When Emma Watson first landed on the Pittsburgh set of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, ever the professional, she had gone to great lengths to be prepared to capture the chemistry between longtime friends that is integral to the film. Stephen Chbosky, author of the book, screenwriter and director of the film, assured her that chemistry would not be a problem.
“I arrived after doing tons of research and trying to figure out how to create these friends that the characters had been for such a long time and I was worried about it all,” Watson said and shook her head.
“Stephen said, ‘You don’t have to worry about all of that, you are all going to be best friends.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ It turned out to be completely true. I’ve met some of my friends for life on this movie.”
The book that has been translated into 14 languages and sold millions of copies has a devoted audience to say the least. Watson was sold upon the first script reading. “I was actually crying when I first read the script. That was my first reaction. I read the whole thing in one go. I didn’t move for two hours,” she said. “I just loved it. I was like, ‘Where did this come from?’”
Watson was still attending Brown at the time and when she returned to school, she immediately gathered from classmates the impact The Perks of Being a Wallflower had on her contemporaries. “I was speaking to a bunch of my friends and I mentioned the name of the script that I had read and it turned out many of my friends were huge fans of the book and they started talking to me about it. It turned out that this book has an amazing following,” Watson recalled.
Even though the actress did not have the usual high school experience herself, what with all those years playing Hermione in the Harry Potter series, she found a congruency to the experience emitted on the page by Chbosky that was universal.
“There’s no way that you can read the book having been through any kind of high school experience -- heck, even just being a teenager -- and not be able to relate to one of the experiences of the characters. It covers so much. It’s so real,” Watson said.
“I didn’t need to go to an American high school, or go to prom, or have any of those experiences to relate to Sam or Charlie… or any of them.”
In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Watson portrays Sam, the senior who befriends a shy freshman named Charlie. Their relationship, she believes, is at the heart of why the story is so resonant.
“Charlie is a kid who’s been through a pretty rough time. He is the sweetest, most sensitive soul you will ever meet. The time we meet him in the movie, his best friend Michael had just died and he’s in a really scared, anxious place. He’s just coming to a new high school. He’s dealing with his loss, awkwardness and then Sam sees that and she decides to take him under her wing and take care of him,” Watson said.
“She shepherds him through high school, which can be an intimidating place. We make it OK.”
Portraying Charlie is quite the young talent. Logan Lerman mesmerizes in the role that requires much of a young actor. “Watching Logan be Charlie is devastating. I watched him on the monitor several times and was like, ‘He so innately understands Charlie’s awkwardness and his innocence. Logan has that. Logan is hard-working, but there’s this side of him that is so incredibly sweet and he thinks the best of people,” Watson said.
One would have to go back to a film like Breakfast Club to find characters that are high school age, yet still are treated onscreen as if their problems are as serious as they honestly feel to those going through those trying years. “All of the characters have some serious storylines,” Watson said. “They are dealing with some difficult stuff… but it’s always juxtaposed with something humorous.”
Having Chbosky serve as director, given the fact he wrote the book and the screenplay, Watson admitted, was priceless.
“It’s been amazing to have the man who conceptualized, who dreamed up the whole world, directing it,” she said. “It’s such a pure line of connection and he has such vision.”