Life imitated art when The Circle star Emma Watson walked the red carpet at the movie’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere facing the glowing lights of smartphone cameras. In James Ponsoldt’s new drama, adapted from the 2013 novel by Dave Eggers, the Beauty and the Beast star plays Mae Holland, an employee at the titular tech-world behemoth who agrees to live her entire life on camera — a status her corporate overseers, including Circle co-founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), label as going “transparent.” It’s a decision that carries a heavy personal cost, including the loss of friends and family as well as her own privacy.
One could say that Watson has been living a transparent life — albeit with less tragic consequences — since age 10, when she embarked on a decade-long odyssey playing Hermione Granger in the eight-film Harry Potter franchise. Speaking at a post-screening Q&A for The Circle, the now-27 year old actress remarked on the connection between the film and her real life. “It was a very vulnerable experience for me, this movie. It went to the bone of an experience where you have to look out from a stage, and there are things going on behind the scenes that nobody knows about. You just have to turn on and be this thing. Getting to play Mae and put that [experience] onscreen was very hard for me, and I’m so grateful to James for giving me to opportunity to live that.”
Watson went on to add that she’s become more “mindful” of her online presence — which includes a Twitter account with nearly 25 million followers, and an Instagram that reaches 33.1 million people —since making The Circle, which opens in theaters on April 28. Further encouraging her to take a step back is the recent decision by Congress to roll back Internet privacy regulations put in place by the previous administration. “All I can say is, there’s no right answer,” she remarked. “Trust me — I have grilled Dave Eggers! For me, it’s about taking back the information that belongs to us and to me. I didn’t think about most of this stuff before I read Dave’s book.”
While the Circle isn’t a real Silicon Valley conglomerate, Ponsoldt told the audience that the production team spent time at some actual tech companies for background research. “We visited a bunch of campuses to get sense of portraying this world and recognizing what’s positive [about it]. We all know the products, obviously, but wanted to spend time with the people there.” And, much like his star, the director of such acclaimed dramas as The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour, has been thinking a lot about his digital life in the wake of researching and making The Circle. “When I read it, my wife was pregnant with our first child, and we began to talk about the freedoms our children would have and how intentionally we’d be documenting their childhood — or not.” Good thing that Ponsoldt knows an actress who can provide him with plenty of advice about the benefits and risks of growing up on camera.
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