in the sudden transition away from working with a team I had been a part of for ten years," Watson tells The New Arab.

"From working alongside the likes of Daniel Radcliffe - who I almost grew up filming Harry Potter series with," Watson adds, "To working with an entirely different cast and crew, which changes with every new film I take on".

But for Watson, the deep-involvement of cast and crew fostered a particular sense of family that continued throughout her acting career.

"Through the Harry Potter films, I found a second family and now with every new film I have gained a third, a fourth and a fifth family and the number continues to grow."

While the Harry Potter series made stars out of Watson and her colleagues, the young actress was from her earliest days on set working alongside some of the acting world's most luminous names, not least Richard Harris who died in 2002 and the late Alan Rickman.

Now starring alongside Tom Hanks in her latest corporate thriller The Circle, Watson speaks about acting in the presence of another of the silver screens long established stars.

"I've known for many years that Hanks is one of Hollywood's greatest contemporary actors. His prodigy came across on the very first day of filming. 

"I found him to be a shy man who respected everyone around him – no matter their age. He was extremely helpful towards everyone he worked with. He's a very humble person, and I think he feels guilty for his fame."

Watson adds that Hank's ability to step into character from the get go was distinctly apparent.

"He dazzled me in his ability to get into character as soon as he heard the 'action' cue from the director. His shyness immediately fades, and it’s as if a genie comes out of a lamp - only to return to it as soon as the shooting has ended. Tom is one of the rare few who can act in such natural way, as if it was nothing."

Emma Watson was dazzled by Tom Hank's acting skills [Getty]

The dark underside of new technology

Based on David Egger's best-selling novel, The Circle has been described as a "techno-thriller" that takes a peak into the dark underside of the technological and social media revolution that have marked the last decade.

With unsubtle hints at Apple's "Infinite Loop" campus, nods to Google's [now-halted] Glass project and a firm fix on the modern worlds fixation with their smart-phones, The Circle looks at the increasingly unclear boundaries between public and private, the Orwellin horror of constant surveillance and the terrifying power of mass-data collection all packaged in a narrative about a young-woman's [Watson] rapid ascent through a major technology corporation.

"The film is about the adventure of a young woman, played by me, who lands herself a dream job in a powerful tech company [The Circle], which she believes works to improve the quality of people's lives, until she discovers that the company uses information it compiles about people to control them," Watson says.

The actress rails against labelling the film a "science fiction" thriller, especially as the implications seem so firmly rooted in our everyday world.

"When director James Ponsoldt hears people saying that he gets angry," Watson says.

"He thinks people do not understand the significance of the scenario, because he sees the film as being realistic since it speaks of something we all live with these days with the direct and indirect impact of technology like 'Google' in our everyday lives."

The film tells of the gradual stripping away of privacy in the blurring of the boundaries between public and private worlds, and Watson herself finds the point she increasingly came to agree with.

"I was convinced by Ponsoldt's vision, and now I fully share his opinion," she tells The New Arab.

Watson add that she tried to change the way she uses technology, but it was seemingly an uphill battle.

"I was succeeded in doing so for only about. It's like people who want to quit smoking, but they keep going back".

(Interview by Nabil Masaad, translation and additional writing by Sarah Khalil)