WATTS, NAOMI: THE RING
IT HAD TO HAVE A RING TO IT
They rang her about The Ring even before she’d read the script, but Australian actress Naomi Watts played it cool, making sure the script had the right ring to it, as Andrew L. Urban reports.
Naomi Watts, the girl next door with the world at her feet, walks into the room for the interview looking the perfect mix of studied, low key glamour and casual Australian openness. The first thing you notice is her casually smart dustman’s cap, a slightly darker shade of brown than her tailored jacket over a grey T shirt, blue jeans and a pair of pointy brown suede shoes that I reckon cost more than the rest of her outfit.
The reason I mention all this is that Australian actors (with few exceptions) are generally disinterested in how they look – or can’t quite manage to get the fashion thing to work. Keeping up an image is usually a bore for them, and not their style. But it’s not an image thing with Watts; you can sense she dresses to please herself. The outfit certainly doesn’t smack of image-making. Hell, brown is not an image colour. But it suits her, her straight blonde hair sneaking out at the sides of the cap, her carefree body
language, her smile genuine. And it’s a unique package.
She is also genuine about her enthusiasm for The Ring, the film which we see following her notable, head-turning role in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. But it wasn’t because of the extensive global clamour (and positive reviews) over that film that she got the role of journalist Rachel Keller in The Ring. It was after a private screening of Mulholland Drive that the filmmakers targeted Watts. She tells the story in detail.
“I was working in Wales on a wacky comedy for Miramax (Plots With A View), playing a ditzy Welsh tart with cleavage, with Christopher Walken, Brenda Blethyn and Alfred Molina. I got this phone call from my agent about this film [The Ring], and how it was an incredible role and everybody’s chasing it and it’s really an interesting one, ‘trust me’. It was a Thursday and I had time off till Monday, and they said get on a plane tomorrow…”
At that stage all she knew was the film was called The Ring, but she hadn’t read the script. She hung up and then had one of those lectures to herself. “I put the phone down and said to myself, you know yourself, you’ve been doing this for 10 years. If I do that I’m going to do a terrible audition…all the hysteria that I’ve just heard on the phone will spread into me and infiltrate its way into me and I’ll go and do a bad audition, then I’ll come back with all that energy and mess up the work that I’m being paid for right now. That isn’t serving anybody.”
She called her agents straight back and said, “I’m finished here in two weeks so slow down the process – and trust that if it goes away it’s not my thing. Otherwise I’ll meet with them after I’ve read the script.”
The next phone call (ringing her about The Ring was destined to be a story in the making) from her agent was to say director Gore Verbinski and producer Walter F. Parkes were flying over to meet her in England. They were keen. They would fax her the script, at her mother’s home in the English countryside (Norfolk). “She’s got this pre-historic fax machine, where the paper just rolls out and doesn’t get cut into neat pages….and the fax came through in the middle of the night and it ran out of paper…” By now she’s enjoying the yarn – and so are we.
“It’s just the weirdest way to get the script for the biggest movie I’ve ever done … but when I read the script I thought this is something to fuss about and it’s a great role.”
The now famous story of The Ring tells how journalist Rachel Keller (no relation to Louise Keller of Urban Cinefile, as far as we know) gets drawn into the urban myth of a video with deadly powers: after watching it the viewer receives a phone call [but that’s not the ring reference in the title] with the forecast of the viewer’s death within seven days. She isn’t easily taken in, but her skepticism vanishes after she views the tape herself. She enlists the help of her ex, Noah (Martin Henderson), and when her young son (David Dorfman) views the tape, she knows she must discover the secret of the tape or not only lose her own life but her son’s as well. Her enquiries lead her to believe that the phenomenon is somehow linked to a horse farm on a mysterious island, where she discovers a well ….
Above all, what appealed to Watts was that Rachel was a very flawed young mother, an element she was adamant to retain when discussing the role with director Gore Verbinski at their long (two hour) first meeting in London. “I liked him … instantly … I trusted him. I wanted to be sure we were honest to the script and not make any apologies for the fact that she was this flawed woman. To admit to that. I really responded to that … I wanted to see her grow…”
Watts revels in being a character that’s not her own; she is driven by that, and that’s why Mulholland Drive and The ring are important milestones for her. And people do notice; even Jeffrey Katzenberg rang her to praise her performance in The Ring, a call she regards with considerable pride.
Published November 14, 2002
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RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.