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Rupert Grint – Can I Have My Life Back Now?

Rupert Grint On Life After 10 Years Of Ron Weasley

The Harry Potter star on growing up in the spotlight, girlfriends (he’d like one) and ten years playing Ron Weasley

The Harry Potter set, somewhere near Watford, England. After ten years, seven books and eight films, the Death Eaters are circling the biggest movie franchise in history. The end is nigh. Here at Leavesden Studios, the great hall of Hogwarts lies empty, its long tables and candelabra stretching silently into the distance. The remains are here of Dumbledore’s study, the Gryffindor dormitory with its child-sized beds, the Dark Arts classroom and the special-effects green screen before which Ford Anglias flew, golden snitches were snatched and willows whomped. Here is where hippogriffs and shrunken heads were moulded, where Bertie Bott’s Beans were bottled, and where the fully motorised three-storey purple Knight Bus once parked.

This is where words such as muggle and dementor entered screen language; this is where Generation Potter was formed – and abandoned. The cast and crew are thronging around the barbecue in their hundreds at this, the wrap party for the final film. A home video is being shown of outtakes and emotional moments from the past 450 days of back-to-back filming for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2. There’s a whiff of melancholy in the air. Suddenly people hear the tinkle of an ice-cream van. It’s an early Mr Whippy model, restored from its heyday in the Seventies, bought on eBay for a song. The van driver and owner is Rupert Grint, Ron Weasley’s alter ego. He rolls in, opens his serving hatch and cheers everyone up by offering free 99 cones with Flakes – “and chocolate oysters”, he adds, grinning.

“I had them, but no sprinkles,” says Grint later, lolling on a sofa in Claridge’s. “You get a bucket of ice-cream mix, put it in the machine, press a button and pull a lever, but it’s actually quite hard getting the technique to do a perfect swirl on the cone. I used to go everywhere in the Mr Whippy van, but it’s only got one seat and it’s quite tricky to drive.”

There’s a pleasant down-to-earthness about Grint. He played the straightforward, geeky guy in the Potter saga, and while he likes to be the life and soul of the cast party, in the outside world he shows no signs of grandeur or swanking around London with fast cars and women. Yet he’s worth an estimated £20 million and made it on to The Sunday Times Rich List.

“I’ve never fancied that footballer lifestyle,” says Grint. His vehicle collection includes a Range Rover, but also the Mr Whippy van and a restored green VW Camper – not exactly Ferrari territory. “I suppose I could live that kind of flash life. People stereotype child actors and kind of expect you to go off the rails a bit, be a bit crazy, but that’s not really happened yet. I’ve got a big family so that helps, and they live really close to the studios so it’s just so much easier.

The ice-cream van was a nostalgic distraction as the work on Deathly Hallows Part 1, out this month, and Part 2, out next July, drew to a close. For the three actors who have given their teenage years to the mammoth film project, there’s also a curious sense of relief. Harry, Hermione and Ron – and their other halves Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Grint – are free at last.

“It felt like the last day at school,” says Grint. “Packing up all the stuff in my dressing room, all the old toys still there from when I was 11… I’d underestimated how emotional it would be. We all cried.”

His hair is dishevelled and he wears a Kennedy-Nixon T-shirt with the word “LOVE” printed on it in pink, a hoody and tracksuit bottoms. Now 22, he has spent nearly half his life as Ron, more than a decade inhabiting someone else’s skin and appalling home-knitted jumpers. Ron’s suffering, joys and stupid jokes all helped to form connections between Grint’s synapses as he grew up. When you talk to him, the crossover with Ron is abundantly clear. Indeed, the Harry Potter films could be seen as a weird scientific experiment on the child stars. How much have their fictional characters influenced them, rather than the other way around? What part of their internal world has been built by J. K. Rowling and the studio system on the way to adulthood? What will they take with them now they have graduated from Hogwarts, the only high school they know?

Long ago Grint watched an item about the Harry Potter auditions on Newsround, sent in a video of himself rapping about how he deserved the part, and was invited for a trial. “I suppose when they selected us as kids, they weren’t expecting us to act that much. They didn’t really want kids from drama school. I always felt quite a strong connection to Ron. I don’t know if it was just a ginger thing though,” he says, laughing. His hair is actually less carroty in real life: “Yes, the sun calms it down a little bit.” As for the Rupert-Ron intermingling, he says: “Possibly I’ve taken on some of his characteristics and we have merged into the same kind of person.”

“When he first started he was really cute and really shy,” recalls Julie Walters, who has played Grint’s screen mum Molly Weasley from the start. “My abiding memory of him is at the first premiere and Grant, my husband, and I looked at Rupert and there was a beautiful little moon face, and he looked like a rabbit caught in the flashbulbs. He was such a sweetheart you wanted to cuddle him.”

Grint would probably cringe at this, but Watson and Radcliffe are disturbingly like their characters, too – what could a casting director do but typecast when faced with 10 and 11-year-olds? Watson is a bookworm with fashion sense; polite, studious and with much the same work ethic that we see on screen, having taken four A levels and landed at Brown University in America. Radcliffe is the straight guy with a touch of rebellion – hence his attempt to break out when he took to the London stage nude in Equus. His next film, The Woman in Black, is from the revitalised Hammer horror studio, and his recent paint-spattered photoshoot in Dazed & Confused magazine threw fans into fervid debate.

Meanwhile Grint is a man of the people, the ordinary, cheerful guy whose pleasures include watching daytime telly, playing golf and going to the pub with his mates. Like Ron, he has a large family – he is the eldest of five, “but the only ginger one” – and still lives at home in a Hertfordshire village with his mum and his dad, who deals in Formula One ephemera. Grint’s acting career began in plays at his local primary school.

In terms of a theatrical education, Grint has seen more leading men and women close up than most young actors. The Potter franchise has always prided itself on hiring Britain’s finest thesps for all the adult parts. In Deathly Hallows, the list includes Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Imelda Staunton and Julie Walters.

“Alan Rickman [who plays the menacing Severus Snape] fascinates me,” says Grint. “He always seems to be in character. He’s really quite intimidating with that air about him. Actually, he’s nice to talk to, but he’s got this presence that makes you feel like he’s unapproachable.” Julie Walters is one of his favourites. “I’m quite close to her. She’s warm. She really is like my mum, and she’s seen us grow up.” And in her fictional guise, she supposedly knits Ron all those embarrassing, itchy, Brillo-pad jumpers he’s forced to wear.

It turns out those awful brown cardies were among the most expensive of any of the costumes. Some were handknitted, some were even Dolce & Gabbana.“But it all looks terrible, and it’s really uncomfortable to wear,” says Grint. Despite these trials, he never wanted to give up Potter. “I was always keen to keep going,” he says. “I didn’t know what else to do and I was grateful for it. It was better than school, and I get a real buzz out of acting.”

So far, Grint’s productions away from the Potter franchise include Thunderpants (enough said) in 2002, and more recently Driving Lessons with Julie Walters in 2006. This year saw him in so-so films Wild Target with Bill Nighy and the indie Cherrybomb.

Perhaps the perfect part – goofy, geeky, funny and determined – awaits Grint. There are plans for a British biopic of Eddie the Eagle, the self-taught ski jumper who entered the 1988 Olympics. The film is still at an early stage, and there are problems to overcome – the fact that he can’t ski, for a start. “But I don’t think I’ll be doing the jumping. Eddie’s a typical British eccentric. I’m fond of that kind of underdog thing. It’s amazing what he did. Really amazing courage – and insanity. Plus he had trouble with his glasses. I’m much more comfortable with those sorts of characters than the leading man stuff.”

He does have to have a crack at that stuff in the new Potter, though. In The Deathly Hallows, Ron is a changed creature, no longer jovial and clowning, but serious, angst-ridden and moody. The latest publicity photos show pale, edgy characters who have clearly seen the dark night of the soul. Perhaps it’s just opportunistic marketing, but Ron, Harry and Hermione look more like sickly Twilight teenagers.

“My part really improves,” says Grint. “It’s more complicated. Ron has a total freak-out, and gets jealous and angry. There’s a lot of paranoia and grief, and he falls in love. It’s quite a big moment for him.”

Readers of the final book will know that the search is on in Part 1 for the Horcruxes, objects and creatures that the evil Voldemort needs to secure his power. The three friends have left the safety of Hogwarts to find the Horcruxes, and are being pursued across England by the Death Eaters, who must bring Harry to Voldemort alive. J. K. Rowling described the first half of the book as “a bizarre road movie” (possibly indicating that she was writing with more of an eye on the screen), while the second half is a pitched battle in Hogwarts. These are dark and bloody times. Long-treasured characters die at the hands of Voldemort and his Death Eaters; schoolchildren are scarred; an ear is lost; torture in the form of the gruesome Cruciatus Curse becomes worryingly commonplace.

The final book and this film also include the first kiss between Ron and Hermione, a relief for frustrated viewers. Rowling hinted at an attraction between the two for a long time, and there were petty jealousies and near misses. “The kiss happened quite naturally, and in the second part of Deathly Hallows they’re really quite couply, holding hands a lot. It wasn’t like it came from nowhere. It was quite a tricky kiss, a bit strange, but quite sweet really. It was just one shot, but we had about six takes. It was all right, yeah. Easy after the first take,” says Grint, then adds, “I’ve almost no memory of it at all.”

While Radcliffe, now single and heading for the New York stage, has always had girlfriends since he was 14, Grint says he found it “quite difficult to sustain a relationship, because I was so busy. I went out with people, but never anything too serious. It wasn’t that easy. Now it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”

There should be no shortage of applicants, given the number of Grint fan clubs on the web, although girls show their appreciation in strange ways – by constantly sending him pyjamas, for example. “And the American fan club makes me a birthday gift every year. They made this big montage poster thing with photos of a cardboard cutout of me in different countries,” he says, rolling his eyes.

Grint often gets followed down the street or accosted in bars. When he goes with his mates to rock festivals, he has been known to wear a duck mask, just so he can walk around freely. “You develop an instinct for it. You can hear people saying your name, feel their stares. But it depends where you are. Here in Britain, people are a lot more reserved. In America it’s kind of crazy: louder, a few screams, and they want me to sign stuff – them. I once signed a tattoo of me, Dan and Emma on a guy’s arm. He was quite an old guy, 40, freaky, quite weird. It wasn’t a great tattoo either. I looked a bit like Anne Robinson.”

Hidden deep in Hertfordshire, among old friends who are teachers and even work in cafés, Grint avoids the insane fans. Yet with a flat in London that he uses occasionally and some other property investments, he could take off. “Leave home? It’s quite a scary thought. I’m not the most independent person and that’s the result. When you’re always surrounded by people it becomes quite normal.”

The baby-faced actors had no idea what they were letting themselves in for when they first did a screen test together in August 2000, and only four Potter books had been written at that point. They were about to grow up together on catering-trolley food in an utterly artificial environment. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint’s awkward teenage moments took place in public, rather than before a bedroom mirror. “When I think back, it is kind of hazy,” says Grint. “I was quite overwhelmed, to be honest. I didn’t know what was coming. We’ll always be friends, more like brothers and sisters, but it’s nice to take a break.”

The child actors were tutored on set, and Grint is the only one who did not go on to take A levels, bailing out of formal education at GCSE level. “I found it hard to work and study. After I finished school I just kind of watched daytime TV. I love the Antiques Roadshow, yeah, or any old antiques programme like Dickinson’s Real Deal. I miss daytime telly now it’s all over. The mornings were best. The Jeremy Kyle Show…”

There’s something slightly melancholy about a 22-year-old saying this, however ironically, and life on the Potter set has entailed a sort of arrested development for Grint, which he is trying to shake off. “I’m feeling a mixture of things now that it’s over,” he says. “It’s been a huge part of my life. But I’m ready to go.”

Original article found here: The Sunday Times | November 6, 2010

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