Naomi Watts: I love everything about India
In the toughest film in her career so far, Naomi Watts plays a role quite close to home.
The Impossible has her play a mother of three caught in a Tsunami, struggling to keep her family alive and safe.
Being a mother in real life -- Naomi has two children Kai, five, and Sashi, four, with partner Liev Schreiber -- she could feel the pain her character Maria (based on Spanish doctor Maria Belon and her real life account) went through.
Naomi does a fine job of it, in the film, and in her daily life, as she juggles between a busy acting career and her young children.
In this e-mail interview with Ronjita Kulkarni, Naomi talks about her new film, her toughest movies, her trip to India, and the Indian movies she loves.
How difficult was it to play Maria in The Impossible, given that you are scared of drowning? What inner resources did you have to delve into play the role? You have spoken in the past that you reach out to your inner demons when playing parts? The fear of losing your family, for instance, now that you have two young sons and someone like (partner) Liev Schreiber in your life?
I believe there must always be a thread in everything I choose to take on. I feel I always end up doing the work that's resonating with me.
Being a mother, I could actually feel the struggle and pain that Maria went through on being separated with her family.
When I was 14, I got caught in a rip tide, and ever since that I have fear of water.
We spent four weeks in that tank; it was terrifying and physically exhausting. But I am glad I did it and it paid off well.
Image: Naomi Watts in The Impossible
'I do really have a lot of pride about this film'
A Golden Globe nomination for The Impossible... Oscar Buzz for The Impossible... playing Princess Diana... one of the most important actresses in Hollywood... did you think all this was possible even 10 years ago, when you were perhaps better known as Nicole Kidman's friend or Heath Ledger's lover? What would you think changed it all for you?
As an actor, you always look for roles that are rich and give you a chance to showcase your talent. I am glad that today I am in that position where I get to work in such films and this year has been extremely exciting as I was blessed to find two.
To have the chance to play them was a gift in itself and to then being acknowledged this way is overwhelming.
Did you expect the Globe nomination for The Impossible? Who is your closest competitor, you think, among the nominees (Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Helen Mirren and Rachel Weisz)?
There are so many great films, great filmmakers and great actors. We're all passionate about what we do so I really can't say that but I'm really happy to be here because I do really have a lot of pride about this film.
But the greatest critique I've had is a letter from Maria that came after she saw the film. It was just the nicest letter I think I've ever received. That was so great. I feel like I've done my job.
Image: Ewan Mcgregor and Naomi Watts on The Impossible
'For Maria's role, I didn't have to worry about my looks'
Have you ever been in a place where Maria has been in The Impossible, when all seemed lost and the possibility of loss was palpable? Do roles like Maria, Valerie Plame, Ann Darrow, Cristina Peck -- where your character is in a Scylla and Charybdis situation -- attract you rather than play more conventional roles that trade on your looks and charm? What preparations do you make for taking on a role's complexity? A role like Maria, for instance?
I can't even imagine being in Maria's shoes, she is incredibly courageous and I truly respect her.
For Maria's role, I didn't have to worry about my looks but there were other kind of pressures involved.
There was this huge responsibility to get Maria's character right. There were so many survivors present in the set. Everyday someone would come up with a new version of their story. That was really weighing on me, which is a lot of pressure.
But to help me in my preparations, Maria has always been there with me throughout the film and guided me with every minute detail. She wrote endless letters to me throughout. Each time we changed the location and went to a new scene, she would write very expressive letters.
You play a mother separated from your family during a tsunami in The Impossible. How tough was the film?
This film was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was both physically and emotionally demanding. In spite of having a fear of water, I had to stay in a water tank for four weeks.
Apart from that, there was a huge responsibility to get the character of Maria right.
In Maria's case, I just felt I had this responsibility for her but she feels she has the responsibility for everyone else that suffered or lost lives. So I took that on board and it was such a big thing. Every day we were being reminded of that. Each day we met a new extra or new person on the crew, just so many people would tell us a new version of their story. That was really weighing on me, which is a lot of pressure.
So it was like even when I am not in the water, I had to remain in this high-pitched emotional place.
Image: Naomi Watts in The Impossible
'King Kong was the most physically, emotionally demanding role'
What's the toughest film you've ever done so far?
It has to be The Impossible. It was both emotionally and physically exhausting for me.
When I wasn't in the water, I was in pain or in an emotional place, so it was definitely hands down the hardest thing I've done.
I even suffered from bronchitis and stomach problems after swallowing copious amount of water while shooting a number of underwater scenes.
Before that, I would say King Kong was the most physically, emotionally demanding role, and I actually remember promising to myself that I would never do something like that again.
Out of all the films you've done, which one did you love making? Was there a film you wish you hadn't signed up for?
There's no calculating: Either the material moves me or it doesn't. I don't regret any of my decisions so far. The Impossible is one film that has left a profound impact on me.
Image: Naomi Watts in King Kong
'I shopped for Jaipuri quilts in Jaipur'
How do you manage to juggle an active movie career and bringing up two young boys? What's an average day in your life like?
It feels great to have both things in my life, but there are times when it's a struggle. Sleep is often something I'm deprived of.
It's been fine up until now, but now Sasha is in kindergarten it's going to be a lot more difficult to travel.
You seem to have a lot of encounters with India this past year. What was your India experience like? What's the one thing you love about India?
I visited Jal Mahal. It was so beautiful. The beauty of the terrace garden, Chameli Bagh, was enthralling. I also shopped for Jaipuri quilts from Chaura Rasta in Jaipur. My mother and both my children, Kai and Sasha, had a great time. I loved everything about the country.
Image: Naomi Watts in The Impossible
'I admire films made by Mira Nair'
Did you like living in Delhi when Liev was shooting for Mira Nair's film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist? Did your boys like India?
Liev and both my children, Kai and Sasha, had a great time. I came to Delhi as a UNAID goodwill ambassador to visit the families of people affected by AIDS.
Have you ever watched a Bollywood film? Do you know of any Bollywood actors?
I know very little about the industry. I admire films made by Mira Nair.
Will we ever see you in any Bollywood film?
I have seen Mississippi Masala and The Namesake. I would be willing to do any role, as long as the material moves me.
Image: Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber
Photographs: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI