One sticky summer morning in the suburbs outside of Pittsburgh, I sat down with Emma Watson on the set of her new film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And she was just as intelligent and charming and absolutely wonderful as you’d hope she’d be.
Donning an effortless, girly ‘90s dress, complete with delicate accents like a gold anchor charm necklace and a bold, short haircut, Watson breezed into the tent where we we’d been waiting as she filmed her scenes. After thoroughly exercising her newly-perfected American accent, Watson took a breather from the graduation scene in the novel-to-screen adaptation of Perks, to give Hollywood.com a few details about the highly-anticipated movie from Perks’ author and director Stephen Chbosky.
Watson’s role as the beloved Sam in this adaptation was the first leading role she filmed after finishing the final Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and for the actress, the decision was rather easy. “It’s so beautifully written, and so funny. I was incredibly moved by it,” Watson gushed. “I instantly knew that A: the movie had to be made, and B: I had to play Sam … I was really drawn to her. Then, when I met with Stephen, we instantly clicked. I felt like I was meeting an old friend. Then I met with Logan [Lerman], and he was the perfect Charlie,” she added.
Of course, Watson, having been raised in England, wasn’t aware of the deep impact the 1999 novel had on U.S. youngsters. “I came back to Brown and told my roommates, ‘I just read this amazing script. The Perks of Being a Wallflower.’ And my friend goes, ‘[Gasp] That’s my favorite book! I’m so jealous that you get to play! If I was ever going to play any character in a movie it would be Sam!’” explained the 22-year-old. But she’s no stranger to adaptations of beloved books: “I didn’t realize that, similarly to Harry Potter, the books really have this kind of cult following … It’s kind of amazing to be part of another movie project again that has so much love for it the way that Harry Potter does.”
And a big part of being a part of the Perks project for Watson was learning how to speak with an American accent — a first for the spritely actress. “I was nervous about the American accent,” she admitted. She had to play some catch up on set, but luckily, she was blessed with co-stars that have made it through the phenomenon that is the American high school experience and they were happy to assist, “If I ever need to check anything, I just go, ‘Say this!’ And they’ll say it, and I’m like, ‘Okay, thanks!’” Watson giggled.
The actress also had her college roommates to help her from the moment she started on the script. “They went to American high school, they know what prom looks like – all these little details that I had no idea about. So I was a little neurotic. My script was covered in notes about all these American words, all this American slang. I was quizzing my friends about high school prom. And Steve was just like, ‘Emma, this is great and everything, but you just really need to let all of that go.’” Apparently, Chbosky had been hopeful Watson would play Sam for a long time before production began — he even had pictures of Watson as part of his pre-production notes. “He said that he saw me as Sam, and it was as simple as that. I don’t know what it was that he saw in me that made him so think that it was me,” she said humbly.
Clearly, Chbosky was onto something. Watson’s co-stars were quick to praise her every move, Ezra Miller calling her “one of the most severely mind-blowing forces of my peer group in acting right now” when we spoke to him on the set. And perhaps that’s because Watson is so fearless in her performances… literally. An iconic moment in the book comes when Sam stands up in a truck while driving through a tunnel; it’s a moment that epitomizes the film’s tagline, “We are infinite.” So yes, it’s a pretty important scene.
But it’s also a pretty dangerous stunt — something the studio was afraid to let Watson risk. She, however, was insistent on doing it, and if her emotional reaction is any clue, it’s going to be an amazing shot. “Hands down, one of the best moments of my life,” said Watson. “The first time I did it, I was so emotional, I cried … it’s going to blow your mind. I don’t want to build it up too much, but it’s stunning. Steve [Chbosky] knew when he conceptualized it that it would be amazing, but I think it exceeded his expectations.”
But if you ask Watson, a great deal of the film’s magic comes from her two main co-stars, Lerman and Miller, and Chbosky’s “pure” vision. “There are a bunch of scenes that are just Ezra, Logan and I. We ended up ad-libbing a lot and riffing off one another,” Watson said. But the bond really showed when Patrick (Miller) and Sam dance together at the homecoming dance at the end of the film. “We came back for rehearsal, and suddenly we just clicked. We could do it. And I trust Ezra with my life, and vice versa. We got really close. We really created the dance together. They were our moves,” she said.
Chbosky’s directing techniques were also fostered a sense of genuine friendship and emotion. “Obviously he wants to be true to the spirit of the book, but he understands that it’s a movie, it’s different; he’s creating something new with different actors,” she said. “It would have been a pitfall I think if he tried to really lock everyone in. He’s loved what Ezra and I have come up with together. That was the first thing I felt when I met him. I really feel like he gets me.” And it seems that the director really did understand one of his star pupils actors. Watson dished on a few directing tactics Chbosky used, including one scene in which he filled a previously empty prop letter with a real, heartfelt note for the actress, in order to get a truly unique reaction for the young actress' close-up shot.
The final piece of Watson’s character puzzle is the wardrobe. The fantastic, meticulous, ‘90s-tastic wardrobe. “The cool thing about Sam is that she walks that line in between being a little bit rocky, but she’s also kind of preppy, and she’s also kind of humorous with her style. She kind of does a little bit of everything. She’s quite eclectic,” explained Watson. She even included some of her own duds, including one of her grandmother’s dresses, but fear not, her contributions didn’t jeopardize the film’s realistic depiction of the time period. After all, Watson is a perfectionist when it comes to her characters. “I’m a little bit OCD in that I like to know [everything about the character]. I realized this with Hermione. I was such a big fan of the books. I knew everything. I’m like a Harry Potter dictionary,” Watson added.
And while the relationships she made on set in Pittsburgh can’t compare with the formative years she spent making Harry Potter movies with Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, she says her Perks experience means a great deal to her. “[Stephen] said that at the beginning: ‘I want you to have the summer of your lives.’ And I absolutely did,” she smiled.
You can see Watson’s inspired performance and charming smile in The Perks of Being a Wallflower when it opens in limited release Sept. 21.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of Summit]