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Rupert Grint and the Prisoner of Potter

From The Times

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Despite reports to the contrary, Rupert Grint is not on his last legs. Yes, says the 20-year-old Harry Potter star, he’s had swine flu. But, he adds at the beginning of a mammoth day of Potter promotion, it was no biggie. “It was just like any other flu,” he says. “It started with a sore throat and I stayed in bed for a couple of days. There was a moment of worry when I found out that it was swine flu, but I never really thought it was going to get serious. I took antibiotics, missed five days of work, and I’m glad it’s over.”

Grint, you soon learn, is not one to make a drama out of a crisis. Whether it’s contemplating the alleged £7 million fortune amassed from playing that ace sidekick Ron Weasley in the Potter franchise or reflecting upon his evolution as an actor, or describing the shock arrest of a close friend at a birthday party, he greets all subjects with the same halting, half-smiling shoulder shrug, often followed by the words “I dunno.” He is curiously boyish, at times taciturn and unsure, even innocent.

Indeed, when we first meet, two weeks before the swine flu bout, he openly admits to a childlike persona and points to the Harry Potter franchise for answers. “Being in Harry Potter is like living in a bubble, and it slightly hinders your independence,” he says, nursing a pint of iced Coca-Cola in the boardroom of a Berkshire hotel — a base for cast and crew while they film the concluding double-bill, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 2 (the final book was split into two movies and is being shot over 14 months). “You have got a lot of people doing stuff for you,” he continues. “So I guess that doesn’t help.”

Yet despite his circumspection Grint, in grey denims and pop punk T-shirt, is excited about two things today. First is the recent visit of Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama to the Potter set. “It was quite an overwhelming day,” he says. “It was Sasha’s eighth birthday, so J. K. Rowling came down with them. They were really nice. We sat there, eating cake. Just me, Dan [Radcliffe], Emma [Watson] and the Obamas — who had about 30 people with them and 20 security and 10 police cars. It was quite surreal.”

Second is the imminent arrival of the sixth and latest Hogwarts movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Unlike the previous instalment, The Order of the Phoenix, which lurched through Harry’s internal crises and left Ron with few interesting scenes, this episode is a veritable Weasley bonanza. “I’ve a lot more to do in this one, and I’ve even got Quidditch!” boasts Grint, referring to the sporting sequence normally reserved for Harry but in which Ron this time is the hero of the team. He adds, however, that filming the sequence itself was “quite painful in, er [points shyly to groin], that area. You’re sitting on that broom for hours at a time — it does tend to chafe.”

But it’s not the Quidditch, nor any effects sequences (the Millennium Bridge is destroyed in the opening scene) that makes the Half-Blood Prince memorable. Instead it’s the abandonment of blockbuster pyrotechnics for consistent small-scale character work. Thus under the shadow of Voldermort’s inexorable endgame and the demise of Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore, the movie allows a sizeable chunk of screen time for Harry, Ron and Hermione to wrestle fully with the tribulations of adolescence. In short, Ron gets a girlfriend, Hermione pines for Ron and Harry kisses Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright). Better still, the young cast, famed for delivering declamatory nails-along-the-blackboard performances, here do, gasp, “proper acting” .

“Yes,” Grint confesses, “I’ve noticed that in the early days I was just reading my lines. I wasn’t really acting. But over the years, and especially with the different directors we’ve had, you try to give more.”

It was one of those directors, Alfonso Cuarón (Prisoner of Azkaban), who said that Grint, not Radcliffe or Watson, would be the talent to emerge at the end of the series. And while Grint today dismisses such talk with, “I dunno, Alfonso was pretty crazy,” it is true that there is something quietly compelling about him on screen, especially when compared with the more solicitous Watson and straight-arrow Radcliffe. He is, of course, serious about acting. After a deadpan turn as an adolescent oddball in Driving Lessons (2006), there are two more non-Potter roles on the way — as Bill Nighy’s assassin protégé in Wild Target and as a cocaine-snorting Belfast hedonist in Cherrybomb. He wonders aloud if that role will alienate the Hogwarts faithful. “Harry Potter’s got a very young fanbase and I suppose it’s not a great idea to go too crazy,” he says. I ask him if the spectre of Potter hangs over everything he does. He says that he’s been working on the franchise for nearly half his life. That, I suspect, is a “yes”.

Grint’s half-life in Hogwarts began in summer 2000 at home in Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire. There, the eldest of five children of a professional Formula One memorabilia collector, he filmed an eccentric audition video, a Rupert Grint rap, that he boldy sent to the producers of the first Potter movie. A shy child who found acting in school plays “liberating”, the rap was a way to stand out. “The first lines were, ‘Hello there, my name’s Rupert Grint/ I hope you like this and don’t think I stink!’ ” He cringes.

And so, with one wave of a Hollywood wand, boyhood concerns of school, friendships and bicycle rides were replaced with on-set tutors, publicists and a garage-full of vehicles — he has so far bought a Range Rover, a Chevy pick-up truck, a Mini, a 1974 ice-cream van and a hovercraft.

The studio publicity machine has handled the junior Potter players with a deft touch — there’s not a booze-addled burnout among them. In fact, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson are regularly commended for being fantastically “normal”. But, in the process of protecting these $3 billion brand leaders, one suspects that small yet intimate freedoms have been lost. Grint, for instance, sighs: “I’ve never really had control over my hair. Warner Bros decide how my hair is going to be, and I can’t really change it.” Similarly, on his own adolescence, he muses: “To be honest I haven’t really noticed any changes, besides the physical. Being away from the real world means that I didn’t have many real complications.”

They came later, when Grint turned 18 and became a legitimate target for media attention. And it was at his lavish 18th-birthday party, in Hertfordshire, when he first glimpsed the dark side of fame. There, a close friend, Joshua Lodge, was arrested for committing a “sex act” with an under-age partygoer. At the time Grint issued a statement condemning Lodge. Today he is torn. “Part of me was quite glad that he was named and shamed,” he says. “But it was quite a tricky time, because he was a close mate.”

He adds that now, slightly older and wiser, he is always vigilant when socialising publicly. “It’s always at the back of your mind: ‘You’ve got to behave! You can’t lose control! They’re just waiting for you to come out p***ed!’ ”

Currently single and still living with his parents, he says that he meets plenty of girls socially, but that fame can get in the way. “It’s a lot easier to get attention when you’re famous,” he says. “But then you question their reasons for giving it to you.” Grint turns 21 on August 24, and apparently there will be seven million more attention-grabbing reasons flooding into his bank account when his fortune, once held in trust, is made accessible. “Yes,” he says, with remarkable lack of interest, “I think I gain control of all my money then.” But what will you do with it? “I dunno. I never really understand the whole money thing. I might buy some stickers for my ice-cream van.”

In the meantime Grint still has two more Potter movies to finish and a busy shooting schedule to honour — he filmed the climactic Ron and Hermione kiss last week (Verdict: “Quite strange. Definitely a brother and sister thing. But thankfully done in four takes.”). And yet there is a palpable sense, for the actors at least, that the world of Hogwarts is winding down. And not a moment too soon. “I have loved doing it, and I’m sure I’ll miss it in a way,” says Grint, before adding gleefully: “But it will be nice to have a bit of freedom.” And what about acting? What if it all falls through and you have to leave the world of movies and stardom? Grint lets the words sink in and slowly begins to beam at the very prospect. “I think I’ll be all right,” he says, free from boyish hesitation, and sounding instead, and for the first time, like the 21-year-old man he’s about to become. “I’m quite happy really.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince goes on general release on Wednesday


Original article found here: Timesonline.co.uk | July 9th, 2009

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