Naomi Watts is getting the reviews of her life for her starring role in David
Lynchís drama, Mulholland Drive. But the English-born, Australian-raised Los Angeles
resident is cautiously optimistic on the eve of the release of her tour de force
performance Ė which some are already hailing as the stuff Oscars are made of. While
few have heard of the actress, sheís not exactly an overnight success. Studying drama
in Australia after moving there at the age of 14, Watts worked with Nicole Kidman Ė
now her closest friend Ė in the movie Flirting and also appeared in the disastrous
big-screen version of the popular comic book heroine Tank Girl.
How did you wind up working with David Lynch?
He found me but with a lot of help from a wonderful casting director I had known and
auditioned for a couple of times before. I was in New York and I got a call saying please
come and meet David right away. I had just gone to New York to meet up with my mum, who I
had flown over, and my brother was there and we were having a sort of family reunion. I
have always had this sort of golden rule never to break a plan to get to an audition,
especially when it involves a lot of traveling, because if you donít get it itís
a double disappointment. But because it was David Lynch I figured I couldnít miss it.
I had also heard that he has a very irregular casting process in which he goes through a
stack of photos and just by process of elimination selects maybe three or four pictures at
the most that he responds to and meets with them. So basically the odds are with you if
youíre only up against three of four other girls, and I had also heard that if
youíre second on the list and he likes you, thatís it. Youíre his choice.
So I thought ok, this sounds good, hold on for 24 hours mum, Iíll be right back. So I
met with him and we chatted for about 35 or 40 minutes, never mentioned any work or
anything on my resume, nothing about acting at all, really. He just asked me about my
family and we chatted back and forth. It didnít feel like a normal audition process
at all. And obviously it went really well because here I am!
What was he like as a director?
He doesnít give very specific direction although it seemed specific in the way the
story is told. Heís very much about trusting the actor and the actor trusts him. He
wants to inspire your own free will so that, in other words, heís looking for ideas
and open to them and beautiful things can come out of accidents and thatís basically
the relationship you have working with David. Itís all about trust and youíre
like putty in his hand.
Was it important to understand the story and if you did understand it, can you share
some of it?
I worked it out - how he works - pretty early on and in the beginning I felt tortured
like, Ďplease, tell me, enlighten me.í But itís not that heís
withholding or trying to torture you in any way. Itís just that I think heís
still working it out as he goes. I think he has a lot of very defined ideas, but leaves
them open so new ones can occur. I had my own interpretation for the story because as an
actor you have to. You can isolate a scene but you have to have a grasp on the overlying
storyline. I interpreted it as Diane, who is the character I play in the latter part of
the film, is the reality-based character and she dreams up Betty, this happy-go-lucky
girl, with stars in her eyes, dimples in her cheeks, a bounce in her step. Sheís that
kind of all too perfect highly spirited girl and, it almost seems one-dimensional. But
itís unreal, itís her dream and her fantasy because Diane is in this weird
psychosis and she dreams up this fictitious character in her head because thatís who
she wants to be, someone a little more in control. Thatís how I interpreted it but
that doesnít necessarily mean that is what the movie is really about! (laughs).
Do you think David Lynch really understands women?
Yeah, he loves women. Somebody said to me once and I thought it was quite a funny
analogy that all the women that enter his world or his building or his films or whatever
you want to call it, end up like 40s film stars and the men end up like sort of dorky guys
(laughs). Itís true. If you ever go up to his house itís like all the guys are
like (she imitates a geeky guy with glasses), ĎHi Naomi, how are you?í They
really take on this sensibility, and thatís how he likes to see them.
What is it like to do a nude scene in front of the camera? Does it matter that the
other person is of the same sex?
Itís usually the anticipation thatís difficult. You talk about it. You think
about it and you panic basically and, I remember three days before we started filming the
stuff, I went up the Davidís house and basically just told him I was really nervous
and burst into tears. He was very supportive. I had three scenes where there was nudity or
partial nudity involved and I talked him down to two - a little negotiation through the
tears. Then basically when we got down to it, the set was cleared. Laura and I had known
each other for two and a half years and David too, so there was an enormous amount of
trust. Then when we got to the actual filming, the lighting was very dim. You felt safe
knowing that and then when we did it, we felt completely OK, but then he would call
"cut" and we would literally fall back on the bed feeling like complete goofy,
How did you feel starting out in a TV series and ending up in a movie?
We signed a five-year contract. A lot of times actors find that daunting to be committed
for such a long time but with David Lynch who had done Twin Peaks, there was no risk. He
was the guy who made breakthrough television ten years ago or more now, so it was an
incredible opportunity and this has turned out to be the best ending possible to the whole
story of how it started out. But I would have been fine carrying on with those characters
and, you know, the one great thing about TV is that you get to go down a long journey, a
long road with the same character and that can be interesting, certainly with David Lynch.
Published February 7, 2002