Emma Watson has drawn a line in the sand.
Famous for more than half her life, the 26-year-old actress covers Vanity Fair's March 2017 issue. In the magazine's profile, Watson tells Derek Blasberg how she came into her own after the Harry Potter films ended six years ago—and explains why she's no longer afraid to say "no."
"I've been doing this since I was 10 or 11, and I've often thought, 'I'm so wrong for this job because I'm too serious; I'm a pain in the ass; I'm difficult; I don't fit,'" says Watson, who was appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in the summer of 2014. "But as I've got older, I've realized, 'No! Taking on those battles, the smaller ones and the bigger ones, is who I am.'"
As the Harry Potter series was winding down, Watson began to think about what really mattered—and what she wanted to do next. "I'd walk down the red carpet and go into the bathroom. I had on so much makeup and these big, fluffy, full-on dresses. I'd put my hands on the sink and look at myself in the mirror and say, 'Who is this?'" the actress recalls. "I didn't connect with the person who was looking back at me, and that was a very unsettling feeling."
When she enrolled at Brown University in 2009, Watson considered quitting acting altogether. "I was finding this fame thing was getting to a point of no return. I sensed if this was something I was ever going to step away from it was now or never," she recalls. By the time she reached adulthood, she tells her friend, "It dawned on me that this is what you're really signing up for."
It's part of the reason Watson no longer takes selfies with fans (outside of premieres and red carpet events).
"For me, it's the difference between being able to have a life and not. If someone takes a photograph of me and posts it, within two seconds they've created a marker of exactly where I am within 10 meters. They can see what I'm wearing and who I'm with. I just can't give that tracking data," Watson explains. Instead, she'll often offer her time. "I'll say, 'I will sit here and answer every single Harry Potter fandom question you have but I just can't do a picture.' I have to carefully pick and choose my moment to interact. When am I a celebrity sighting versus when am I going to make someone's freakin' week? Children I don't say no to, for example."
Who can blame Watson, given her past experiences with stalkers?
"I have met fans that have my face tattooed on their body. I've met people who used the Harry Potter books to get through cancer," she says. "I don't know how to explain it, but the Harry Potter phenomenon steps into a different zone. It crosses into obsession. A big part of me coming to terms with it was accepting that this is not your average circumstances. People will say to me, 'Have you spoken to Jodie Foster or Natalie Portman? They would have great advice for you on how to grow up in the limelight.' I'm not saying it was in any way easy on them, but with social media it's a whole new world. They've both said technology has changed the game."
Watson loves acting, but she doesn't always love fame. And she really doesn't love talking about her personal life. "I want to be consistent: I can't talk about my boyfriend in an interview and then expect people not to take paparazzi pictures of me walking around outside my home. You can't have it both ways." She sits back and wonders if she should finish this thought, and eventually she does: "I've noticed, in Hollywood, who you're dating gets tied up into your film promotion and becomes part of the performance and the circus," the actress tells Vanity Fair. "I would hate anyone that I were with to feel like they were in any way part of a show or an act."
For some stars, sharing intimate details about their private lives is no big deal. But for Watson, it is—and she's at a place in her life where she won't allow others to compromise her integrity.
That newfound attitude has affected her job choices, too. "There have been hard moments in my career when I've had an agent or a movie producer say, 'You are making a big mistake.' But what's the point of achieving great success if you feel like you're losing your freakin' mind? I've had to say, 'Guys, I need to go back to school,' or 'I just need to go home and hang out with my cats,'" says Watson, who turned down the lead role in Damian Chazelle's La La Land. "People have looked at me and been like, 'Is she insane?' But, actually, it's the opposite of insane."
And sometimes waiting pays off. When Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures decided to make a live-action adaptation of its 1991 animated musical Beauty and the Beast, for example, Watson was at the top of director Bill Condon's casting list. Belle is "absolutely a Disney princess, but she's not a passive character—she's in charge of her own destiny," she tells Vanity Fair. "When I finished the film, it kind of felt like I had made that transition into being a woman onscreen."