Cast as Ginny Weasley at a tender age, Bonnie Wright has become a star of the big screen – in the later films she has an important part to play as Harry Potter’s love interest. This beautiful flame-haired femme has also recently caused a stir in fashion circles, posing for a dark and dramatic cover of Haute Muse magazine. As cinema-goers rush to the box office to catch the concluding part of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, we thought the time was ripe to revisit our interview with Bonnie from 2002, when she was but 11 years old…
Bonnie Wright is very, very charming. And she’s also extremely polite. So polite, in fact, that when she first heard that she’d landed the part of Ginny Weasley (Ron Weasley’s little sister) in the first Harry Potter film – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – she said that she was completely lost for words. The only thing she could think of saying was a simple: “Thank you.” Bonnie is also completely unstarry. It would be very difficult to imagine her having a Hollywood-style strop or shouting at the make-up person. Although when I ask her how she gets to Leavesden Studios near Watford, she says: “The driver comes to take us there,” in quite a matter of fact way.
But Bonnie Wright is about to become a real movie star. She doesn’t even know exactly how much she’ll be on screen in the billion dollar sequel – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She’ll have to wait until the premiere for that. She is a little excited about the premiere, you can tell, particularly as this time round she won’t be able to walk up the red carpet unnoticed. She’s already given a bit of thought to her outfit: “Some sort of really nice mad dress kind of thing,” she says, making down to the floor swishy movements with her hands, and she might even borrow some jewellery from her mother, designer Sheila Teague of Wright & Teague.
We meet in a cafe in London where Bonnie is accompanied by Sheila and the film’s publicist. She’s just completed her first week at her new secondary school, where she was given homework on her first day, and now she has to carry a very heavy Gap backpack bulging with books. She’s wearing a pink T-shirt and jeans and her hair is in a ponytail. Her hair is a perfect Ginny Weasley auburn and it’s grown quite a bit since the first film, when it was rather unbecomingly drawn back off her forehead with a kirby grip.
I ask her about the clothes she wears as Ginny Weasley. In the first film, she was supposed to be dressed in hand-me-downs, as Mr and Mrs Weasley, played by Julie Walters and Mark Williams, have seven children so it’s always a struggle finding the money for robes and wands. Bonnie is only on screen for a few minutes, when she waves good-bye to her brother Ron on platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross, and proffers a wistful “Good Luck” to Harry. She was wearing a flowery skirt bought from a second hand shop and a rather frumpy cardie. “It wasn’t really me,” she admits. “But that was more a little girl look. In the next film I wear robes like Hermione does.”
Emma Watson plays Hermione and, until now, Hermione has been the main girl in the Harry Potter story. But Ginny Weasley is about to start at Hogwarts and her part in the sequel is quite central. She has a serious crush on Harry Potter before developing a new fixation: a mystery diary which turns out to have sinister consequences. Her on-screen brother Ron was a surprise hit in The Philosopher’s Stone and I wonder whether Ginny could be just as, if not more, popular in the Chamber of Secrets? I mean, what does she think it will feel like to be stopped in the street and asked for her autograph? “Quite freaky really!” she says candidly, then laughs a bit nervously. “But I suppose that’s part of it,” she says, in quite a grown-up way.
Not having had any formal training in acting – director Chris Columbus has made a point of only casting non-actor children – I ask Bonnie how she got the part in the first place? “My brother (Lewis, 15) had read all the Harry Potter books. I remember saying to him: ‘It would be cool to go for an audition for something, wouldn’t it?’ and he said ‘D’you know, I think you’re a lot like Ginny Weasley.’ He said he’d heard that they were doing auditions. I was like: ‘Really?’ and then somehow it clicked in my brain that I really wanted to do it and I kept asking my mum: ‘Can I do it please?’ and then she found out about it and I went to do the audition.”
Bonnie’s audition was “quite straightforward. It wasn’t hard but it wasn’t easy. They hadn’t written Ginny’s lines, even though I had only two words. They’d only written Hermione’s so I just did a bit of her lines.” As for how she gets into the part, she says: “It kind of comes on the day. Although sometimes you just can’t get what you’re needing to get.” One of things she needs to ‘get’ in this film is crying. Does she manage it? “Not for real. I am supposed to, but I don’t actually cry on my own.” If you can’t get the tears going, she says, you have to rely on make-up. She also has a scene in which she looks as if she is dead, with a marble white face. Was that difficult?
“I just imagined I was asleep completely. I had no life in me, basically. After a few scenes they let me get up and walk around because I started to get pins and needles.” She is keen to reassure me that when she looks really ill, it was a deliberately ill look. “They don’t give me really bad food to look like that, it was make-up!” Which brings us to the subject of food on the set: “Like school dinner kind of style but much nicer,” says Bonnie. “You know, curry. And cake.” Whereas filming for The Philosopher’s Stone only involved working on three Sundays, the Chamber of Secrets has been a more arduous 60 days in the studio, with either her mum or dad as chaperone.
Living in London, Bonnie comes home to Muggle land every night and also gets to see her school friends at the weekend. “It’s good to get back to your own bed,” she says, with the weariness of a seasoned globetrotter. Some of the other children who don’t live in London have to stay in a hotel. “It’s an exciting experience as a family,” says Sheila, who seems far more starry-eyed about having a chance to chat to the likes of Alan Rickman and Kenneth Branagh.
Sheila also went with Bonnie to Thailand last year for seven weeks during the filming of Stranded, a television adaptation of the Swiss Family Robinson in which Bonnie plays Sarah Robinson. This part came through her agent and she says it really helped build her confidence for the Chamber of Secrets. I suggest that Thailand as a location is slightly more glam than Watford.
“Yes,” she agrees. “But it did get pretty hot sometimes so it was hard to work in.” The Chamber of Secrets set is truly magical and fun and really scary, she says. On the set she has a minimum of 3 hours and maximum of 5 hours lessons in all subjects, with a tutor, in small classes with the other children.
Emma Watson is the person she gets on best with and her own best friend from school came on the set one day to visit. There is one slightly sensitive question I’m dying to ask. I take a swig of hot chocolate, and go for it. Does she fancy Daniel Radcliffe? “Mm,” she thinks. “I like him as a friend, but not that kind of thing.” What kind of thing? I wonder, but take another swig of hot chocolate and move swiftly on.
And Rupert Grint, the actor who plays her brother Ron? “As friends, we all get along,” she says. What about in real life, has she got a boyfriend? “No, just friends. Friends who are boys.” As you can see, she really is very charming. It’s not that she’s blasé or cool about making films, it’s just that she’s unspoiled and totally natural. One thing that reveals that deep down, it must be hellishly exciting to be a movie star, is that she’s still wearing a wristband, like the kind you wear in hospital, next to her Baby G watch. It has ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Wrap Party’ on it. As in “It’s a wrap?” I ask, feeling less than comfortable with the movie jargon. Yes, she says. And when was the Wrap Party? I ask. Last Friday, she says. Oh, a week ago. But she’s still wearing it and someone at her school asked her what it was, so of course she then had to explain that she was in the film that’s coming out this month, and yes, she is going to the premiere and no, she hasn’t met J. K. Rowling – yet.
The money she is earning is being squirrelled away for her, although she was allowed to get at some of it, and bought herself a mobile phone. When it comes to on-screen role models, she is clear: “I like Nicole Kidman’s work in Moulin Rouge, and in terms of good roles for young women, she reckons that the character of Violet Baudelaire in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket could be good for her by the time she reaches the age of 15.
She admits that she has always been a bit of a tomboy. She loves playing football, supports England and Leeds “my dad is from Leeds” and in her new school, where they get Friday afternoons “to chill out”, she is the only girl who has chosen football out of a number of activities including sailing, cookery and rounders. She also likes horse riding and can play the piano and the recorder.
We finally say good-bye. Her mother is keen to get Bonnie home to give her something to eat, she has only had a muffin in the cafe, which after an afternoon playing football probably isn’t very substantial. As we get up to leave, Bonnie struggles with her heavy bag of books and ends up looking like an upright tortoise, but she doesn’t complain. And I wonder whether in a year from now, we would be interrupted by people asking if she really is Ginny Weasley. She’s already had some fan mail as it is, which comes to her via the studio. She says that some people believe that the characters are real and send letters addressed to: ‘Harry Potter, cupboard under the stairs’.
Perhaps when Bonnie Wright is a well known star, she’ll have someone to carry her heavy bag for her.
And if and when she does get to the starry, Personal Bag Carrier stage, I am totally and utterly confident that she’ll never, ever forget to say ‘Thank you’.
(This previously appeared in print in Junior Magazine)