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An Evening with Naomi Watts

Jose here to talk about Naomi Watts. She's having a great month. First, she won Best Actress nominations from both the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes for her work in The Impossible (opening today!). Then she got a hell of an endorsement from Reese Witherspoon who promised she'd "tap dance on Sunset Blvd." to get her an Oscar for this movie. If other people in Hollywood start feeling she's as good as Meryl in Sophie's Choice (Reese's words) Naomi's stars might be finally aligning for a statuette.

Earlier this week I attended a preview screening of The Impossible (hosted as part of 92Y's Reel Pieces series) which was preceded by a Q&A with Watts. She discussed working with green screens, working with boy wonder Tom Holland (nominated for Best Young Actor at the "Critics Choice" Awards) and spent a surprising amount of time discussing her work in Mulholland Dr. But, hey, a lot of us have been talking about that for years as well!

[Mulholland Dr, King Kong and The Impossible after the jump]

Watts was interviewed by scholar Annette Insdorf, who chose some very peculiar moments of Watts' career as part of the clip reel (that scene where she practically forces Samuel L. Jackson to have sex with her in Mother and Child ?) all of which helped display the actress' versatility and prove that Watts remains one of the industry's most underrated actresses.

Remember that great audition scene in Mulholland Dr. that gave us goosebumps eleven years ago? Watts talked about "magic" occurring in actual auditions and then during that scene.

Each time an actor reads a script there's usually one scene that just explodes off the page and explains the whole reason why you have to do it.

David likes to keep things a mystery. I remember watching his face [when the audition scene was shot] and he was delighted...I just felt like there was magic in the room.

This must have come as a relief considering her admittance that she wasn't entirely sure what the movie was about and wasn't confident about her work...

I was sure I was doing the worst performance to ever hit the screen"

In The Impossible, the actress plays Maria, a character based on a real woman who survived the Thailand tsunami. This isn't the first time Watts has played a living person, when asked about the way this changes her work she replied that she gets very invested in what happened to the people.  

It's not always that characters stay with you, but in this case yes, Maria stayed with me and I will always feel connected to her. When you're in her presence you're just inspired, she has this great positive energy, she's always present, alway's in the moment."

Next up Watts is playing Princess Diana in a new biopic. She revealed the movie will take place during a period of Diana's life where she was "in a good place" having an intense romance with a doctor.

Every character comes with a different kind of pressure, Princess Diana was an enormous pressure because everybody feels they know her. Right away you're throwing yourself into the fear of public opinion, I don't know how I said yes to that but I couldn't say no, it was a story that had to be told because what the media did to her was unforgivable."

After Lady Di, Watts could play the most iconic film figure of all time, Marilyn Monroe, in Andrew Dominik's take on Joyce Carol Oates' Blonde. She describes it as a possibility still. Blonde is not, according to Naomi, a traditional biopic, "it's quite stylized and twisted".

But most of the discussion detailed her new tsunami survival drama. The Impossible was quite a demanding movie in terms of the physical toll it took on its actors, especially Watts. "I said to myself after King Kong that I would never do anything as active as that again" she added, but after reading the screenplay to this movie she put all the fear to the side, "it's like childbirth, you forget".   

Shooting took place over 25 weeks in 60 different sets and featured almost no CGI. "All the physical stuff was incredibly difficult, there was no CGI, you are truly gasping for air" she explained, then adding "it was very old school and I think the decision to do it that way was there was no money to do the CGI".

This meant a completely different process than her work in Peter Jackson's King Kong.

I spent about a month on the stage doing all the green screen stuff and I had full grown stunt men banging up against me or poking me with sticks with giant polysterene fingers pretending they were King Kong's hand or god knows what..."

In The Impossible she had a moment where the realness of the effects almost put her life in danger...

All of the water stuff was scary but you did feel safe. But there was an underwater scene where I got trapped in a chair that was spinning. I had to release myself when I was out of breath and just as I was about to release myself, the chair started spinning in the other direction and I thought 'the director is trying to get more fear out of me' and it turned out that it was a technical malfunction."

Throughout the interview Watts was very eloquent while sharing great anecdotes. She raved about Tom Holland (recently nominated for Best Young Actor at the "Critics Choice Awards") but curiously never mentioned Ewan McGregor, her screen husband, which is perhaps a sign of things to come in terms of awards. The most rewarding element for me, though, was the movie itself. Contrary to what that trailer suggests it is not a big tearjerker as much as it's a movie about the horrors involved in trying to stay alive. Watts is extraordinary in the film and for someone who should have at least four Oscar nominations by now, it'll be great to hear her name being called on January 10th.

Naomi and Tom Holland in "The Impossible"

Are you a fan of Naomi's work? How would you try to convince her that her performance in Mulholland Dr. wasn't "the worst performance to ever hit the screen"? 

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Reader Comments (21)

Nice Reading and I completely agree that Watts should have atleast 4 noms - Mulholland Dr., 21 Grams, King Kong, Painted Veil and 1 win ( everyone knows, her performance in Mulholland Dr. is one of the best of last decade forget that year.)

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGautam

She can coast on the reputation of her performance in Mulholland Drfor the rest of her career.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

She was amazing in " Painted Veil".

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Jaragon -- YES. I think Painted Veil is easily her best work outside of Mulholland Dr. Pity no one talks about that movie.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

she is amazing in the impossible. Outside of Riva's which is a performance for the ages, hers was the one that moved me the most.

December 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

I must admit, I was a bit sour on her simply because I was sour on all of these actresses of 2003 that took Evan Rachel Wood's place in the Actress lineup, but I think she is really great. She made Mulholland Dr. work and I really want to The Impossible.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

I think "Mulholland Dr." and "The Painted Veil" are her best performances, but I think she does what she can in "21 Grams." The majority of the things that don't work about her performance in that movie have to do with the THROW-SHIT-ON-THE-WALL editing, Iñarritu's erratic direction, and the dour cinematography. And still, she managed to move me deeply in it. Watts is just a very special performer.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

I put Watts's performance in Mulholland Dr up there with Renee Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc and Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. It Is likely the greatest performance of its decade.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason Cooper

Don't forget her work in Mother and Child. Watts preternaturally gets to the emotional core being of her characters probably better than any actress performing today. Natch: 21 Grams, Mulholland Drive, The Painted Veil -- even King Kong.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

Am I the only one who thinks Mother and Child criminally underrated, performances included? One of her best works.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I agree with most of you that Mulholland Dr. and The Painted Veil are her best performances so far. I don't think The Impossible belongs to that group. I see it as a big fat tearjerker so your final comment really surprises me, although I might be just a bit sour because I fear she'll get the 5th spot over Weisz.

P.S. The lady next to her is not the real Maria.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

@Peggy Sue, that lady is Valerie Plame, the exposed ex-CIA agent whom she played in Fair Game last year, another film which Watts' performance should have been recognized and awarded, but instead once again largely taken for granted and dismissed by critics, gurus, oscar-watchers/bloggers and buzz-makers & manipulators alike. It's more irritating that a similar but much smaller and underdone role by Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark 30 is heavily buzed and hyped to be one of the front-runners in the Best Leading Actress race this year. Where is the justice? Beside Mulholland Drive and Fair Game, Watts other Oscar-worthy work are: King Kong, The Painted Veil, Mother and Child...yet all played down and snubbed by people in this circle. What a shame!

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersteandric

Big big big fan of her. Her performance in Mulholland Dr completely blows me away. Her ability to perform such a raw, emotional feeling that made her one of the best in her generation. I think she is highly underrated actress.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertombeet

steandric -- Thanks. I haven't seen Fair Game, but I did see Mother and Child. I'm totally into Rodrigo García!

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Reese Witherspoon, the actress whoclaims to be the only actress in Hollywood to put family before work (unlike a Streep or Keaton), an actress who won an Oscar for a bland peformance in Walk the Line, supports Naomi Watts. Poor Naomi, who could possibly want an endorsement from such a self centered actor as Reese (please return that Oscar and give it to Felicity who really deserves it)...

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermed

If there's a split between Chastain and Lawrence, I could see her being the Brody and getting it...it would be wholly deserved.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Whether she gets nominated or not, Its been good to have her back in the race. I always buzz out when I remember that she's only had 1 nomination. Seriously can't get over how she missed for MD....

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

Med, I agree Reese Witherspoon has pissed all over her Oscar and her film career. She is the best example on what not to do after winning an Oscar. She wanted to have a very limited, incredibly safe, and mediocre film career. like her idol Julia Roberts. Sadly, Reese doesn't want to be challenged, and she wants commercial success. So, yes, receiving an endorsement from Witherspoon is never a compliment.

December 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersteve

What concept and logic is that that Reese can't appreciate and show support of a performance that she thinks is excellent ? How about Angelina Jolie, Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Jack Black, Jennifer Connelly.....who have done the same thing?

December 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersteandric

Reese should not even won that Oscar...

December 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Agreed Reese should not have won that Oscar, but that's irrelevant to her writing to show her appreciation and support of Watts' performance.

December 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersteandric

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