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Dramatic license

By Dixie Reid

In ‘Driving Lessons,’ Rupert Grint steers clear of his ‘Harry Potter’ persona.

SAN FRANCISCO — Jeremy Brock had a father who was a mild-mannered church vicar and a mother who was a tyrant. At 21, he got a job cleaning house for British actress Peggy Ashcroft, who won an Oscar for her supporting role in “A Passage to India” (1984). And when he could no longer stand to live at home, he took up residence in Ashcroft’s basement.

From those true-life experiences comes the British coming-of-age saga “Driving Lessons” (opening Friday in Sacramento), written and directed by Brock, who also co-wrote “The Last King of Scotland.”

Portraying the fictionalized version of Brock is redheaded Rupert Grint, best known as the perpetually astonished Ron Weasley in the “Harry Potter” movies. He’s in town for the day, decked out in T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, and lounging on a sofa at the Ritz-Carlton before returning to London to finish up “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” due out next year.

“It’s going to be good, good fun,” Grint says of the upcoming Potter film.

In “Driving Lessons,” he plays 17-year-old Ben Marshall, an awkward, shy lad whose father (Nicholas Farrell) is a mild-mannered vicar and whose mother (American actress Laura Linney, with an English accent) is a tyrant.

Brock recently told the Los Angeles Times that he made Ben younger than he was at the time “for the simple reason that I was very, very naive. I wanted to capture an age where it was acceptable to be that naive.”

And he made “Driving Lessons” while his parents are still living.

“My mother has Alzheimer’s now,” Brock said. “I couldn’t have written the movie until my mother was outside a place she would know. Some might say I am ruthless. All I would say is the film is obviously taken from my family experience, but it’s fiction, too. The fights that (Ben) has to break free from his home are a universal story.”

The movie takes place during Ben’s summer break from school.

His evangelical mother has him attending Bible classes, wearing a eucalyptus-tree costume for the church play and helping out at an old folks home. Under the pretext of giving Ben driving lessons, she is having an affair with the church’s youth minister (Oliver Milburn).

Things also are quite strange at home, where Mrs. Marshall has invited the elderly cross-dresser Mr. Fincham (Jim Norton) to move in with the family.

Life becomes even more bizarre — but certainly more fun — when Ben takes a job assisting Evie Walton, an eccentric retired actress (Julie Walters, with a prosthetic osteoporosis hump), who has awarded herself the title “dame,” drinks entirely too much and gardens like a demented Edward Scissorhands. She is zany and unpredictable and kidnaps young Ben for the adventure of his life.

Walters also plays Grint’s mother in four Harry Potter movies, including “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” (She did not appear in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” 2005.)

“She’s so easy to get on with,” says Grint. “She’s really nice and fun. It was good having someone I knew, because this was my first thing outside the Harry Potter films.”

Apparently he’s forgetting “Thunderpants,” the 2002 comedy about a boy whose gas-passing abilities help him to become an astronaut.

“Driving Lessons” did offer Grint his first onscreen kiss, with Scottish actress Michelle Duncan, who is 10 years his senior.

“I was quite nervous,” he says, laughing. “She was older, so that helped make me feel more comfortable, but it was actually quite awkward because all the crew was watching. And then it was worse watching it with my family. That was embarrassing.”

And this leads to some quick, and only slightly embarrassing, questions for young Mr. Grint:

Have you ever kissed a girl offscreen?

He laughs. “Yeah.”

Do you have a girlfriend?

“No, I don’t. I’m just really busy at the moment. We have another month of filming on the next ‘Harry Potter.’ ”

What’s on your iPod?

“Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes. I mainly listen to rock.”

What’s your favorite English football (soccer) team?

Tottenham Hotspur.

How did you get your name?

“Actually, my name was the one that my parents pulled out of the hat. Really. There were other names they put in this hat, and they pulled out ‘Rupert’ first.”

Do you still live at home?

“Yes. I can see doing it for another few years. I’ve got it pretty good.”

What do your parents do?

“My mom sort of looks after us. It’s a big family, five of us kids, so it’s quite the full-time job. My dad sells Formula One (racing) memorabilia, liked signed photos.”

You’ve been in all four “Harry Potter” movies, with three to go in the series. Have you bought yourself anything extravagant with your earnings?

“I treat myself here and there. I got myself a car, because I passed my driving test last week. I got a Mini Cooper, a black one.”

Did you know how to drive before getting behind the wheel in “Driving Lessons”?

“No, I was only 16, and I didn’t start learning until I was 17. They let me drive on proper roads and mainly in Scotland. On major roads, they wouldn’t let me drive.”

Did you pass your driving test on first try?

“I passed the second test, failed the first one. It was only one thing: I was doing a three-point turn, and I didn’t look over my shoulder.”

Ben Marshall vs. Ron Weasley?

“They’re very different. Ben has got real problems with his mom and dad. He’s got a really strict mom, and he’s pretty shy and doesn’t say much. A bit of a geek, not very confident. Ron has a good family and is pretty confident.”

Like you?

“Yeah.”


Original article found here: Sacramento Bee | November 12, 2006

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