Rupert Grint on Servant Season 2, Playing Ron In Harry Potter Sequels, and JK Rowling’s Anti Trans Comments
Rupert Grint is definitely worried. Worried to the point that he does this thing where, by the end of our conversation, he’s fidgeted a full 90 degrees around in his seat. And if you lived in his head (and this house that seems to be made entirely of windows), you might be too. In the course of our 90 minute chat, he mentions that he’s worried about dying when he falls asleep. Worried about getting stung by bees. Worried about being a new dad and worried about what happens if in a few years his infant daughter suddenly wants to become a child star like he was. That’s provided he can get to that point because now that he’s a dad, there’s double the things to worry about. On top of the bees and the sleep and the child stardom, there is—well, just look at the news!
That kind of makes you wonder why—why—Grint would agree to star on Apple TV+’s Servant, which finishes its second season this weekend. The series, produced by M. Night Shyamalan, follows a young couple whose baby dies from hyperthermia. The mother falls into a catatonic state, so they invest in a baby replica: same weight and look, but it’s a doll. And then when the two employ a waifish nanny to look after the doll, the baby comes to life again. “It’s the worst show to be doing, being a new dad, for sure,” Grint says, looking away from the Zoom camera, as you might guess, worriedly.
That Big Worried Vibe feels very Ron Weasley-esque—a comparison you think he’d hate, but it’s one he’s come to embrace more as of late. In the 10 years since the last Harry Potter film finished shooting, Grint has made peace with his role in the career-defining saga, reckoned with the polarizing beliefs of the woman who invented his character, reaffirmed his love of acting, become a father, and dammit: he’s raising bees, too. Being worried is ok because it means you have something to lose, but it’s not going to stop him entirely.
By the time Grint and I talk over Zoom in late February, it’s already dark in London. Like the start of any conversation with a stranger, we find ourselves talking about the weather. He pulls at his marled wool sweater as he starts telling me about the snow that’s lingering outside his window. And then like the start of any conversation with a new dad, Grint finds himself talking about his daughter, Wednesday. She is nine months old to the day. Grint and his partner, Georgia Groome, celebrated by having a snow day with her. Most of Wednesday’s life so far has happened in quarantine, with mum and dad only a cry away. But this also means that Grint and Groome are doing this entirely on their own. Very little outside interaction. Even less sleep. “I struggle with that, being a dad,” he says. “Had a bit of an identity crisis. I don’t know, do I change the way I dress now?”
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Those are the simple questions. He explains that the hard stuff is more about making sure that this tiny thing you love so much is fine at all times. He starts telling this one story where Wednesday’s hand turned purple all of a sudden. “We absolutely were like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ You think the worst and it’s…” he stops, stumbling on his words before switching to a whole other scary story. “I don’t want to go too into detail, but the first night was just terrifying. You can’t sleep at all, just constantly checking that she’s breathing… Sleeping, in general, for me, is something I’ve really struggled with. I think as a kid, people always said, ‘They died in their sleep,’ so I always thought sleep was a really dangerous, dangerous thing.”
While that fear is a lot to swallow, it’s proven to be quite the asset when you’re working on a show that’s primarily about the fear and trauma of losing a child. “[It’s] that thing that you’d do anything to get your kid back,” he says. “[Parenthood] really helped me understand that. I guess I already had some concept of it, obviously, but I think having a kid of your own really nails that down.” In the series, he plays Julian, the uncle of this dead-baby-doll-turned-live-baby.
The making of the series is as intimate as the house that it’s set in. On top of the setting, Shyamalan and creator Tony Basgallop have managed to create this very claustrophobic aesthetic, with tight shots that bring the camera right up to the performers’ faces. Pair that with the peculiar, if not off putting, characters on the show and it’s a very visceral viewing experience. Grint’s Julian is a menacing presence, turning to drugs and alcohol as he tries to uncover the mystery of baby Jericho’s resurrection. “I think, weirdly, there is probably a side of me that is quite Julian that I don’t really project,” Grint says with a coy smile. “The darker side of me is Julian.”
The role is a drastic departure from Grint’s Harry Potter character, Ron Weasley. If Julian is his darker side, Ron is the true Rupert. A bit fumbly, but charming. Bravely unassuming, but infinitely anxious. “Always had this weird thing with Ron, when I was reading the books as a kid. It just felt like we were connected in some way,” he explains. “And I had that with Julian. I just feel very comfortable in his skin.”
Grint famously auditioned for the role of Ron with a rap that he says he’s since forgotten. The verse may be history, but he’s proud of that bravado he had in his youth. “I kind of miss having that [fearlessness]. You’d just do anything,” he says. “You just don’t care, and it’s a really powerful thing.” That’s what sucks about adulthood: you can track the moments when innocent recklessness gets replaced by worry. Grint had that experience documented on film. He started filming Potter at 11, and for the next decade of his life, that’s who he was: Ron Weasley, with a couple independent projects dotted in the off months. And then it all came to an end, leaving him earnestly asking himself the question: Do I actually want to be an actor or do I just want to be Ron?
For a while he did indie movies. There’s one film called CBGB, where placed him alongside his Potter co-star, the late Alan Rickman. “I love Alan,” he says. “He was such a great guy. I mean, quite intimidating, but he was just amazing.” But unlike his co-stars Daniel Ratcliffe and Emma Watson, Grint’s been a bit more tepid about wading into adult Hollywood. “I kind of peaked very early on, I think,” scooting, again, to the edge of the Zoom camera’s reach. “I wasn’t in a huge rush to do as many things as I could. And I think when I started doing a bit of theater, that’s when I got a bit of the love back.”
After spending a few minutes talking to Grint, it wouldn’t have been surprising if he had removed himself entirely from the acting space. When it comes to the impersonal, he’s happy to share (Did you know he owns an ice cream truck? And a hover board? And that he dabbles in pottery and can tell you how to start a beekeeping operation from your balcony? It’s possible, he promises!). But when the personal and professional intersect, he becomes immediately more measured. His Instagram, which he started five months ago, features only six images: three relating to Servant, one of him and Wednesday, one supporting a charity, and a silent video of a terrifying puppet bearing his resemblance. He broke the record for fastest account to reach a million followers, unseating Jennifer Aniston and David Attenborough’s previous record. And yet, he does very little with it.
“I’m quite a private person, I think, and the idea of sharing everything to the world does kind of terrify me,” he says. “But I’m slowly easing my way in. I kind of enjoy it.” When we discuss social media, the conversation naturally turns to the dementor in the room: the comments that Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling has made against the trans community, first through Twitter, then via her website.
Rowling’s anti-trans stance dates back to 2019, but it was last June, as the world’s attention turned to Black Lives Matter protests, that Rowling published a 3,600 word essay defending her position on transgender people. She argued that trans women, in particular, “erode ‘women’ as a political and biological class” and likened them to “predators.” Immediately, Watson and Radcliffe spoke out against Rowling. Grint followed suit, issuing a statement to the U.K.’s The Sunday Times, saying, “I firmly stand with the trans community and echo the sentiments expressed by many of my peers. Trans women are women. Trans men are men. We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgment.”
It’s easy to disagree with those you don’t know. It’s even easier to fire a tweet off into the ether, but Grint’s statement was purposeful and deliberate and against the woman who created the role he’s best known for. “I am hugely grateful [for] everything that she’s done. I think that she’s extremely talented, and I mean, clearly, her works are genius,” he tells me. “But yeah, I think also you can have huge respect for someone and still disagree with things like that.”
Though it’s unclear if Rowling saw the statements of Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint, the trio’s support is undeniably important when you consider all the kids still continuing to find the Potter series. I ask him if making that statement was difficult. “I think to stay silent would have spoke,” stopping himself while shifting in his seat. “Sometimes silence is even louder. I felt like I had to because I think it was important to. I mean, I don’t want to talk about all that… Generally, I’m not an authority on the subject,” he collects himself again. “Just out of kindness, and just respecting people. I think it’s a valuable group that I think needs standing up for.”
For the trio to speak out in near-unison is unsurprising. Grint says that he doesn’t get to see Watson or Radcliffe often, but the bond they have runs deep. “It was a very unique experience that we all went through,” he says of growing up as a lead in one of the most popular film franchises in history. “And no one really understands it and can relate to it but us. Almost kind of like astronauts. Kind of a weird experiment, I think.” When it comes to the idea of ever returning back to the Potter universe, fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. He saw the stage play that featured Ron as a newly imagined character and has heard rumblings of the HBO Max series, but he has nothing to do with either. He remains proud of the work, but in terms of returning to the role he says, “I think going back now would be… I can’t really imagine it. But, I mean, never say never. It would only be if everyone else wants to do the same. But yeah, no… I think just leave it.”
Now, especially mid-pandemic, he gets the refreshing bonus of living a bit more anonymously. “Anonymity and being able to be invisible is something you do take for granted,” Grint says, explaining that this masked-Covid era is the first time in years he’s had the ability to blend in. “You just couldn’t escape it, especially when you’re out trying to have a good time. It was kind of a struggle to fully relax.” Then, in true Rupert-style, he doubles back to explain that it doesn’t bother him. “I never really hate it, anyways. It’s just a thing.”
He admits though, with a bit of trepidation, that the anonymity has been a nice glimpse into what life could be. “I think I’ve always had that kind of ethos that nothing is forever. I do just feel like, ‘Maybe I’ll just be a beekeeper. I’ll just do that,’” he says. “I love acting, and I love being a part of the show. And I’ve really enjoyed playing the characters. But I do often think maybe I could do something else later on.”
For now, that’s not the case. As Servant’s second season comes to a close, M. Night Shyamalan tweeted this week that the filming of season three is already in full swing. Grint’s character, fresh off an overdose that nearly killed him, is rife with possible storylines for the next installment of haunting episodes. As the series moves forward, it only gets scarier. More demonic. More unnerving. It’s a very, very non-Rupert vibe. What is he doing here again? For someone so confounded by worry, he seems to enjoy taking the risk. With the bees. With fatherhood. With resurrected babies. With whatever requires his attention at the time.
Styled by Rose Ford
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