On Thursday, July 8 on a rainy summer's day in London (is there any other kind?) Rupert Grint had to walk the red carpet for the final time for his role as Ron Weasley, a classmate of Harry Potter and Hermione Granger.
It's been quite a journey for the actor, plucked from obscurity as a 10-year-old to take part in the most successful film franchise in history, and over the years he has literally grown up in front of our eyes. There was that notably awkward moment between the third and fourth movie when the red-headed star seemed to shoot up 12 inches and began towering over his co-stars.
The first thing I notice about the Stevenage-born 23-year-old is his laid-back charm. He just oozes the sense that he breezes through life and that nothing really bothers him. It's an amazing coolness for someone who has grown up in the public eye and indeed it is a measure of the excellence of the original casting process that he and his illustrious co-stars, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe, all seem to have taken the fame, wealth and responsibilities that came with playing the Gryffindor pupils in their stride.
Surprisingly, he says that the three main stars have never discussed the expectations or the success that the franchise has brought to their lives: "It's only at the premieres that it really does sink in, and that's the only time we realise how big it all is to people."
The premiere for the eighth and final Harry Potter movie was the biggest of them all. The carpet was certainly the longest. The works in Leicester Square in preparation for the London Olympic Games next year meant that the carpet ran over a mile from Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square and the three stars spent three hours signing autographs and memorabilia for the many thousands who had braved the rain for the occasion. It's a small way of giving back to the fans who have helped each of them become household names. And get rich - it's reported that Grint is worth £28 million (Dh165m).
It was also an odd franchise in that when the first film was made, no one knew how the story would end. The final two books hadn't been written yet. This meant that when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book, came out, Grint read the tome immediately. "Of course I read it straight away," he tells me. "Because there was so much hype about who was going to die, I wanted to see if I made it to the end."
Pleasantly, Grint discovered that it was Ron, rather than Harry who wins Hermione's heart. As fans have come to expect from JK Rowling, it was a brilliant decision. After all, Ron's journey is the one that had the best arc over the franchise, the hapless young kid who turns into a hero. Harry always knew he was the chosen one, while Hermione had her brain, but Ron, he was the comic fall guy, fodder for when the plots needed light relief.
The price of all this fame, of course, is that Grint lost some of his privacy. Yet he doesn't regret the fact that for more than half his life, he's been connected to a single famous character. When I ask if, taking the money out of the equation, he would still have done Harry Potter knowing what he knows now, he quickly shoots down the question. "I would do it, because it's been a really good experience. I've done things that I probably wouldn't have done otherwise, so no regrets, really."
Unlike Emma Watson, who went to Brown University, in Rhode Island in the US, before taking a sabbatical earlier this year, Grint was never one for academia. He says: "I left school when I was 16. I didn't really do that great in my GCSEs, to be honest, so it just seemed like the right thing to do. Schooling used to get in the way of filming, so I think it was the right decision."
Apart from when he is promoting a new release in the series, the actor tries to steer clear of Harry Potter activity, although the books and films have become such a behemoth that sometimes it's just impossible to avoid.
"I play golf and joined this golf club," he recalls. "I stumbled through the conference room at the club where these people were having a Harry Potter team building exercise and they were all dressed in robes." Grint made a speedy exit before too many people could notice that the star had walked in.
Now, though, Grint finds himself at a crossroads. He has some big decisions to make about what direction to take his career in now that he has finished being Ron. He was in two films, Cherrybomb in 2009 and Wild Target last year, which were made while the franchise was still running. But neither proved to be the breakout hit that would have helped change the image of the star.
He says of Cherrybomb: "I really loved the script, I loved the way it was set in Belfast, because usually films set in Belfast are set around religion and the troubles and it was not like that. I thought it was quite a challenge. It was a very different role to Ron and the accent was quite a challenge."
He adds that while making the franchise, there wasn't much chance to do anything else and so he relished the few chances where he could show another side to his character.
"During Harry Potter we only ever got a few gaps in between the films and Cherry was only a four-week shoot. It was a lot more grown up than Potter, and so I guess I can relate far more to the character Tim then I could Ron, because obviously Ron is a boy wizard."
The first project we will see him in post-Harry Potter is Comrades. The film, set during the Second World War, sees Grint playing Gunner Robert Smith, who is shot down over Norway. He later finds himself trapped in a log cabin with his Nazi counterparts; only by helping each other will they be able to survive the conditions. It's the kind of departure role that Grint will need under his belt should he wish to avoid the fate of so many child actors before him, who after a hugely successful early career fade into obscurity.
The early question marks over Grint's acting have been replaced as the actor has grown in stature. Grint argues that he didn't really follow the way the media at first attacked his acting ability, before being won over by him: "I didn't really get a sense of that. It doesn't feel like it's been a long time, really. It's been half my life and I will miss it because of all the good times."
His co-star Radcliffe has used the theatre to move away from the franchise and Grint does not rule out making such a move himself. "I think stage is a different beast and you don't get to do another take on stage, but it's something that would interest me at some stage."
One of his big dreams is to work with the British director Shane Meadows. "I really liked Dead Man's Shoes and would love to do one of his films. Somers Town was also wicked."
For now, finally, after all these years, Grint is being allowed to show another side to his personality and throw away the wand.
What the rest did next
After 12 years immersed in Potter's world of magic and fantasy, Watson wants to return to the real world. The 21-year-old actress revealed she was more interested in the mundane tasks of washing her clothes and hitting the books than searching for next big film role. "It's the little things that keep you sane," she told The Daily Telegraph. "My mother says to me, 'Just put the washing on, lay it out, just do these little things'."
The in-demand actor is wasting no time in shedding his Harry Potter persona. Earlier this year he received rave reviews for his Broadway debut How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. His first post-Harry Potter film, The Woman in Black, which is set to be released in January, finds him returning to the supernatural world where he plays someone haunted by a ghost. Radcliffe will also flex his comedy muscles after signing up for the lead role in The Amateur Photographer. The indie comedy follows a man (Radcliffe) employed by small-town residents to record their most personal moments.
While she reportedly said the Harry Potter series would end with the seventh instalment, it's a case of never say never for Rowling, as the recent announcement of the Pottermore project indicates. Speaking to the crowd gathered at the London premiere last Thursday, she described the Potter series as "my baby and if I want to bring it out to play again, I will." However she did reveal to the BBC that she has a number of non-Potter writing projects up her sleeve. "I've been writing hard ever since I finished writing 'Hallows," she said. "I will publish again."
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