One thing I won’t do is introduce Bonnie Wright as the girl from Harry Potter who is all grown up. What I will say is that at 24-years-old, she has a head on her shoulders that could rival someone old enough to use the term ‘head on her shoulders.’ Bonnie is eloquent, composed, straightforward, with a no-fuss British sensibility that makes her all the more likable. Since completing the Harry Potter films in which she played Ginny Weasley, Bonnie has finished film school, appeared in a number of independent films, written and directed a handful of short films herself, and is currently filming The Highway is for Gamblers alongside Nikki Reed and Joe Jonas. She’s become a charity ambassador for Oxfam and the Global Poverty Project, explaining, “I want to use the privilege I have of a voice to help.” Bonnie’s main focus right now is a project of her own—a feature film she’s writing set in New York City. It’s one of the reasons she moved here several months ago, and she’s caught the New York work bug already: “Everyone here has their heads down and is getting on with it. I’ll leave my apartment and be like, what am I doing! I have to get back to work!” When I ask her what she wakes up wanting to do, she says storytelling—whether it’s through writing, directing, acting, or her charity work. For Bonnie, it seems that the stories she explores of others is a way of exploring her own.
“I graduated film school 3 years ago. Since then, slowing down and figuring out what I actually want to do has taken a lot longer than I thought it would. Harry Potter was 10 years of my life, and when you finish a huge chapter like that, it’s this exciting new phase where you want to do new things. So then you start doing the new things, and you begin questioning yourself, thinking—is this truly what I want to be doing? When I started Harry Potter, I was fresh and young, and in a way, when I finished I was too. Because it’s such a particular world. It was one of those things you thought you had perspective on, but really didn’t until you were out of it. Obviously I had a bit of a backwards career. I almost had to go right back to the beginning, and work my way back up. And that’s one of the reasons why studying was so important to me, and also why the avenues I’ve been exploring have come from a really truthful place. Stepping back has been hard, but it’s also been the most rewarding thing I could have done. I’m learning to let go of what other people think, and have also just been clarifying things in my own head. I think that’s partially due to having to be verbal quite early on, with press and interviews. You’re having to answer: ‘What are you doing now? What’s your favorite scene? How’s life as an actress?’ You respond sincerely, but also in a way that fits in with what people want to hear.
There’s been a process of learning to differentiate what’s expected of me, and who I truly am.
When we began the films, the entertainment industry was a very different place. A celebrity was someone who you respected for their craft, and there was a simple enjoyment in watching movies. By the time we had finished, celebrity culture had completely changed. The industry had tripled in popularity and social media had become a huge thing. I’m quite thankful that the culture was in the former space when I started. There’s also the beauty of innocence in a 9-year-old-girl going on a film set not knowing anything. You’re not trying to pretend. You’re walking around saying, what’s this? I had an inherent passion for that world, regardless of my age. Weirdly, the exposure that I had made me feel like there was so much more to learn. At film school we’d have discussions about film sets and I’d think—well I know what a film set is like. But then another kid might have read every single theory book and sat at home watching every single movie reel, and I’d realize there was so much I didn’t know. With my directing work, I’ve learned most by actually doing. I spoke with some established directors about whether I should do my master’s, or keep making short films and learn that way. They said, you know what? Just keep making, just keep doing.
Just do it and do it and make mistakes and keep doing it.
It’s taken me a long time to have confidence in writing and directing. I thought—people see me as an actress, so that’s what I should be doing. Also, having grown up with people constantly liking the work that we were doing, it’s taken me a while to learn how to take compliments. There was always this enthusiasm, ‘Oh my god, I love you. I love Harry Potter.’ Which makes it hard to accept any encouragement as genuine. You also don’t want to be misinterpreted as someone whose focus is all over the place. But it’s all coming from the same person—from the same place of integrity, passion and concentration. And all of those interests lend themselves to each other. I only want to work with people who understand that.
With any career, creative or otherwise, there’s always more to learn and always room to evolve. It’s not about finding a finite point when you’re all done. It’s a continuum: nothing is ever secure or fully realized. People might think because of my experience, I’m all set. But just because you’ve had that kind of privilege, doesn’t mean it’s always going to work in your favor. You have to respect the times when it does and respect the times when it doesn’t. Sometimes people will pigeonhole you, or won’t listen because they assume you have it all figured out. And it’s like, actually, no, I don’t.
There’s a huge vulnerability in stepping past others’ expectations by making work that is different; in saying, your idea of me isn’t quite right.
To be completely honest, I only make my work for the people who I respect the opinions of. If they respond positively and are into it, that means more to me than anything else. Sometimes none of it matters, what you’ve done or what your experience is. It often just comes down to your character. One of the most rewarding and inspiring things I’ve learned through working with people at the top of their game—screenwriters, directors, actors—is that everyone is who is really good at what they do is really nice. That the best in their field have integrity. So it’s been nice to know that those whose work I respect the most are good people. Like, the world is OK.
I think for a long time, I was looking for someone to tell me I was allowed to do different things. So often, we’re looking around for people’s approval. People to say, you can have this job opportunity. You can be in this room. You can come to this party. We’re always thinking, did I say the right thing? Do I look OK? Is my work good? You don’t have to be looking around all the time.
Stop looking for permission and just get on with it.
People get so caught up in needing that external approval, when they’re doing it already. It’s a doing thing. And it goes so fast, if you don’t experience it at the time, it’s gone before you know it. Often you’ll build up some destination or end point… you’ll have this vision of the feeling that you’ll have when you get there. Like this script I just finished, I thought I’d feel relief and that it would be so great. But the reality is, I finished it and felt unsure about it. The idea of the destination and the reality of the destination are often very different. It’s a theme in this feature that I’m writing, where the main character is living in New York City. It’s not about the place she’s going, it’s the moments in between that she’s missing, because she’s too busy thinking about how she’ll feel when she gets there.”
As told to Amy Woodside, June 2015
Photographed by Amy Woodside