Emma Watson Talks The Bling Ring
By: Lynn Barker
Emma Watson, who just turned 23 in April, is proud of her “Harry Potter” heritage but is definitely moving on in challenging roles. She played a conflicted young student in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and, in the new Sophia Coppola-directed heist flick The Bling Ring, Emma portrays a real-life Los Angeles area teen who was so swept up with celebrities and their possessions that she helped mastermind break-ins and thefts targeting Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Rachel Bilson among others.
After the heists and partying, the star-struck crime teens posted their loot and parties on Facebook. Not the brightest decision but the idea of getting caught was pushed into the shadows by the excitement of the moment. We wanted to know how Emma researched the role and how she feels about celebrity obsession. Check it out.
Q: We heard that you watched Alexis Neiers, the real person your character of Nicki is based on, on a reality show called “Pretty Wild”. Did that help you prepare for the role?
- Emma: It was important to me that I said things that Alexis actually said but at the same time she was being fed lines because she was on a reality TV show. A lot of people are aware now that reality TV isn't really real (it’s scripted). These women (on “Pretty Wild”) are actresses themselves and they have scripts and storylines written for them. My character is technically based on a real person, but it's a person who was acting and reading lines on that show. So Nicki is like two levels of separation from reality. (Emma never met Alexis). It's fun to explore a different side of yourself through a character. It gave me permission to do loads of crazy stuff.
Q: How did Nicki's costumes inform your performance?
- Emma: The costumes, hair and makeup really helped me get into character. All of those things really put Nicki and her environment into perspective for me. Nicki isn't as interested in fashion as (the) Rebecca (character). She's much more interested in things being 'hot' or 'sexy.' The trashier and tighter the better. All of my usual fashion rules just went out the window. Nicki was all about visible panty lines, bras, cleavage, very short skirts, lots of high heels, big hoop earrings. A lot of bling, basically.
Q: What else did you do to create the Nicki character?
- Emma: I had a lot of work to do to try and get into character for Nicki. I also watched a lot of the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, I watched a lot of “The Hills”, and then really it was just trying to understand her psychology more than anything, because it would be very easy for Nicki to feel like a parody, not real, and somehow I had to understand and empathize with her. That was really my biggest challenge, second to getting the accent down, it's quite a specific dialect, so that took a bit of time. So just really thinking about what her parents might have been like, what she might have been brought up believing and also thinking about L.A. as an environment and how that would have impacted her.
Q: A lot of teens watch reality shows. How do you feel about the image given to teenagers about Hollywood from reality shows?
- Emma: I think where there’s a demand for a type of show or image, people will supply it. Reality TV is just another way of telling a story really, a different type of acting, certainly.
Q: Why didn't they wear masks or gloves when they were robbing the houses? Didn't they know about security cameras?
- Emma: It wasn't so much about the stealing. For them, it wasn't about the heist aspect, it was actually more about the fact that they wanted to pretend for two hours that they were Paris Hilton, or that they were living that kind of lifestyle for real. Sometimes they would just go to the house just to party, so I think in their heads it didn't have that feel of a heist to it in a way.
Q: What was it like working with female director Sophia Coppola?
- Emma: It was amazing. Sophia's someone who directs in a way that's very calm. If she were ever stressed I never knew. It was nice to work with someone who was very spontaneous as well, and I could work in a way that was more loose than I was really used to. I'm used to really having to stick to my lines, because people (Harry Potter fans) know them by heart pretty much, so it was lovely just to be able to adlib or improvise, she was very supportive like that. It was really special.
Q: The film seems to be a very perceptive comment on celebrity. Since you come from the U.K, do you think your country has become too celebrity-obsessed?
- Emma: I think certainly London is catching up with Hollywood. It's definitely on the rise. I think there are celebrities who create a brand and create a business, a whole life out of other people's interest in their lives, and there are celebrities who don't; who have a craft and a trade and I think as long as people understand the difference then it's okay. There's definitely a difference.
Q: Why is celebrity obsession so intense today overall among young people especially?
- Emma: I think technology is playing a really big part, in the sense that everything's moving so much quicker and we're becoming saturated by images. And what is really interesting about the still image is that you can caption it any way you like. And so these images really capture the imagination of young people and to an extent they embody whatever they project onto that image. So people really feel invested and connected to that person, world or story that the paparazzi shot is telling, and it very often has very little to do with the reality. It’s interesting. If you look through some of these (tabloid) magazines, they start to look like comic strips. It’s taken on another narrative in the culture.
Q: The Bling Ring used social media to post their exploits. How do you feel about that in general?
- Emma: I think it’s amazing how self-aware young people are becoming by constantly posting images on Facebook or Instagram or whatever else. It’s amazing. I think it’s a shame that some of that (period of) young naivety or being blissfully unaware (innocent) is being shortened. The time of being self-conscious is being sped up. Branding yourself.
Q: Does hearing stories like this about teens pulling heists make you a little ashamed of your generation?
- Emma: No. I think it was an extraordinary set of circumstances. Other than the fact it was set in L.A., speaking from my character’s perspective, Nicki is homeschooled, her sister’s her best friend. She has this very insular existence. I feel that she’s not really in touch with reality. There was a real dream-like feel to what they were doing. Nothing can really go wrong when it doesn’t feel real. There’s an extent to which it didn’t feel like it was really happening. They didn’t think it through.
Q: Do you think that there are more meaty parts for women than there used to be or less?
- Emma: Well, I’m young and from what I can see and from what little time I’ve spent in this industry, I see young women at the helm of many of the big franchises coming out, the new blockbusters and we’re also forging our way in comedy. Bridesmaids was the biggest comedy hit of last year and Lena Dunham is writing big comedy hits and Rebel Wilson is hosting MTV awards. From what I can see, it’s actually a great time to be a woman in this industry. I think we’re going great. There’s still a way to go. I’m not pretending that there is perfect equality throughout the industry but I think we’re moving in a really great direction. It seems really positive.
Q; Do you feel that you’ve finally left “Harry Potter” behind?
- Emma: It’s strange about “Harry Potter”. It feels like such a long time ago. So much has happened over the last three or four years but, obviously, it’s still very present in people’s minds. (The films) are still being played in people’s living rooms. I’m not trying to run away from it. I’m very proud of the work that I did but I’ve had such an amazing three or four years. I’m enjoying having the chance to transform into new roles and work with new creative people so I’m very lucky.
The Bling Ring is in some theaters the 14th and more on the 21st!
This film is Rated R for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references. We are covering The Bling Ring because of its young stars and relevant subject matter.