With only a few school plays to his credit, Rupert Grint infamously won the role of Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter film series with an audition tape featuring a rap that extolled his suitability and desire for the part. Grint filmed a role in kid's movie Thunderpants thereafter, but the new Driving Lessons offers him a chance to step into more adult roles. I spoke with Grint during his stop at San Francisco's Ritz Carlton.
Groucho: Do you remember first catching the acting bug, as they say?
Rupert Grint: Yeah, I always sort of—I'd done a few school plays, at school. And I'd always sort of been involved in the drama there. But yes, I've always had sort of an interest in it.
G: You don't know what drew you to it?
RG: I don't know. Not really. I mean, no one in my family ever really—my dad was once on the shopping channel, QVC, selling stuff. (Laughs.) Yeah, right.
G: In your own school plays, I take it you played a more interesting role than the eucalyptus tree.
RG: (Chuckles.) Yeah, definitely, yeah. It was really good to get into something different—even from Ron, really. It was a lot more, sort of—harder, I suppose. 'Cause Ron's mainly just—just looks scared all the time, and this was something really—some really good, different things to go through.
G: How would you describe the character of Ben?
RG: He's quite sheltered. I mean, he's from a religious family, and he's got no friends. He's a bit of a loner. He goes through quite a journey through the thing. And he sort of comes out of his shells, as it goes on. As he meets Julie Walters, her character, he sort of changes slightly, sort of becomes more independent and grows up a bit.
G: How is it that the Julie Walters character draws him out, do you think? What is he responding to there?
RG: I think—I dunno. I mean, I suppose the first time they met, he's like—she's someone he's never sort of—the sort of character he's never seen before: she swears, she drinks, she steals things. And she's just—just I dunno. They just somehow really get on, have this strange friendship. Yeah. Yeah.
G: What's the status on your own driving? I understand that you passed your test.
RG: Yeah—last week.
G: It took you a while to do that, though, right?
RG: (Laughs.) Yeah—it was my second test. And I'd been learning for too long. It was like—oh, I don't know how many lessons I had. Just too many—I'll enjoy driving—it's good.
G: And it's not a publicity stunt to delay your driving?
RG: (Laughs.) No, yeah.
G: It would suit the film, wouldn't it?
RG: Yeah, definitely, yeah.
G: How is driving changing your life? I guess you haven't had much of a chance to figure that out yet, huh?
RG: Sure, well, yeah, 'cause I only just passed. But yeah, I mean it is completely sort of freedom now. You can sort of go where you want. I've got a car, as well. I've got a little Mini—Mini Cooper, so, yeah.
G: I heard that you nearly wiped out the crew at one point with the car in the film.
RG: Oh, yeah. We were doing this scene. And I didn't really get to do too much driving on it. But I mean, I did a few sort of private roads. And we were doing this scene where I had to drive down this sort of hill, park it up, and get out of the car and do something. And this hill—there's the crew about sort of five foot away from where I'm supposed to be stopping. And, yeah, I drive up there and get out of the car, and suddenly the car starts to roll. Roll towards the crew. And I had to dive in there and pull the handbrake. It was quite close, actually.
G: How did you prepare to play this role? I know it was in part based on Jeremy Brock's own life. Did you ply him for more details about his own experience?
RG: Uh, yeah, we had a few—the whole cast had a few rehearsals where we did read-throughs. And I went to Jeremy's house, as well, and we did a few sort of like sessions with him. And he used to talk about stuff, and show me pictures of his—when he was a kid. No, it was really useful, that. And then on the set, as well, he was really good for like—really clear at giving advice on that. Because he wrote it as well. And he sort of, um—it was sort of his story. So he was really good at sort of giving advice on that.
G: One of the themes of the film is how Ben's faith affects his development, really. How did you see that: in what ways does it help him? In what was does it hinder him?
RG: Yeah, erm. I'm trying to think—it does sort of keep him in this shell, really. And his mum doesn't let him do anything. She's really sort of overprotective and quite scary. (Laughs.) Yes, I suppose it doesn't really help him much, really. Yeah.
G: Do you have a strategy for embarking on a career as an adult actor?
RG: Uh, not really. I mean, I'm just—I want to do the next two Harry Potter films. And just see what goes from there, really. And maybe do some other stuff like this, in between, because it was a really good experience.
G: It's probably hard to imagine life after Harry Potter, I guess.
RG: I know, it's going to be weird when it all ends, 'cause it has been a big part of my life, really.
G: When you travel around for films and do press like this, do you get to do touristy stuff?
RG: Yeah, a little bit. But I usually don't get much time. I mean, this—I've never been here before, and I got here last night. And we're leaving later today, for Dallas or something. So, yeah, it's a shame we don't get much more time.
G: I understand you didn't get on in school. Why is that, do you think?
FG: I dunno! It was—I mean, I liked the sort of social side of it, and my mates, and that. But, um, it was just the learning thing; it was just—I just didn't find a subject I could really—except for art. I really got on there, but—. And if I could do anything—'cause I can always go back. I mean, I did my final exams, and left when I was sixteen. I can always go back and do a course in something, but I can't really see it. I mean, 'cause—I dunno, it just didn't really, didn't really—
G: And you're pretty determined to keep at the film, right?
RG: Definitely, yeah, I mean, I really enjoy it. It is good fun. Yeah, it's good.
G: Do you have aspirations to branch out into ever writing or directing?
RG: Erm, I haven't thought about it, really. It's always sort of an option, I suppose, in the future, but I can't really see it. (Chuckles.) Right at the moment.
G: I know you can't talk about specifics, but could you describe what your latest director, David Yates, is bringing to the series?
RG: Yeah, he's really different, actually, to the other ones. He's much more sort of laid-back, and much more calm—than the other ones we've had. I think, he's really good at sort of giving us—he's given us a lot more freedom this time around. And sort of lets us do a bit of our own thing—which is quite good. No, it's really good, actually. We've got a new writer, as well [Ed. Michael Goldenberg], who gives it sort of a different feel. So, no, it's going to be interesting, this one.
G: I'm very curious what the culture is like on a Harry Potter set. I know it might change based on the director. Do the actors set the mood? Does it chnage with each director?
RG: Yeah, it's quite amazing how each director brings their own atmosphere to the set. Mike Newell was quite funny, because he's crazy. He did the fourth one, and he didn't care what he said; he was really—would swear at us if we got it wrong, sort of shout at us. He was really funny. And obviously Chris Columbus was great for the first two, and Alfonso's crazy—we've had some really good ones, actually. Yeah, so it was good.
G: When the cameras aren't rolling, do you have much time to hang out with the other actors, or do you find yourself retreating to your trailer? What's that like?
RG: Yeah, well, I've got, um—yeah, but, um...now I've finished school, I've got much more time off-set. And I've got a really good dressing room up there. I've got table tennis, pool, and TV and—yes, they know where I am, in my room, so it's good.
G: What's the greatest length you've gone to to avoid being recognized in public?
RG: (Chuckles.) I dunno, it's um—it's quite hard, really, having so much hair, in this color. It sort of does stand out. So it's quite hard to—no, I mean, I try caps and that. I mean, they're always really nice. And it never gets crazy, so. It's never really been sort of too much of a problem.
G: The film is about lessons, and you learn your lessons from Julie Walters, who plays your mother in the Harry Potter films. What sort of acting lessons have you learned from working with folks like Julie Walters or Robbie Coltrane or the great British actors you've worked with?
RG: Yeah, yeah. I don't know really. I mean, you don't really—they don't teach you anything particularly. It's just really good just to sort of work with them, really. It's pretty amazing, the sort of people who worked on the Harry Potter films. Erm. But no, it's just really good to work with them. Working with Julie again is wicked 'cause she's so funny. She's really cool.
G: Do you ever observe methods that they're using, or do you work with an acting coach? What's your kind of acting method?
RG: I dunno, really. I suppose you do in a way, yeah. You're always sort of watching what they're doing, and that. No, it's quite interesting. No, but in the early ones, we had, like, a voice coach, on One and Two and Three. Yeah, so that sort of helped us a little bit then...
G: And do you plan to ever trod the boards again?
RG: Erm, I dunno. I mean, I only ever experienced it on a really small scale, so it'd be a whole different experience, I think, on a big sort of stage. But I dunno. Yeah, I mean, definitely—it is quite a sort of a thrill about doing it; it does give you quite a buzz. But, yeah, maybe that's something in the future. I know Dan [Radcliffe] is just about to do a big play in London, yeah.
G: Alright, well, thank you very much.
RG: Cool, yeah.