By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES, March 26 (Reuters) - After spending a decade at the Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the "Harry Potter" film franchise, actress Emma Watson put her magical training to good use for her first big budget post-Potter role, in biblical action blockbuster "Noah."
In director Darren Aronofsky's movie, out in U.S. and Canadian theaters on Friday, Watson plays Ila, the wife of Noah's eldest son, Shem, who is played by Douglas Booth.
The film distributed by Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures stars Russell Crowe as the ark-building Noah and Jennifer Connelly as his wife, Naameh, in a dark, psychological reimagining of the Old Testament flood story.
Three Arab countries have banned the Hollywood film on religious grounds even before its worldwide premiere and several others are expected to follow suit.
Oxfordshire, England-native Watson, 23, spoke to Reuters about how the "Harry Potter" films prepared her for the physically punishing role, the challenge of realistically portraying childbirth on screen and working with a cast of veteran actors.
Q: "Noah" marks your return to large-scale spectacle films, do you approach your role any differently than you did while making the "Harry Potter" series?
A: I remember being on set and Darren was saying, "Okay, the water is going to be cold, we're probably going to be here for a full day, try and conserve your energy between takes, like keep warm and make sure you eat properly. This is going to be physically very demanding." For a minute I felt very intimidated and then there's something about having done those "Harry Potter" films and they were very physical. We did a lot of stuff in Scotland. It was freezing cold, filming at four in the morning, working crazy hours.
It's kind of comforting in a way to know that in some senses, nothing will be as hard as that again, and I'm pretty prepared for most things people can throw at me, whether it be animals, water, stunts, CGI (computer-generated imagery), whatever it is. It was a very good school in a way and set me up very well for this kind of environment and this kind of pressure.
Q: Did you do any reading on your character of Ila outside of the script?
A: I actually didn't do a lot of reading, but I did a lot a research because I become a mother in the story, and obviously have never given birth myself. That required quite a lot of careful thinking. Darren and I had this conversation where we both agreed that in so many films, women give birth and it looks like they're barely breaking a sweat. We wanted it to feel very raw, very real and so I took it pretty seriously.
Q: Did you talk to anybody about what it's like to give birth?
A: Any pregnant woman anywhere, I'd be like, "Can I talk to you? Can I talk to you about your experience?" I spoke to my own mother a lot, obviously, and then I watched a lot of YouTube videos of natural births, lots of documentaries, spoke to midwives, just any information I could get my hands on, really.
Q: Ila is unable to conceive initially, but then is made fertile by a miracle. Was there anything in particular you tried to emphasize of her psyche?
A: I guess just her self-doubt. ... Ila is barren, she can't have children, and she doesn't want to deprive her future husband of being able to have kids and to have a family. There's this real wrestling match within her. She's so in love with him and she kind of sacrifices her own happiness for his, and that struggle and self-doubt felt very relatable to me.
Q: What attracted you to the role in the first place?
A: I was a huge fan of Darren's films. I loved "Requiem for a Dream." "The Fountain" is one of my favorite movies of all-time, "The Wrestler," "Black Swan." So, you know, even before you read the script, you're intrigued because his work speaks for itself, really.
And then having read the script, I loved my role. She's got such a huge heart. She's very wise, very relatable, and then you hear about the cast, it's like Russell Crowe and Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jennifer Connelly and Ray Winstone. And you realize that it's the opportunity to work with people who really are at the top of their game. (Editing by Michael Roddy)