Rupert Grint Learns Driving, Making Out — But Not At Hogwarts

Actor nearly rolls car over film crew in on-set mishap.

Rupert Grint — a.k.a. Ron Weasley of the “Harry Potter” films — had a few hairy moments while shooting his most recent non-Potter production, the coming-of-age film “Driving Lessons,” which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

While Grint’s character Ron had some experience behind the wheel — albeit in a flying Ford Anglia — his latest character, Ben, had no such track record. Neither did Rupert himself, which made for a few dangerous situations on set.

“I’m learning to drive in real life,” Grint said, “so part of the reason I signed up for this film was that I was really looking forward to driving a car. I was only 16 when I was doing it, so it was against the law [in England], and we had to shoot mostly on private roads. But there was one little hill where I was supposed to drive up and stop, and I forgot to put on the hand brake, and it started to roll toward the camera.”

Grint managed to stop the car before it collided with the crew (“It was pretty close,” he admitted). After that, Grint didn’t do quite as much driving. Luckily for him, the “driving lessons” were more of a metaphor for his character coming into his own and involved more females than Fords.

One of those women was actress Julie Walters, who also plays his “Potter” parent Molly Weasley. In “Driving Lessons,” she portrays an outrageous older woman who takes the shy Ben under her wing. Ron and Ben are a lot alike, Grint said, since they’re both teenagers going through an awkward phase, but the way he plays them is very different.

“Ben is a lot more quiet, while Ron’s more laid-back,” Grint said. “I relate more to Ron, because I also come from a big family, but Ben’s more based on ['Driving Lessons' director] Jeremy Brock, what he was like.”

That’s because the film’s story is loosely based on Brock’s adolescence, when he went to work for a legendary actress. Walters’ Dame Evie gets Ben to loosen up by making him laugh, swear and break the rules of his domineering mother (played by Laura Linney). It’s the laughing, though, that always gets Grint, because he has enough trouble repressing that as it is.

“She’s always in character, always doing crazy stuff, so it’s hard to keep a straight face,” he said of Walters. “And the bus scene, where she’s telling everyone I’m gay, and I’m protesting that I’m not, that was a really hard scene to do and not laugh. I don’t know why, but it’s the serious things that crack me up the most. Especially the quiet scenes.”

Grint’s had such a problem keeping his composure, he said, that original “Harry Potter” director Chris Columbus had to take him aside during the second film of the franchise for a little talk about professionalism. “I have a real problem,” Grint admitted. “It was a little out of hand. I got better on the third film, I was more focused, but on the fourth, I was as bad as ever.”

Repressing giggle fits was the hardest part of Grint’s first onscreen kiss, when Ben finally gets lucky in “Lessons,” courtesy of a Scottish lass named Bryony (played by Michelle Duncan). “That was a nerve-wracking scene,” Grint said, “because everyone’s watching, so I just tried to make it as awkward as possible, tentative, shy, nervous. It was very weird.”

But he’s at least more prepared for his massive make-out sessions to come in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” “I’ll know what to expect now,” he said. “But Ben’s kiss is a bit different than Ron’s. I might make that one a bit more enthusiastic.”

He’s got plenty of time to practice until those scenes come up — for now, he’s knee-deep in shooting fight scenes for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” due July 13, 2007. Grint’s already wrapped the scene where he and Harry take on Malfoy’s henchman Crabbe and Goyle in Umbridge’s office, and he’s currently in a weeklong stretch where Potter teaches an underground Defense Against the Dark Arts class to a group of rebel students calling themselves Dumbledore’s Army (see “Harry Potter’s ‘Phoenix’ Begins Rising Next Week” ). These take place in the Room of Requirement, a magical room that becomes whatever you need of it. The students need to learn to fight, so they practice stunning, disarming and other spells on one another.

“I’m dueling Hermione,” Grint said, “and I get thrown back a lot, which we do with me wearing a harness. We’re doing quite a few stunts, but the really big fight scenes are coming up.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

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