Wandergirl Emma

"OH MY God, I had absolutely no idea that the Harry Potter films would be anywhere near this big," Emma Watson says. "When people interviewed me at the time of the first film, I had some idea that it was quite big, but I had no idea that it was going ...

to be this big and be this famous and this popular, and for me to be this famous as well.

"It's been crazy," she says. "Crazy."

The Harry Potter craziness is about to crank into high gear yet again. The fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, will open on July 19. J.K. Rowling's seventh and supposedly final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will arrive in bookstores on July 21.

Watson is back in action in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, reprising her role as Hermione Granger, the bookish wizard-in-training and best pal of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint).

"Harry is in a very lonely and isolated place because everyone thinks he's a liar, which is what the newspapers and the press have been trying to brand him as," the 17-year-old Watson says. "So Hogwarts, which is meant to be this stable place for him and where all of his friends are, has kind of turned into something very different for him.

"Hermione is trying to break him out of it," she continues, "and she's really concerned about Harry. In the story she is the one who is the brains behind the D.A. (Dumbledore's Army), and she gets Harry involved with that. The film follows Harry's journey, the ongoing psychological battle between him and Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), and a big part of it is this rebellious army, the D.A."

Rowling's novel topped out at 870 pages, but the film runs only 138 minutes, the shortest running time yet for a Harry Potter adventure. Many memorable elements from the book, including a particularly Hermione-centric one, simply couldn't and ultimately didn't wind up on the screen.

"There was this absolutely great, this fantastic story line with Hermione and the house elves," Watson says. "In the book she starts S.P.E.W., which is this special organisation for the protection and welfare of the elves. It was really cool, but it didn't make it. The film has so much else going on in it already that it just would have been too much, but it's a shame that it didn't make it."

Rumours circulated last year that Watson, by her own choice, wouldn't make it to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. She will be back for both sequels, however, as was trumpeted in a release issued by Warner Bros. in late March.

So what happened? How close was Watson to laying down her wand?

"A lot of it was the tabloids," the young actress replies. "I mean, a huge portion of it was the tabloids. Pretty much I had every intention of doing them. It was more just that I needed to figure out how the schedule was going to work with all of my schoolwork. So we had to work out how the films were going to fit in with the last two years of my schooling - and it can get quite intense, to be honest.

"I also had to figure that out in my head," Watson says, "and I think it just got absolutely blown out of proportion. They needed a story and they just completely made up a lot of the facts, but that's what the tabloids do. So that's fine. It doesn't really bother me."

Watson will spend the next few weeks promoting Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and attending premieres of the film at home in London and around the world. In September she'll reunite with Radcliffe, Grint and returning director David Yates for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a film for which she sounds particularly keyed up.

"I think all of the stuff between Hermione and Ron will be really funny," Watson says, "and quite fun to play as well. So I'm quite looking forward to all of that. I'm very excited that David Yates will be back for that one. I feel like 'Order of the Phoenix' sets you up so well for 'Half-Blood Prince,' and it feels like there's unfinished business, that David Yates has more to give to the series."

Likewise Watson can't wait to get her hands on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Rowling has told no one, Watson included, the fates of any of the major characters. The actress sounds willing, however, to bet a vat of Polyjuice potion that Hermione will survive whatever Voldemort and the Death Eaters throw her way.

"I think she'll be alive," she says. "I think she'll be alive. Or I really hope so. It'll be a bit tragic if she does die. But I think she'll still be alive.

"If not, it'll be a great scene to play in the movie," Watson says, brightening. "I have never died on screen before. That'd be an interesting one to play."

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