Since her cinematic debut as a fresh-faced 11-year-old destined for magical stardom, the world has watched Emma Watson blossom as both an actor and an activist. She’s a vocal advocate of equal rights and an integral part of Hollywood’s humanitarian clique. Now she has taken on the fierce lead role in hard-hitting historical thriller ‘Colonia’ [‘The Colony’], a movie that appears custom-made for her. She talks films and feminism with Connie Nuttall.
Colonia, directed by Florian Gallenberger and airing in cinemas from this weekend, is set during Chile’s brutal 1973 military coup. Watson plays air-hostess Lena – “an everyday woman,” Watson calls her – who bravely risks her life in order to save her activist boyfriend, Daniel, played by Daniel Brühl. Abducted by the secret police, he has been taken to Colonia Dignidad, an isolated commune located deep in the Andean foothills of Chile’s central valley. Founded in 1961 by corrupt preacher Paul Schäfer, Colonia’s inhabitants were segregated, tortured and forbidden to leave.
Based mostly on true events, the film represents Watson’s most hard-hitting role to date. “It really challenged me,” she begins. “It really pushed me to the brink, this role. I got sent the script… and I immediately went, ‘Oh my God, I’m not sure!’ It was really, really, really heavy and really awful subject matter, but the script was such a page-turner and so well written and I’m really a big fan of Daniel Brühl. It felt like the right thing to do.”
The historical thriller, with its investigation of the atrocities that occurred in Schäfer’s Colonia Dignidad, seems a perfect fit for an actress who has recently emerged as one of Hollywood’s leading humanitarians.
In 2014, Watson was appointed as the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, becoming a passionate advocate of their HeForShe campaign for gender equality. She also interviewed the Nobel prize-winning women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai, made it into Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People of 2015’, and has recently set up a feminist book club in connection with her UN position, called Our Shared Shelf. She is trying to spread awareness about modern feminism, and to challenge its aggressive image.
“I am hoping it can be reimagined and redefined,” she explains diligently. “Feminism is not here to dictate to you. It’s not prescriptive, it’s not dogmatic”.
The conscientious actress hasn’t always enjoyed the fame that came with her role in the Harry Potter movies, but she has come to view it as a tool through which to help people in tandem with her charitable roles.
“Fame is not something I have always felt comfortable with, I have really grappled with it emotionally,” she confesses. “In a funny way, doing this is my way of making sense of the fame, of using it. I have found a way to channel it towards something else, which makes it so much more manageable for me. This is something I really believe in.”
Unsurprisingly, Watson’s fashion choices are also influenced by her philanthropism. In 2009 she modelled for the fair trade fashion company People Tree, alongside her successful Burberry campaign.
Since then she has appeared as the face of Lancôme, and won the competitive British Style Award in 2014. For her red carpet appearances, Watson regularly takes part in the Green Carpet Challenge which uses red carpet glamour to raise awareness on issues surrounding sustainability, ethics and social welfare. Furthermore, the 26-year-old refuses to suffer for the typically revealing and uncomfortable Hollywood red carpet ‘image’ that many celebrities aspire to.
“When I was younger I remember being told ‘no pain, no gain’, but recently my willingness to wear something that makes me freezing cold or that I can’t walk in has changed”, she says defiantly. “I want to feel fabulous and comfortable and sexy and strong and beautiful. If it’s making you uncomfortable, don’t do it – it’s so sad if you need to go home just because you need to sit down! Moving forward, I’m prioritising just feeling awesome.”
Watson is a bright and independent role model, inspiring young women across the world to overcome gender inequality. With a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from the prestigious Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, America, and a year’s study at Worcester College, Oxford, behind her, it is clear that she is serious about cultivating other career paths. In fact, she has announced that she plans to take a year-long hiatus from acting after her roles in Colonia, Beauty and the Beast (in which she will play the feisty and adventurous Belle, whom she describes as “one of my first tastes of feminism”) and science fiction movie The Circle, to focus on her women’s rights work. “I want to be able to have an interesting life,” she enthuses. “I feel excited about being able to enjoy my work and also be able to engage in other areas and interests where I can have a positive impact. It’s a privilege to be in this position but I feel, in myself, I need to make the most of it.”