Naomi Watts' latest film, We Don't Live Here Anymore, adapted from two stories by author Andre Dubus, deals with betrayal. It's 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," says Watts when we first chat in a Beverly Hills hotel room on a sunny LA morning. "That's just a part of life, it's an ongoing thing, where every day there's something in mild and varying degrees... 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 a wife and mother who averts her husband's infidelity by herself cheating with his best (and married) friend in We Don't Live Here Anymore.
The latest role has few similarities with her more recent 21 Grams character although both experience a loss of love. "With Christine in 21 Grams, it's a shocking situation that takes over her life and she actually experiences grief," says Watts. "Edith, in this movie, is passive, sad and depressed... 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, "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."
Now in a position to be choosy about what she does, Watts 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." She changed her mind after she was given the opportunity of playing a role she had never tackled before: that of producer.
"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."
However, Watts' directing aspirations will have 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 career she concedes that she did it for contractual reasons.
"I was contractually obliged to do it, and back then," she says.
Since her Oscar nomination and flurry of Hollywood offers, Naomi says that she has no qualms these days about taking a more active role in the filmmaking process. "I'm certainly more vocal. I've always had my ideas but not nearly the courage that I have
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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. Thirteen years after we first met, Watts 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 you cannot help being changed by the seductive nature of Hollywood.
"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."
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.
"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."