By EW Staff
July 09, 2009 at 05:00 PM EDT

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After an eight-month delay that drove some fans to brink of madness, HarryPotter and the Half-Blood Prince finally hits theaters on July 15th — andEntertainment Weekly’s new cover story is a behind-the-scenes exclusive on thefilm. Half-Blood Prince encompasses young love run amuck, secret missions, andimpending war. Most Hollywood insiders expect it to be one of the year’s biggesthits, partly because it’s rated a family-friendly PG, whereas the last two Potter films were PG-13. Still, it will be interesting to see how the movie’s brand of innocentromance plays with young audiences smitten by the neo-goth sexiness of Twilight.Even Potter star Emma Watson read all four Twilight books after a friend turnedher onto the series last year. “I mean, I wouldn’t say I was one of the psychofans,” she says. “Absolute madness, that phenomenon, isn’t it?”

As forthe Potter phenomenon, the movies are slowly coming to an end, with theremaining JK Rowling novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to be splitinto two movies. During the production of Half-Blood Prince — the final chapterto be set within Hogwarts School — Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Watsonwore their characters’ Gryffindor House robes for the last time. “I was like ‘Burn it!’ Oh my god, to be done with those shoes and that uniform — that was anexciting day,” says Watson. Radcliffe adds, “When you’re 18, one of the worstthings to be wearing while trying to chat up a girl on the set is a schooluniform. You look like a kid! You’re not going to score dressed like that!”

All of the stars are aware that pursuing acting will be tricky,post-Potter. Watson isn’t even sure she wants to try. She’s decided to go tocollege (at Columbia University, reportedly), but still has about a year of workon Deathly Hallows to finish first. “My world is still all about Harry Potter,”she says. “I really can’t see anything beyond it.” Radcliffe, on the other hand,is ecstatic about acting. “I have come to the conclusion that I am never happierthan when I am on a film set,” he says. “This is what I want to be doing.Totally. Absolutely. Unequivocally!”

Production on the Deathly Hallowsmovies began last February and could stretch well into next year. For Grint andWatson, their hardest scene was (spoiler alert if you’ve never read the books!)a kiss between Ron and Hermione. “I remember being inches away from her lips andthinking, ‘Good lord, this is going to be strange,'” says Grint. Adds Watson: “Rupert is like a brother to me, and our relationship couldn’t be more platonic.So kissing him –- well, it felt like incest, to be honest. But I think it’s goingto be very sweet.”

For more about Harry Potter — including highlights fromthe new film, and Radcliffe talking about a Deathly Hallows scene he dreadsfilming — pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday, July10.