It’s a little surprising to realize that we’re in the home stretch of the popular “Harry Potter” film series, with “Half-Blood Prince” imminently arriving in theaters and the two-part “Deathly Hallows” popping up in the next two years. Even more of a shock is the fact that the three stars of the franchise — Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson — have spent half of their lives wearing wizard robes and growing up in front of our eyes.
Unlike the 007 or Batman series, which could stretch out ad infinitum so long as audiences keep showing up, Harry Potter has a very firm conclusion coming up, and the young leads of the films will be ready to pursue their fortunes as free-agent movie stars.
So far, they’ve all done a great job of avoiding scandal — no drug busts or wardrobe malfunctions here — but can these obviously talented young performers outrun the “former child star” label and become successful adults? Signs point to yes.
And even though they’re doing fine on their own, it’s hard to resist throwing a little well-meaning advice their way:
1. Brush up your Shakespeare. Hogwarts has been Radcliffe’s Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts, and he’s obviously grown as a performer over the course of the last decade, winning raves for his mature (and physically daring) turn in “Equus” in London and on Broadway, and even for his work in the otherwise forgettable movie “December Boys.” But if Radcliffe really wants to be taken seriously, particularly in his native country, it would behoove him to take a dip in the classics.
Slideshow: Hollywood's youth movement He may or may not be too old to play Romeo, but if he’s got a Hamlet in him, he should think about unleashing him before turning 30. And if Radcliffe can impress audiences and reviewers with that singularly challenging role, the world is his.
2. Resist the call of Hollywood. When one thinks of the highlights of Hugh Grant’s career, which of the following movies come to mind: “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “About a Boy” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary” or “Mickey Blue Eyes,” “Two Weeks Notice” and “Music and Lyrics”? Exactly.
Hollywood often doesn’t know what to do with Brits, assigning them either dreadfully middling comedies (even Ricky Gervais could only do so much with “Ghost Town”) or as snarly villains in action movies. Radcliffe demonstrated some impressive comic chops on Gervais’ “Extras,” and it would be great to see him at least occasionally pursue that avenue — but in London, not L.A.
3. Talk to Voldemort. Ralph Fiennes has the kind of career any actor could envy, bouncing from stage to screen and back and taking on movies as far-flung as “Schindler’s List,” “The Avengers” (OK, a silly movie, but it didn’t hurt his career), “The Constant Gardener,” “The English Patient,” Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s upcoming “Cemetery Junction” and, ahem, the “Harry Potter” series.
Given Radcliffe’s iconic stature playing one of contemporary literature’s most popular heroes, he’s going to have to work harder than most to avoid typecasting. Who better to advise him than a guy who went from playing one of the screen’s most chilling Nazis to romancing Jennifer Lopez in the fluffy “Maid in Manhattan”?
1. Hook up with the smart British comedians. Grint has provided much of the comedy relief in the Potter saga, and it would behoove him to both hone his humor skills and send up his childhood fame by working with the young up-and-comers on the U.K. comedy scene. (Maybe they need a new zookeeper for the upcoming “The Mighty Boosh” movie?)
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2. Be a leading man, but subvert the paradigm. While he’s blossomed from the goofy ginger teen he once was, Grint remains a handsome young man in an unconventional sense; his legion of young fans will continue to dote on him, but no one’s going to mistake him for Channing Tatum.
All the more reason for him to step out of his ongoing second-banana role — although “Half-Blood Prince” does show Grint’s Ron Weasley coming into his own as both a Quidditch jock and ladies’ man — and become the edgy, indie star he seems destined to become.
2a. Think about playing Thurston Moore in the eventual Sonic Youth biopic. Seriously, you’ve got the look.
3. Talk to Professor Snape. OK, remember what I said before about Hollywood turning British actors into bad guys in action movies? No one’s taken that mantle and run with it like Alan Rickman, whose international film career got a big boost from “Die Hard” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” He’s not your garden-variety looker, either, but he made audiences swoon in movies like “Truly, Madly, Deeply” and “Sense and Sensibility” while getting laughs in “Dogma” and “Love Actually.” (“Sweeney Todd” and the Potter series keep his black-hat credentials up-to-date as well.)
Like Fiennes, Rickman knows a thing or two about not getting pigeonholed as a performer, and it will be to Grint’s advantage to stay a step ahead of public expectations.
1. Don’t get naked for just any director. Oh, don’t act so shocked — she’s 19, and she’s a serious actress working in Europe. The issue isn’t whether the day will come that she’ll do a nude scene, it’s when and for whom. (And it’s not like showing a little skin in the right context hurt Kate Winslet’s career any.)
Watson would be wise to save the big reveal for a female art-film director (Sally Potter, Claire Denis) or a male director who’s shown sensitivity in working with actresses (Mike Leigh, Peter Greenaway). My advice? Not Lars von Trier; he’ll just make you cry.
2. Be unpretty, but don’t go overboard with it. The unspoken rule of thumb in Hollywood says that the more attractive you are as an actress, the uglier you have to make yourself on screen to get taken seriously and, with any luck, snag an Oscar. Think Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball,” Charlize Theron in “Monster,” Hilary Swank in any movie that made money.
The Brits don’t seem to require such sacrifices — actresses from Julie Christie to Keira Knightley have been considered talented without having to seriously uglify themselves, but there’s nothing wrong with eschewing makeup and hair products for the right role. If Watson is going to be the face of Burberry in real life, it couldn’t hurt to look occasionally unkempt on-screen.
3. Talk to Professor Trelawney. Americans think of Emma Thompson as a serious actress, which she is, but she actually began her career in the U.K. with a comedy series. So if Watson wants to go from girl wizard to a broad variety of roles, who better to mentor her than the sketch comedy lady who went on to conquer Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Tony Kushner and “Nanny McPhee”?
Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at http://www.twitter.com/MSNBCalonso.
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