Around this time last year, Rupert Grint watched a ‘Harry Potter’ film for the first time since, well, just about since he made it. He spends every Christmas at his parents’ home in Hertfordshire, surrounded by his four siblings and a smattering of nieces and nephews, and there on the television came ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, the first in the eight-picture franchise and one of two that sit among the 50 highest-grossing films of all time.
Grint was a cherubic 10-year-old about to start secondary school when he was cast as Ron Weasley, Potter’s frequently terrified redheaded friend, in 2000. He played the role for nine years, but hadn’t quite brought himself to rewatch anything.
“It was actually... fine,” he says. “I don’t know why I hadn’t, but I think because it was the first one there had been enough time to detach myself from it and actually enjoy it. But I don’t think I’ll be doing a [viewing] marathon any time soon.”
Now 31, filled out, and with a light beard, Grint has arrived for a day of interviews in central London. A black coffee is cradled like the elixir of life. Last night he was out late at Hip Hop Karaoke with the cast of his new Apple TV+ series, ‘Servant’. He performed Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’. Or tried.
“I thought I knew that song but... it turns out I really don’t,” he says, shaking his head. So familiar is Grint’s face — and copper-coloured mop, particularly — that it takes all the power within me not to refer to him as Ron.
But he has cast the shackles of wizardry aside well. After a few years in which he wasn’t totally sure what to do, roles in the US crime comedy ‘Snatch’ and a standout performance in last year’s BBC Agatha Christie miniseries, ‘The ABC Murders’, have seen him rise again.
‘Servant’ is another step forward. A psychological horror series executively produced by M Knight Shyamalan (he of ‘The Sixth Sense’, ‘The Village’ and dozens of other twisty, shiver-inducing films), it has a wonderfully creepy premise: an affluent couple in Philadelphia are grieving the death of their 13-week-old son, Jericho, and have him replaced by a hyper-realistic “reborn doll” to ease their suffering.
They hire a young nanny to look after the doll, which the mother believes is still real. The husband is sick of the whole charade and doesn’t see the point in hiring the nanny but, wait... was that a burble that just came through on the baby monitor? Cue five spooky episodes of not having a clue what’s going on or who’s telling the truth or whether anything is real. It’s excellent.
Grint plays the baby’s hard-drinking, chain-smoking uncle — a what-the-heck-is-happening ally to the father.
“It’s a story about grief, really. And I’m not a dad but it does really tap into that primal fear about how precious babies are.”
The series also saw him take on an American accent for the first time, with impressive results. “It was challenging, you think you can do the accent, but your tongue is doing something so different. There’s a few words, like ‘aunt’ and ‘floorboards’, that really trip you up.”
Born in Essex but raised in Hertfordshire, Grint’s earliest ambition was to be an ice cream man. (He did go on to own an ice cream van, only to get rid of it when he realised it was “a bit creepy” to drive around handing out lollies.) Then he sent a video of himself into the open casting for the ‘Harry Potter’ films. A shy child, he loved the books but had no prior screen acting experience and didn’t think of it as a career. The success of the franchise saw Grint, as well as co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, effectively growing up in public.
“There’s this classic child actor thing where people are waiting for you to go off the rails. But... we were very well protected. Some days were worse than others, but for the most part it was a great experience.”
While it was all happening — the fans, the filming, the hysteria — he never really considered that it would end. “Then suddenly it did, and we were out in the big wide world. Which was quite daunting.”
When it did conclude, he paused to consider “do I really want to do this?”, but also felt liberated. “Like, I had control of my hair again — not that I’ve ever done anything different with it. But something that was really symbolic was I had my tonsils out. I was never able to while we filmed, because of the recovery time, so that felt big.”
Afterwards, Radcliffe — who has admitted to once drinking heavily to cope with the attention of being Harry Potter — went straight to Hollywood. Watson became even more successful, juggling her screen career with activism. But Grint, who remains close with the pair, took a little longer to figure things out. Did it ever get competitive, post-Potter?
“I suppose naturally, yeah, but I don’t really think about that. It’s not so much competitive because I have a very different level of ambition. I’ve always valued my free time, thinking you have to live a bit as well.”
He didn’t fancy becoming a UN ambassador like Watson, then?
“It’s a lot of work, isn’t it?”
Potter did leave Grint with an incredibly healthy bank balance; he’s believed to be worth £25 million (Dh119 million).
“It’s a nice security and I appreciate it, but I have a strange relationship with money because it’s always just... been there, in the background, from such a young age. I’m very lucky, but it can also make you sit back on your laurels, which I did for a period. But in the last few years I’ve found a bit of drive.”
He seems content, hangover aside, and if ‘Servant’ is anything to go by, Grint’s second act could be even more interesting than his first.
Don’t miss it!
‘Servant’ is streaming on AppleTV+ now