“This is the most fun I’ve ever had,” says Emma Watson, who in her film roles has had a pretty marvelous time flying on broomsticks, casting spells and vanquishing evil. The Harry Potter actress appears on the cover of Esquire, promoting her organization, HeForShe, talking about her one-year acting sabbatical to focus on women’s rights around the world.
“It’s so awesome to be at the forefront of that wave and that energy and just being able to channel that which I found mildly horrifying – all of the crazy attention on me – and doing something good with it, it just feels like I’m really doing what I’m meant to be doing.”
This is a longtime labor of love for Watson, who founded the gender equality organization HeForShe in 2014, the year she was appointed a UN Global Goodwill Ambassador. In a nod to her group’s mission to encourage men to advocate for women’s rights, she graces the magazine’s cover alongside Tom Hanks, her costar in the thriller The Circle, due later this year.
“If you look at his career,” explains Watson, “a lot of his biggest movies – Big, A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle – have been with female directors. And also there’s something about the way he talks about issues, whether it be gay rights, AIDS, environmental issues, children or the work he does with veterans, he speaks with such a humble grace and a credible voice.”
Watson, too, has a credible voice, particularly in the realm of gender equality. She speaks forthrightly on issues from slipping up and calling a room full of women “guys,” to the pay gap in Hollywood.
“We are not supposed to talk about money, because people will think you’re ‘difficult’ or a ‘diva.’ But there’s a willingness now to be like, ‘Fine. Call me a ‘diva’, call me a ‘feminazi’, call me ‘difficult,’ call me a ‘First World feminist’, call me whatever you want, it’s not going to stop me from trying to do the right thing and make sure that the right thing happens.’ Because it doesn’t just affect me,” she continues. “Whether you are a woman on a tea plantation in Kenya, or a stockbroker on Wall Street, or a Hollywood actress, no one is being paid equally.”
Asked if, given her rarified world as an actress, she’s experienced true sexism, Watson is quick to set the record straight. “I’ve had my arse slapped as I’ve left a room. I’ve felt scared walking home. I’ve had people following me. I don’t talk about these experiences much, because coming from me they’ll sound like a huge deal and I don’t want this to be about me, but most women I know have experienced it and worse.”
The solution, she says, is for men to get involved. “There’s no point in me going, ‘You all have to go away from having read this article and decide that you are a feminist.’ That’s useless. The only thing that is going to make a difference is if men go away and speak to the women in their lives about what they are experiencing.