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Emma Watson: Ambassador with the magic touch

Not many people will admit to feeling much pity for Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus or even Lindsay Lohan, whatever dismal scrapes they may have been in. Drink-driving charge? Deliberate wardrobe malfunction? Up before the judge again? Who cares?

If they trip up, sadly, the world feels entitled to watch them fall. As far as much of the audience is concerned, these errant former child stars seem like exotic commodities to be traded on the scandal market, although they are also clearly just young people living under abnormal levels of scrutiny. The international exchange of information about the extracurricular activities of these famous twentysomethings has never been so commercially hot.

But riding high above them all, although no longer on a broomstick, is that accomplished paragon of virtue Emma Watson, the 24-year-old English actress still known to millions of fans of the Harry Potter films as Hermione Granger and the winner this spring of the “Most Flawless Woman of the Decade” accolade from the internet news service Buzzfeed.

With a delicate, bright beauty that appears almost to have ambushed her in adolescence, Watson has had a difficult path to tread. Admittedly, her success and financial security have given her more choices than are usual for a young woman, but every step of her way has been chronicled on a worldwide scale. Like the trainee wizard she once played, she has had to learn how to wield her magic powers for good and how to summon up some strong spells when evil forces are close by.

Last week, the darkness drew very near indeed. Watson was threatened with the release of intimate photos supposedly taken privately. It was a kind of punishment for speaking out in favour of feminism at the UN headquarters in her capacity as a goodwill ambassador. The impending publication of the putative nude pictures, a humiliation that turned out to be a bluff, might have pulled Watson down among the lower orders of former child stars, those people who now exist in the public consciousness merely as cautionary tales to scare naughty teenagers: “Look what happened to Bieber today!”; “Did you see Cyrus in that outfit?”

Although Watson has put her head above the parapet before, the provocation cited by the hoaxers was the New York speech she gave last Monday promoting the HeForShe campaign and arguing that gender discrimination harms both men and women. The next day, anonymous individuals set up a website lobbing sexual threats at Watson and starting a five-day countdown until the release of the incriminating photos.

It is the sort of malevolent onslaught that has caused many hardened media pundits to quake. But Watson is equipped with survival techniques above her years and she did not blink. As Jamie Bell, the actor who found fame in the film Billy Elliot, has pointed out, not every child star stumbles under the strain.

“I hate the stereotype of the pitfalls of the child actor. There are so many amazing examples – Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jodie Foster, Drew Barrymore – of people who have made it through,” he once said. The trio at the centre of the Harry Potter franchise – Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint – have, in fact, each fared well. And Harry Melling, now 25, who played Dudley Dursely, is to star next year in the London premiere of a play, Peddling, which he has written and already performed in to acclaim in New York.

Growing and learning together on the Potter set, the Hogwarts team have handled their incredible fame with grace so far. Watson once told the chat show host Jonathan Ross that Grint and Radcliffe “really are like my siblings”. They have clearly supported each other beyond Potter.

When a nine-year-old Watson auditioned at the esteemed Dragon school in Oxford, she was chosen for her quirky, swotty appearance rather than her Hollywood potential. The streamlined profile, twinkling brown eyes, broad smile and big laugh that have caused her to be hailed as a great beauty in her 20s were not evident then. She was, instead, a confident tomboy, who, she admitted later, yearned to cut her hair short. Clips from the first film, Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, show her acting is rather overemphatic, like a child star from a previous era.

As a newcomer in 2001, Watson was perhaps most impressive as a poised television interviewee. “And what did you say when the other children asked why you got the part, and not them?” asked the veteran US chat show host Regis Philbin. “Because I am worth it,” the little Watson quipped, legs swinging under her chair. Already a Potter reader three books in, Watson added that she soon began to see herself as Hermione as she read the rest of titles in JK Rowling’s series.

The actress was born in Paris in 1990, the daughter of two lawyers, Jacqueline Luesby and Chris Watson, but she moved to Oxfordshire with her mother and brother, Alex, at the age of five, following her parents’ divorce. Both have remarried and each has a new family. According to producer David Heyman, Watson had to be coaxed to make the full run of films instead of study. She scooped eight A*s and two As for her 10 GCSEs and was as studious on set as she was in the makeshift schoolroom set up for all the young actors during shooting, asking Dame Maggie Smith, who played Professor McGonagall, for acting tips. After the Potter films, she chose to study at Brown, the American Ivy League college, explaining it was a way for her to catch up on the broader education she feared she had missed.

Graduating from Brown with a degree in English this spring, Watson appeared on David Letterman’s Tonight chat show in America to promote her latest movie, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, in which she played the biblical character’s adopted daughter. She was wearing a chic, slightly androgynous suit and online trolls went on the attack. “Why is she wearing that crap?” asked one, revealing the level of abuse targeted at Watson for any hint of self-possession or decorum. Interviews suggest Watson has had to steel herself to meet the outside world from an early age. “I was working on Harry Potter while I was growing up, and the attention it brought me made me feel quite isolated,” she has said. “It’s only recently that I’ve felt much better in my own skin”

The attention of fans and the media has had an impact on her adult relationships too. Not only has she had to field 1,000 chat-up lines involving magic and broomsticks, she complains, but she has had to shield her partners from her fame. “I don’t date people who are famous and I don’t think it’s fair that, all of a sudden, intimate details of their personal life are public as a direct result of me. I wish I could protect them.”

At the time of the release of one her first solo films, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, Watson admitted she preferred the look of English men, but that they were “very restrained”. “Usually in the whole courting situation, I’m used to being first of all ignored for the first two months. And then maybe they’ll acknowledge my presence. Then they’ll probably be a little mean to me. And then, maybe we’ll, you know…whatever,” she said.

The eagerness of the American male at Brown surprised her. “This is like a huge culture shock for me,” Watson admitted. “They’re very, open and very straightforward – but they wear flipflops and I don’t know if I like that.”

During a year studying at Oxford, she secretly dated a fellow student and was “outed” at a festival in 2012. “It was a huge crowd, and I thought there was no way anyone could get pictures of me, but somehow they found me.” Earlier this year she appeared in public with a new boyfriend, Oxford student and rugby player Matt Janney.

The stage is now set for Watson to establish herself as a child star who can stay the distance, like Keira Knightley, Billie Piper and Helena Bonham Carter before her. And since standing up for other stars subjected to online breaches of privacy, such as Jennifer Lawrence, and after her humanitarian work in Bangladesh and Zambia, there may be a role for her one day in international politics.

We should not forget that the late Shirley Temple, the ultimate precocious cinematic talent, went on to become US ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

Born In Paris in April 1990, to lawyer parents Jacqueline and Chris Watson. After their divorce, she returned to England with her mother and brother. She attended the Dragon school in Oxford and Headington school.

Best of times 1999, being picked to play Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, and this year, standing up for women abused on the internet and for her friend Jennifer Lawrence. She tweeted: “Even worse than seeing women’s privacy violated on social media is reading the accompanying comments that show such a lack of empathy.”

Worst of times Learning with horror that former child star Elizabeth Taylor had her first kiss on a film set for the cameras, rather than in real life. “I had this sense that if I wasn’t really careful, that could be me. That my first kiss could be in somebody else’s clothes. And my experiences could all belong to someone else.

She says “Women’s rights are so inextricably linked with who I am, so deeply personal and rooted in my life, that I can’t imagine an opportunity more exciting.”

They say “I deeply respected her, encouraged her. She’s very smart, always was, and fiercely intelligent.”

Source : TheGuardian

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Like most former child stars, the Harry Potter actress has endured abnormal levels of public scrutiny, including threats to publish private photographs online. But unlike them, she possesses survival techniques beyond her years
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