Naomi Watts’ latest film, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, deals with betrayal, a theme that the now single Oscar nominee says she can relate to. “I’ve been betrayed many times and I don’t mean just in a relationship, as in infidelity, but your parents betray you from day one here and there,” Watts explains as we chat in a Beverly Hills hotel room on a sunny LA morning. “I mean that’s just a part of life, it’s an ongoing thing, where every day there’s something in mild and varying degrees.” As her latest screen character discovers by the end of the movie, in life, Watts agrees, makes us stronger human beings. “100%, and I’m sure I’ve betrayed people many times as well.”
Naomi has thrived playing characters who are intense or caught up in intense predicaments, whether it’s the distraught wife trying to piece together a tragic life in her Oscar-nominated 21 Grams, a single mother and journalist avoiding the inevitability of death in The Ring, or as in We Don’t Live Here Anymore, in which she plays a wife and mother who averts her husband’s infidelity by herself cheating with his best [and married] friend. It’s another wonderful role for the Australian actress, but not one that bears many parallels with her more recent 21 Grams character, “except maybe that she’s grieving, the loss of love that she has been in, in a slow gradual way for many, many years. With Christine in 21 Grams, it’s a shocking situation that takes over her life and she actually experiences grief. I think it couldn’t be more different. Edith, in this movie, is passive, sad and depressed.” Watts says that the film’s theme is partly what she finds interesting about her latest film, “Because it is very real. You don’t go to this movie, put your popcorn on your lap, have a giggle and then not take it home with you; it’s confronting.”
Asked what she draws on to play Edith, Watts says that “I think imagining a life without love and without expression. This is a woman who hasn’t been heard, seen or touched in a loving, passionate way for many years and she lives with the knowledge of her husband’s infidelity and creates mechanisms to survive. Then suddenly she finds herself reaching to awaken something in her, which gives her courage and a sense of herself again,” Watts says.
Watts, who can afford to be choosy as to what she does these days, originally turned down We Don’t Live Here Anymore, despite it being directed by her close friend John Curran. “John came to me with the project and there was no chance of me working that soon after 21 Grams.” What changed her mind was the opportunity of playing a role she had never tackled before: that of producer. “That was one of the things that lured me in the end because at first I didn’t even want to read the script because they had a window that they had to fill and I thought there’s just no way. I was too tired, 21 Grams really drained me and I needed to just rest, and go to the spa, not another film set. John said “please” and he’s been a friend for many years, and “I really, really want you to look at this. I read the script and I still said “no John, this is not something I can do” and then they approached me as a producer, and I thought that is interesting to me because I’ve never done it and I do have that desire, I would like to direct as well, but I think my mind is more built at this point in my life to produce.”
As for Watts’ directing aspirations, they are destined to be on hold,. For as an actress, nobody seems busier these days as Ms. Watts, who had just wrapped work on The Ring 2 not long prior to this interview. While some cynics might argue that doing that sequel could be considered a step back in her critically acclaimed career, the actress concedes that she did it for contractual reasons. “I was contractually obliged to do it, and back then, I really didn’t have the power of choice, but the first one was a good script, the film did very, very well and it went beyond a genre piece, it’s got an extreme character in it which is quite rare in a genre, where there is usually just running and screaming. This character had a lot more substance and it was about confronting the situation, the psychological aspects to it, and moral dilemmas, which I think have come up again in the sequel. They took a long time with the script, DreamWorks are very clever people, they know how to make it right and they persisted. We have a great director, who directed the original one, and we have a great cast. I think there is always that fear of doing any sequel but we took our time in trying to make it the best we could.”
But Watts is not the same, relatively unknown [internationally] actress that she was on the set of The Ring. These days, with her Oscar nomination and flurry of Hollywood offers, Naomi says that she has no qualms these days of taking a more active role in the film making process. “I’m certainly more vocal. I’ve always had my ideas but not nearly the courage that I have to speak up and, say, give my ideas, I basically think when they respect your work, they want to hear your ideas. It’s not just speaking out of turn. Things have gone well and they ask my opinion and it’s nice because I think films require collaboration. Even some of the most incredible geniuses like David Lynch, want to know your opinion, and to see what you bring to the table.”
Watts is currently in New Zealand as star of the remake of King Kong. One wonders, despite it being a huge Hollywood film, whether Watts would have been willing to jump into Kong’s gargantuan claws, had it not been for its director, Oscar winner Peter Jackson. “That’s a tough one. If it was someone else, great. There’s a really beautiful scene in that movie which is very simple. It’s a love story like Beauty and The Beast.,” Watts explains. The actress also concedes that business decisions do sometime play a part in deciding whether or not to do a film such as King Kong. “I think there’s a blending or merging of art and commerce but it’s certainly not calculated or planned. I still have to love the script or the director, and mainly I choose my director before anything,” Watts insists.
Watts has finally attained the dream of many aspiring actors, to be given choice in what she does. 13 years after we first met, Watts smilingly agrees that she had no idea we would be chatting about her latest Hollywood blockbuster. “I always imagined that I hoped for the good fortune of being a working actor, but beyond that, it seemed too far-fetched.” Dividing her time between Sydney and Los Angeles, Watts says that the seductive nature of Hollywood, cannot help but change one over the years, to some extent. “I think everyone changes every day and you don’t have to be so black and white about it. You’ve changed, and you’ve learned to look after yourself and in a productive environment where people will suck you dry if they can. You become a little more guarded and stronger, but I have the same group of friends that I’ve always had and they tell me if I’m out of line, and I let them because I respect them. If ever there’s any moment where I’m believing anything people say about me, then my friends will cut me back down to size,” Naomi says, laughingly. “I think that’s part of being Australian, which never leaves you.”
There was a time, when Naomi did not have the world at her feet, but now, it seems that the work is more than enough to keep her busy. With so many films coming out, Watts agrees that her workaholic drive is a defence mechanism that harks back to her days as another struggling young actress. “Certainly, I think there’s truth in that. The phone did not really ring for ten years and suddenly now I’m getting to the stage where I’m starting to trust that it’s not going to go away tomorrow, and that there is now a reason to believe that I can take a break if I want to.”
Watts says that she definitely plans to take a break after King Kong, and admits that she has found genuine happiness. “I’m very happy,” Naomi says smilingly