WATTS, NAOMI – 21 GRAMS
WATTS THE BETTER
While Naomi Watts gets better and better in a sequence of emotionally draining roles - Mulholland Drive, The Ring and now 21 Grams - she is hoping to find a really good comedy, she admits to Andrew L. Urban, but will first co-star with a digital gorilla.
In 21 Grams you play Cristina, a role that is – as usual for you – emotionally draining and demanding; was it more punishing than usual?
Yeah, it was, because there was so much of it . . . whatever you see on the screen we did, and we also did a lot more. There were times we would underplay things, and other times where we would really ramp it up. The beauty of that was we trusted the director so much, we knew we were in safe hands and he wouldn’t let us strike a false moment. Even if you tried it on the set, we knew we would be saved, later. But there are so many ways to play those reactions; for instance in the hospital scene when she receives the terrible news. You could think of any truthful way to react to that. Some people could fall to the ground, some people could just nod and walk away, some people could lash out on the person delivering that news … so we really tried all of those things, almost, so it was a difficult experience, shooting that amount of heightened emotions on a daily basis.
[The story: Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is ill, desperately waiting for someone to die who is a suitable heart donor, while his wife Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is waiting for a chance to have a baby, but it seems it won’t happen naturally. Nor is their relationship likely to last. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is convulsed and traumatised by the accidental death of her husband and two little daughters in a hit and run, with driver Jack (Benicio del Toro) mortified and guilt ridden about the event. Despite his wife’s (Melissa Leo) pleas, Jack wants to give himself up.]
Sean Penn has said how marvellous it was to work with you, and he is quoted as saying that you were ‘a bar raiser … and a bar raiser’. Is this a reference to you working hard and playing hard? Is the second ‘bar raiser’ a reference to drinking kind of bars ….?
(laughs) Oh, no, no… there were times when we’d all go out together and have a drink to try and keep up morale, but it was a very focused set; the subject matter required that and we were all very committed to the script and Alejandro (the director), so it was often about conserving your energy. But the fact that he said it is crazy, I mean he definitely raises the bar!
Watching you in this role, it struck me how things have changed in commercial filmmaking: a few years ago we were writing stories about the dearth of great roles for women. Have you noticed how that’s changed?
I’ve certainly seen a growth in strong female roles and it’s incredibly inspiring. Particularly for us who are not in their 20s any more, when you’re told that you must panic because things are going to slow down and dry up. But I feel they’ve never been better; and so what if you have to play the mother of a teenager next, you know! That’s something not to be panicked by but look forward to.
And in that context; you’ve always played emotionally extreme roles. Do you ever long – perhaps in the middle of a draining take – for a comedy?
Oh yeah! And I did do a comedy last year (Le Divorce), although it’s definitely on the dark side of comedy…But it’s really hard to find a really good comedy. You read these scripts and think, oh how disappointing, it’s so formulaic and predictable…so I kinda loose interest. Whereas these (dramatic roles) have held my interest. The scripts are good, the roles are good, the team around you are good...
Does that team around you – agents, manager, so on – help you with your career choices? You do have a lot of choices now, more than ever…Do you rely on others?
Oh no, it’s always my own choice. You can tell reading the script, and often just on one page, you can sense ‘this is it’. And sometimes you don’t even know exactly why, it just connects with you and you find out why later. There’s been some sort of catharsis in the filmmaking, or you’ve connected with great people along the way … there was a lot of that with this experience on 21 Grams, addressing the themes of loss particularly, for me.
Well, we look forward to seeing you in a comedy, but first, you’ll co-star with a digital gorilla for Peter Jackson in the remake of King Kong – best of luck with that, and thanks for your time today.
Published January 22, 2004
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