How the ginger who scored the role of Ron Weasley — and stole the world's hearts — is spending his time post-Potter

By Jeff Jensen
July 01, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Red hair. Big family. By his own admission, not the biggest fan of school. These things describe not only Ron Weasley but also Rupert Grint, a young man seemingly born to play Harry Potter’s best mate. In fact, a year before he was cast in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Grint entered a Ron Weasley look-alike contest sponsored by a London newspaper. ”I won, too,” he says proudly. ”I had always felt a connection to Ron.”

Perhaps it’s because both guys are a bit eccentric. Those who know Grint — the oldest of five siblings — will tell you about his pet teacup pigs, the Mr. Whippy ice cream truck he drives around for fun, his passion for the art of the late curly-haired PBS painting instructor Bob Ross. ”I’ve never been to Rupert’s house,” says Daniel Radcliffe, ”but I’ve always imagined it to be a little like Pee-wee Herman’s home. I just picture him waking up every morning, then sliding down a waterslide to the breakfast table.”

”I have always enjoyed things that are a little different, a little odd,” admits Grint, who quit school at 16 to focus on acting. He’s chosen his non-Potter roles accordingly. The 22-year-old actor has appeared in several British indie films in recent years, including the edgy drama Cherrybomb and the action comedy Wild Target. It was ”just for fun, really,” says Grint. ”And probably for my sanity, too.” He’s currently attached to star in a long-gestating biopic about Eddie ”The Eagle” Edwards, the offbeat English ski jumper who became a British folk hero during the 1988 Winter Olympics. And he just wrapped the WWII flick Comrade, about British and German soldiers stranded in the Norwegian wilderness and forced to work together to survive.

”He has the nicest nature of anyone I have ever met,” says Emma Watson. ”So down-to-earth. So solid. He’s my rock.” Perhaps that’s part of what makes him so well attuned to his feelings — especially about leaving Potter behind. ”I was quite relieved when we wrapped last year,” the actor says. ”But I felt an overwhelming sadness as well. I do miss it. It’s going to take a while to move on.”