The Man Who Grew Up On Sets: Rupert Grint
There are people in this world who are special, who have an air about them – an A-list aura – that marks them out as different from the rest of us. Call it “star power” if you will, but when they walk into a room, with their chiselled features, perfectly coiffed hair and immaculate styling, everyone immediately knows they’re in the presence of greatness. Rupert Grint is not one of these people. Surrounded, as he is today in a central London studio, by an army of set-builders, stylists, make-up artists, photographers, publicists and several others with unidentifiable but seemingly very important roles, the only person in the room to have had his face printed on a lunch box actually looks like the most, well, normal one here.
In the year 2000, an 11-year-old boy from Stevenage sat down to watch a Newsround report about an open casting for the film version of his favourite book, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone. With a handful of school shows under his belt – including a dazzling cameo as a donkey in a nativity play – the young Grint sent an audition tape to the film’s producers, in which he rapped the reasons he should be considered for the part of Harry’s ginger sidekick Ron Weasley.
The rest, as you know, is highly lucrative, record-breaking history. In the decade that followed, Grint, and his trademark mop of red hair would become one of the most recognisable figures on Earth, starring in the eight Harry Potter movies, the highest-grossing film franchise of all time – bigger than Star Wars, bigger than Batman, bigger even than Bond. Something that the bright-eyed 11-year-old from small-town Hertfordshire couldn’t ever have dreamt of.
In Year 8, while you were faking the flu to try to get out of PE, Rupert Grint was riding a broomstick and getting shouted at by Alan Rickman. By Year 10, as you tried to hide your boner during a game of spin the bottle, Grint was waving his wand at dementors and shooting the shit with Gary Oldman.
“My life completely changed,” he recalls. “I went back to school in Year 9 to do some exams, and I hadn’t really been there for two years. I couldn’t relate to any of my friends any more, because I had such a different life. I felt like an alien.” Even the most basic of hair gel-induced alterations that everyone makes in their teens was off-limits to Grint until he was well into his 20s. “I could never change,” he says. “I could never have a haircut or control stupid stuff like that.”
“It’s not something that’s swayed me. I have quite a strong fear of death, so that’s always kept me away from it,” says Grint, in the friendly, familiar tone he retains throughout our conversation. “And we were quite contained, in our own little bubble. I mean, we filmed Harry Potter in Watford. It’s not exactly Hollywood.”
Regardless of where the films were made, they grossed almost $8 billion dollars in box-office takings alone, and countless millions more in DVD sales and merchandising. The series may be called Harry Potter, but alongside co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, Rupert Grint’s face is plastered on posters, duvet covers and pencil cases. Grint may rarely have got the heroic, scene-stealing lines, but he’s still had to deal with the same all-intrusive fame.
Grint still remembers the first time he was spotted in public when he was out with his family in North London’s Brent Cross shopping centre after the first Potter film came out. Since that day, Grint has turned heads everywhere he goes. “You can’t just be yourself – you’re always on show,” he says. “It puts me on edge. I do hide away from it and wear hoods and masks. I wore a mask at the V Festival two years ago, and it was invigorating – I felt free. But it was a latex duck mask and it was really hot, so I couldn’t keep it on for long.”
Despite the occasional rough patch, and self-confessed mid-franchise fatigue, Grint learned to love acting. So when faced with the finale of Potter, and the trauma of having the only constant thing in his life whipped out from under his feet at the end of a decade of filming, he was finally faced with a choice: sit and roll around in mountains of bank notes, or try to shake the associations with that ginger wizard and make it as a serious actor. The only catch: now, instead of starring in a film with a guaranteed global audience of millions, he’d have to start every project from scratch. More than a little daunting, surely?
“Harry Potter is a very unique thing and I’m probably never going to replicate or experience that again,” acknowledges Grint. “In a way, it’s quite nice, because there’s not the same kind of pressure – you don’t expect it to do as well, so it’s quite a free experience.”
Life After Potter
The upcoming project that Grint hopes will go some way towards expanding his thespian horizons is a new West End run of the gangster-plotted black comedy Mojo. It will be Grint’s first appearance on stage since playing the lead role in Rumpelstiltskin, aged 10.
“I think I need to do it,” he admits. “It’s real acting, and there’s something quite thrilling about only having one shot, not loads of takes. That excites me.” His upcoming cinema role in CBGB – in which he plays a foul-mouthed anarchist rocker with a penchant for flashing his pasty arse – is no less of a departure from the sorting hats and golden snitches of Hogwarts.
Grint went back to his parents’ place in Hertfordshire – or the massive mansion he’d bought for them anyway. In his spare time, he makes artwork and designs T-shirts. But whereas some famous types would exploit their “brands” to sell sub-par wares to fans who’d buy their used tissues if it came from a reputable source, Grint, under a false name, submits his designs to legendary tee website threadless.com. “It’s really hard to get something on there, and it would be the ultimate achievement to get one made,” he admits.
Though as hard as interviewers, critics and fans may try, we’ll never truly be able to understand Rupert Grint. There are only two people who can really know what it’s like to walk in his world-famous shoes: the young actors he spent all day every day with on set for a whole decade. “Someone once said the three of us were like astronauts,” says Grint. “We’ll always have that connection, and that’s important.”
One of the major things Grint, Radcliffe and Watson have in common is cash and plenty of it. Growing up as one of five siblings, Grint didn’t come from money, yet for as long as he can remember, thanks to a certain boy wizard, he’s had more of it than he knows what to do with. “I’ve got a weird relationship with money; it embarrasses me a little bit,” he says.
You might expect Grint to be living the high life, wearing designer labels and travelling by helicopter. In fact, he arrived at today’s shoot in black jeans and a baggy white T-shirt and was driven here by Jim, the same man who has been driving him around since the very first Harry Potter film.
That’s not to say he’s keeping all his cash in some gigantic Harry Potter-headed piggy bank. He’s just spent it on slightly more, let’s say, unusual things. When he passed his driving test, he bought an ice-cream van – complete with Mr Whippy machine and jolly jingle. To get to V Festival a few years back, he bought a second-hand VW Camper Van. Other purchases have included an indoor ice-rink at his family home and a fully functional hovercraft. And his latest project? “I’m trying to put a slide on the side of my flat – it’s got a roof garden and the slide will go down to the floor below,” he says.
He may be unimaginably famous, a hell of a lot wealthier than you, and own some pretty weird shit, but Rupert Grint is about as nice and normal a young man as you’re likely to meet. He may not have the aura of a Hollywood star, but that seems to suit him just fine. This is a man who didn’t go out looking for fame, but had it thrust upon him as a young lad; a man who now continues to act because he relishes the challenge, and because he’s actually pretty darn good at it. And he does it all with a smile on his face, and an easy, laidback spirit. In his own words, “I came into this on a bit of a fluke. I’m just enjoying the ride.”