Naomi Watts sounded tired when we spoke at a Beverly Hills hotel room, and for good reason. “I’m suffering from major jetlag having just arrived from Australia”, Watts, says apologetically. The actress had spent six weeks with her son and partner, actor Liev Schreiber, who is shooting Wolverine. “I came to LA just to do press for [Funny Games] and then I head back.”
Watts has appeared in many tough, risk-taking films but nothing quite compares to what she goes through with Funny Games. A remake of a 1997 German thriller, Watts stars as a wife and mother whose family lakeside vacation comes to an end when the family is brutally terrorized by two young men who take the family hostage, physically and emotionally brutalizing them in the process.
She admits that when offered the film, “this was not an easy decision to make. I wrestled with the idea because it is such a difficult, disturbing, piece and very controversial. Of course I wondered how it would land with American audiences, so although it wasn’t an easy quick decision ultimately I felt it was worthwhile because it engages you, albeit sometimes with very negative feelings, I do feel like it happens with an incredible, visceral feeling and to me that’s always a success,” Watts explains, further adding that director Michael Haneke, was the ultimate draw-card.
“He is a fabulous film maker and I had seen three of his films, so I was a familiar with Michael’s work, and blown away by all of his films. You probably know from seeing quite a few of my films now, that a lot of them have great directors. I always feel that if you’re working with a great director you’re in safer hands” she says.
In delving into the role of a woman who succumbs to torture and cruelty, the actress says, “it’s a perfect film to play out what-if? It’s the kind of situation that could take place almost anywhere, to anyone. In fact I know two people who have had situations where they’ve been held hostages at their homes. It didn’t play out quite as badly but it could have gone badly, so your imagination can take you there because it does feel like a truthful thing.”
The actress admits that it was harder than usual leaving this character behind at the end of the day. “With a lot of thrillers that I’ve done, when people ask me that question, I can usually leave it behind, because most of the time all of those horrific moments that play out on the screen are so fragmented during the film process that you’re not in a place of fear. But in this case, Michael did it in a totally different way, in that there are no cinema tricks, no breaking of the momentum, his shots go on forever, it’s so drawn out and the coverage is very simplistic. And because it takes place in one set pretty much, we were able to shoot in chronological order.”
The actress, whose son is now seven months, pauses reflectively when asked if she would have been less likely to take something like Funny Games on had her son been born at the time. “It’s a very hypothetical question and something that already took such a lot of deliberation. I grappled with it a lot and ultimately having bounced it off people I admire and respect so much, and they all said you’ve got to do it, as scary as it was. In terms of now, I’d spend more time thinking about it, but I can’t answer the question in a word, yes or a no. But I would think when my son is an adult, he chooses it, and makes his own decisions, then, hopefully he’ll understand my reasoning behind it.”
Watts says that motherhood has changed the way she perceives her career at this point. “Certainly there will be a lot more negotiating, from a practical point of view, the where and the when and the how long, whose turn it is to work and all that stuff. In terms of the content, I think it will continue to be my taste. Maybe I’ll do a film here and there to impress him, but it’s not like suddenly my taste will change and I’ll end up doing movies about small animals in the forest,” Watts says laughingly.
The actress is enjoying being mother in her native Sydney, despite the local media initially being intrusive. “Whenever I get back into town, they hound you for the first five days. I don’t know if then they think, OK, let’s let her enjoy her home and her family now, or if they just get to a point where the pictures are worthless because they’ve already been printed in each magazine. It always seems to die down after a few days.”
The actress says she is trying to take a break and play mother. “My son is seven months old. I worked five weeks on a film called The International, and that was definitely tough, because it was a struggle and a big process.” And the actress confirms she is still attached to star in a remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds, based on the classic Daphne DuMaurier novel. “It’s definitely a strong possibility. The script is with a new writer, and there’s a director attached, so nothing will happen this year.”