When Harry Potter was named the boy who lived, the only wizard whom Voldemort’s spell could not break, few were then wondering whether there would be life at all for the whole cast of the franchise once the blood-splattered rivalry with death-eaters is over.
Today, the cast member that has grossed the biggest fortune outside the franchise is not the boy who lived but the girl, Emma Watson. UN speaker. Co-star with Tom Hanks. Even Belle from Disney. How can we explain Emma Watson’s transformation after Harry Potter? What do Americans and British see in her today and how is her image currently being constructed?
The main tool for research I have used is Google Trends, a search engine that allows researchers to evaluate the behavior of digital users. When are we most Googling about Emma Watson and why?
I — Mudblood Granger, Royal Blood Watson
Unwittingly, the first part of my research into Emma Watson ended up focusing on her regal allure. Typing on Google the search terms ‘emma watson and…’, I was proposed by the engine’s algorithm several co-actors such as Daniel Radcliff and Tom Hanks — but a more interesting guess was Prince Harry.
A brief search concluded that rumors had risen in 2015 around a potential romantic relationship between the Harry Potter alumni and the Duke of Sussex — gossip the CNN eventually played down after reporting on a decisive tweet by the actress on the issue.
A myriad of photo collages of the two public figures nevertheless surfaced online, a match that may not surprise Harry Potter fans in particular. If some of them were disappointed that the brilliant and beautiful Hermione Granger ended up with commoner Mr. Weasley instead of his wealthy and more famous counterpart Harry Potter, the Prince Harry rumors would have surely finally provided the bright witch with her prince in shining armor — who often ends up bewitched by the nerdy girl in the library anyway.
Further research into Watson’s relationship with the royal family has however revealed that digital users and the media alike may not necessarily find in Emma Watson a mere contender or extension to royal blood — there is something royal about her allure as well.
In 2018, Elle magazine released an article entitled “Meghan Markle and Emma Watson Twin at Wimbledon.” Google Images is also filled with collages of the two actresses, who seem to share more than their respective humanitarian work.
According to Google Trends, users googling ‘emma watson and meghan markle’ mostly originate from the US and the UK — Canadians, particularly, were less interested in the match, despite the One Young World summit in Ottawa that had first reunited and rewarded the two actresses-turned-activists in 2017.
This may be in part because of the change of narrative around the duo. Whereas the two may have been tipped to becoming an Angelina Jolie figure, the humane actress who can undoubtedly be imagined in some grimy African wilderness picture on a volunteering mission, both Markle and Watson may now be following the footsteps of a more sanitized humanitarianism; a Princess Diana figure, whom the world doesn’t mind seeing venture into a dangerous, landmine-filled world as long as they keep their elegant white gloves on.
It is also worth noting that the currency of this royal exchange seems to exclusively clock between pound and dollar — more Americans on average were interested in the search term ‘emma watson and prince harry’ than Canadians or Australians and though British users in general surpass Americans, which is understandable, the number of Americans googling about a double British match is nevertheless impressive.
The specific interest of America in Emma Watson’s regal image can be further argued with another search term that Google’s algorithm has suggested: ‘emma watson tattoo.’ Most of the links listed on Google for this search originate from the UK: BBC, Sky, Independent, even Elle’s UK website.
Transposed onto Google Trends, the interest in Emma Watson’s tattoo is very popular in several countries — all the big English speaking countries are in the top 10 states that have googled this term, with the top 5 including New Zealand (1st), Australia (3rd) and the UK (4th). Ireland was ranked 6th and Canada 8th — which leaves an unlikely country behind, the United States (10th).
The fact that Emma Watson’s tattoo is less interesting to Americans than the rest of the world is telling — especially since the tattoo itself came in the context of the Oscars and the Me Too movement.
It may not be Emma Watson’s activism and the meaning of the tattoo that turns off an American audience, for they have grandly welcomed this bold trait from the actress, but it may perhaps be the tattoo itself that bothers them; ink on skin that isn’t as easily washed off in America given its construction of Emma Watson’s image.
Elegant and royal, a book-smart ‘lady’ that snubbed the tattooed jock in Hogwarts because she followed her heart for a common but kind-hearted and un-tattooed Ron Weasley — this must be Emma Watson; a rebel, granted, with her short hair, but a classy ‘petite dame’ rebel at least, not a short-haired ‘Kristen Stewart’ rebel with a questionable sexuality.
II — British Enough, American Enough
The second half of my research focused on the constructed national identity of Emma Watson — an elusive label that can be argued on several fronts. The search ‘emma watson accent’ is fairly popular on Google, powered by appearances on MTV and David Letterman in which the British actress demonstrated how American her tongue can be. Two of her films ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and ‘Regression’ have seen her use that American accent.
According to Google Trends, the search ‘emma watson accent’ has been more Googled in America than the UK, Canada and Australia — combined. Reversely, the search ‘emma watson american accent’ was fairly popular in the latter three countries, especially in the United Kingdom.
The difference is interesting because whereas Americans could be charmed by Watson’s British accent or proud/judgmental about her American enunciations, the other English countries, especially the actress’s native one, are interested in her versatility. Emma Watson becomes this rare bird whose cooing is unrecognizable — her crossing the Atlantic may have made her too foreign for a British audience but equally foreign enough for an American one.
The allure of Emma Watson’s ephemeral identity is also boosted with the fact that she was born in France and lived her first five years there. Several interviews online see her speaking partially in French since 2010 — and an article in 2017 even mentions her desire to master French as part of her New Year’s resolution.
This fascination with Emma Watson’s Frenchness should nevertheless be nuanced. Indeed, the average of British users googling ‘emma watson french’ significantly surpasses the average of Americans doing the same. This difference is interesting because it may partially be rooted in the damage or recompense that this extra label holds to Watson’s constructed identity.
For Britons, Emma Watson’s Frenchness is certainly charming and this charm is as old as the history of French-British relations, especially when the Norman conquests made ‘speaking French’ an aristocratic prerequisite — again, an association with the royal.
The idea that Americans would snub this extra royal label that would have furthered an image of royalty that they have themselves exported about Emma Watson is interesting and perhaps is linked to a multiplicity of identities that a European country like the UK is more accustomed to.
For Americans who enjoy seeing Emma Watson as part of their ‘special relationship’ with the UK, a French dimension may indeed be confusing. Though notions of nobility are more rooted in French culture than British, which the Brits may be more aware of than Americans, it seems Americans have a more British understanding of nobility, one manifested not in foreign Versailles halls but in familiar Tudor courts and gowns, something British TV and film productions have already well packaged to an American audience.
For the latter, an Americanized Emma Watson reminding us for her ‘noble’ roots whenever she flips back to a British accent is perfect — a triad involving France and words we can’t pronounce is too complicated.
Finally, Emma Watson’s success as a transatlantic phenomenon in the eyes of an American audience is also rooted in her Americanized education. According to Google Trends, the search term ‘emma watson brown’ remained more consistently popular in the US than ‘emma watson oxford’ in the UK — despite the actress’ enrollment in both institutions. This may be in part due to Oxford’s stellar alumni, which the British media is accustomed to, but the American pride in having Emma Watson study at Brown can also be factored in.
Of course the idea that Emma Watson studies at all is fascinating to any Harry Potter fan, reminding them of the bright Hermione Granger. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm that several articles around Emma Watson’s Brown education — reporting on her enrollment, gossip from her classmates, and her graduation — betrays a clear intention to the celebration.
Indeed, it should be no surprise that Emma Watson would shortly after her graduation appear in The Circle, an enigma-solving kind of movie that sees her co-starring with Tom Hanks. One could argue that the 62-year old American actor is the perfect co-star precisely because he fills the role of Brown University, a veteran force that takes in a young British girl under its wing to solve something.
This idea of Emma Watson going through an American education both at Brown and under Hanks only solidifies the American image of this elegant and ambitious young woman who is ready to forego her roots — though noble they are — to attain the hard-working American ethic.
This is a mastery that even Harry Potter himself could not unlock with his wits of wizardry, perhaps because his excessive Britishness is hard to pair up with a serious Tom Hanks or since his allure falls short of regal status, which then can never spark any juicy rumors that Kate Middleton or any other royal extension is thinking of ditching their prince for him. Emma Watson, however, will surely feature in some gossip tabloid if she is ever spotted in the same gala dinner as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
In conclusion, Emma Watson has arguably undergone a magical transformation since Harry Potter. This change in her perception is aided by her role as Hermione Granger, with whom she shares the brain and the heart, but it is also boosted by her elusive appearance that cannot be boxed into a national identity or persona.
This ephemerality will surely be much debated throughout the years as Emma Watson herself continues to experiment with different roles both as a public and private individual. If she is still able to control the perceptions projected onto her in the future, especially when they are at odds with the narratives crafted for her, she may indeed still have the safety net she has inherited from Ms. Granger — the stellar student who sometimes breaks the rules.