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Why Emma Watson almost quit Hollywood for good

Emma Watson has the kind of career aspiring actors dream of. Cast as Hermione Granger at the tender age of ten, it seems as though she had only to ride the wave of Harry Potter's astronomical success to a life of ease and plenty. The reality is quite a bit more complicated, in large part because Watson isn't interested in settling. 

Once Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 wrapped, she threw herself in challenging roles in off-kilter films, ranging from Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring to Darren Aronofsky's Noah. She launched HeForShe, a United Nations campaign against gender inequality, in 2014. She became certified as a yoga instructor in 2013. She doesn't just seem like a successful actress — she appears to have it all, and then some. Despite this, Watson has been open in recent years about considering a complete departure from Hollywood. Here are the reasons she almost has, and ultimately hasn't.

She was afraid she could only play Hermione

Landing a role as huge as Hermione Granger in an era-defining series of movies is a tremendous blessing. But, as Watson has been quick to point out, it is also a unique curse. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she remarked, "For a while I kind of bought into the hype of, 'Will they ever be able to play anything else?'" 

Given that Hermione was her first professional role, this is a question that surely loomed large: when one character gobbles up your childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, how can you conceive of your career beyond her? Furthermore, given that Watson's education was mostly provided by on-set tutors and her social life was inextricable from her status as a public figure in a property beloved of her peers, there was little room for her to imagine a life beyond Hogwarts. Happily, Watson decided to try, if only because those doubting her stoked a desire to prove them wrong.

She considered returning to school

At Brown University, Watson had the chance to explore her lifelong love of learning. She pursued a bachelor's degree in English Literature over the course of five years at both Brown and Worcester College, Oxford. This was an electrifying experience, to the point that she considered extending it in an entirely different field. 

As she told bell hooks in Paper magazine, "It almost feels like the chemistry and the structure of my brain is changing so rapidly sometimes… I almost thought about going and doing a year of gender studies." Ultimately, Watson's devotion to this subject found another outlet outside academia. Through launching a real-world activist campaign and vowing to read one book per week, Watson is "learning so much by being on the ground," and finding new and innovative ways to turn her passion into progress. She may not have the degree, but she's certainly had her head in the books.

One of her professors told her to

Watson's desire to experience the world beyond Hollywood wasn't just an internal one — people in her life have actively encouraged her to explore other avenues. "A professor told me that they didn't think I should act, either," Watson remarked in 2013. Though it seems likely that this advice was meant in praise of Watson's intellectual drive rather than scorn of her dramatic skills, she was "really grappling with it and wasn't feeling good about it." 

Her interest in intellectualism, and her particular pursuits of literature and gender studies, were a welcome respite from the whirl of moviemaking she wasn't certain she wanted to return to. Her part in The Perks of Being a Wallflower reignited her love of acting, however: "I stopped intellectualizing it, and it became much more instinctual." Three years later in 2016, Watson became an Oxford University Fellow, proving that when it comes to Hollywood and academia, she truly can have the best of both worlds.

She worried she was "too serious"

Hollywood is built on fun, both behind and in front of the cameras. Though this hedonism is attractive to many, Watson was alienated by it. "I've often thought, I'm so wrong for this job because I'm too serious; I'm a pain in the ass; I'm difficult; I don't fit," Watson told Vanity Fair. Given that she spent her prime partying years in the heart of party central, this concern was well-founded — Watson's bookishness and lack of scandal held firm into her 20s. 

As with the professor interested in bringing her into academia full-time, however, Watson's desire to prove the world wrong kept her moving forward as an actress: "Taking on those battles, the smaller ones and the bigger ones, is who I am." She might be an actress, she might love fashion, and she might even enjoy a drink or two. But she's learned that she doesn't need to stop being the intellectual and introspective person she is.

She wants to keep her private life private

Every public figure must accept that with fame comes a loss of privacy. In the age of smartphones and social media, this bargain is especially hard to strike — so much so that Watson considered going back on it entirely. Her romantic life, for instance, is kept as close to private as someone with her level of notoriety can achieve. Despite the fact that she often dates actors, tech innovators, and high-profile financiers, there are remarkably few photos or accounts of these mystery beaus. 

She works hard to maintain this separation. "I want to be consistent: I can't talk about my boyfriend in an interview and then expect people not to take paparazzi pictures of me walking around outside my home," Watson remarked to Vanity Fair. But she acknowledges as well that this privacy can never be guaranteed, and that it is yet another reason she has considered leaving Hollywood behind for good. Her career is inherently defined by "the performance and the circus" of the film industry, and it doesn't spare her loved ones.

She wants to pursue activism

Watson has made her feminist zeal quite public over the last few years, most notably through the launch of her HeForShe campaign. The initiative was such a success that it crashed the UN's website and inspired celebrities ranging from Hugh Jackman to Harry Styles to sign on. This was soon followed by Our Shared Shelf, Watson's informal book club, and her public embrace of activists including Marai Larasi, Gloria Steinem, and Malala Yousafzai. 

Though she has blended this part of her life with her career as an actress — witness her rendition of Belle in Beauty and the Beast, a woman more interested in literacy and invention than romance — it could very easily be a career unto itself. Though she has mused on her consideration of activism as a solo occupation, she ultimately argues in Paper magazine for the value of an actress' uniquely wide platform. "I don't want to preach to the choir," she notes, "I want to try to talk to people who might not encounter feminism and talk to them about feminism." In that regard, her double life is perfect.

She faces a lack of interesting roles

Being young, beautiful, and female can open more than a few doors in Hollywood. Unfortunately, it also closes them. In 2016, Watson sat down with Geena Davis for a conversation about the latter's sponsorship of research into gender disparity in movies. During their chat, the two lamented the "invisibility" of women at large and the dearth of varied roles for actresses. 

Recalling her experience on the Harry Potter set, Watson remarked "the ratio was more often than not, at the very least, one-third female, two-thirds male." She noted her dismay and reconsideration after realizing that she was embarking on a career in an industry very much ruled by men. Though incremental steps are being taken to ensure a more equal landscape, pickings remain slim for an actress of Watson's ambition. It's clear she's got the talent — the question is which directors will give her the room to explore it.

She faces harassment as an actress

Watson is no stranger to Hollywood's seamy underbelly, especially when it comes to young women. In her speech to the UN, she described understanding gender inequality as a force that would do its best to set her back in multifaceted ways — sexualization being, perhaps, the most destructive. "At 14 I started being sexualized by certain elements of the press," she announced, proceeding to demand fairer and more equitable treatment. 

Though her gaze is fixed on the future, the reality is that her youth was marred by Hollywood's hunger for young women and the public's flattening of them into sex objects. She has recalled paparazzi rushing to take intimate photos of her the moment she turned 18. This is a burden Watson shoulders, and she is utterly frank about its weight. In turning this injustice into fuel for her feminist fire, she's managed to overcome those who'd prefer her silent and pretty, but she's uninterested in hiding what it's taken to get there.

She wants to pursue yoga and meditation

Though the media painted it as her way of getting over a messy breakup, Watson's week-long silent meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains was, in fact, more about her than anyone else. "I really wanted to figure out how to be at home with myself," she told Vogue U.K., as she "can never rely on a physical place." This desire to become at home in one's own skin is lifelong for most, but perhaps especially intense for someone who's been in the public eye since childhood. 

Watson is utterly honest about her struggles for self-ownership, and how closely they've pushed her to giving up her place in Hollywood entirely. For now, they have not, but they've made it clear to her that she needs to remain as centered as possible. As a newly certified yoga teacher, as she revealed to Elle magazine, at least she's well equipped for the journey.

She doesn't want to be used as "a stick with which to beat other women"

Though Watson has had more than a few successes as an advocate for women's rights, she was also criticized for her seeming hypocrisy in taking superstar Beyoncé to task for videos that create a "male voyeuristic experience," despite the fact that she herself has posed scantily clad. Watson is unafraid to challenge Hollywood, but, as she said to bell hooks, "I feel I have to be quite vigilant. It's made me sad at times." No matter how eloquent she is, no matter her degrees, no matter how well-cited her sources, the reality is that there will always be money in taking her quotes out of context. The wideness of her platform comes with a hefty price — sometimes including the reputation of other women.

Watson could have chosen academia, and sacrificed a superstar's reach for an elusive authenticity. She could have thrown herself into yoga, possibly developing a silent retreat of her own. Or perhaps she could have taken the easiest route of all and just kept her mouth shut while looking luminous in whatever couture her stylist picks out. Yet she did not. Fans of her work as an actress, an activist, a yoga teacher, and whatever else she might become have many years ahead to watch Emma Watson play the greatest role of all: herself.