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Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts knows how to scream

Tania Menai, New York

Naomi Watts knows how to scream. And she had been doing that a lot since she was cast as Ann Darrow, the little blond lady who shares the set with a big gorilla called King Kong. The new version of the 1933 classic film, to be released worldwide on December 14, was shot for nine months in New Zealand by the epic filmmaker Peter Jackson (The Lord of The Rings), co-staring Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Jack Black (High Fidelity). Born in England and raised in Australia, Naomi moved to Los Angeles ten years ago. At 37, she is not ashamed to confess that, being a foreigner, it was extremely hard to break into Hollywood. However, after all her effort together with names as Nicole Kidman, Naomiís best friend, Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson, the Australian passport seems to be getting actors somewhere in the movieland. Naomiís name started to be recognized in the US after her role in Mulholland Drive (2001), followed by films like Le Divorce, 21 Grams, The Ring and I heart Huckabees. Sheís currently shooting The Painted Veil, in China, a film based on a Somerset Maugham novel. After four weeks of shooting, she took a break in New York where she spoke to Atlantica correspondent Tania Menai.

Were you ready for the physical demands that King Kong presented for you?

No, I had no idea. It was intense. Seriously, Iím not very big. I mean, Iím sporty and athletic - I do yoga - but I was getting beaten up a lot. There were these men in light blue suits posing as dinosaurs and other things Ė and they were big. They were constantly pulling me and pushing me and pocking things at me. I mean, I had injuries. I was an athlete at that period of time, which Iím not Ė and my body has been never set up for that. I was getting injured every week. And I will not be running out to do an action movie any time soon. I mean, yes, I knew that this was going to be some chasing and running, jumping and stuff. But itís a long schedule and all the stuff that had to do with Kong and the dinosaurs at the last three months did nearly kill me.

Is it hard to capyure the feeling of fear as an actress?

Fear is a wonderful emotion to play. It can go to so many different places. I guess Iíve done a lot of that in my work with Mulholland Drive, the Ring. Sometimes you go there, sometimes you donít need to go there, and itís all about the text and the imagination, and youíre not connected to the truth in the moment. It depends.

Do you have many fears?

Of course. I have fears like all of us do, ones that are private, others that are not. I really donít like flying and I really donít like needles. I hate injections. But you know what I started to do in China? Acupuncture. It requires a lot of needles. So maybe this is helping me a little bit. The fear of flying, on the other hand, has gotten worse. I fly so much, that I feel that my luck is running out. There has been so many plane crashes latelyÖ

How was it working with Peter Jackson compared to other directors you worked with?

It was fantastic. I mean, how his mind can hold so much is beyond me. That guy, he is a genius. There are so many things to consider in this kind of movie, the effects, the labor that goes into it. When you go there he gives you a tour in his owns special effects studios, he shows you how the things are made, the costumes, the details. Itís extraordinary. It all starts from him, he covers everything. Although he has these fantastic people working for him, he supervises everything, every step of the way.

In the 30ís King Kong was the big film of the time. We now live in different times, with several blockbusters. What should we expect from this version of King Kong?

Peter fell in love with the original version when he was nine years old; thatís when he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker and make that film again. Apparently he tried a few times, at the age of 10 or something (laughs). His passion was monumental and it is so great to be around that from day one. I think he wanted to tell it in a modern way, with new ideas, but honoring that period, honoring New York, showing what it was going on at that time of depression and how people survived in desperate times. They really pumped up the female character, she is not only in distress, she is a feisty survivor. It is interesting that times when talkies were basically just starting of. It was a great platform for womenís voice to be out there. And also, in 1920 was when women started to vote, so there were a lot for women to say, so I think it was an interesting time. They also updated it today and put even more in it.

You met the original actress, Fay Wray (1907-2004), right before her death. How was it?

It was great. It was an historical night. We had dinner Uptown New York at one of her friendís apartment. She was very lucid, she had moment of being quiet and seeming quite fragile, but then she just piped up and say something. She had great sense of humor; she cracked a few jokes by saying Ďyouíre not Ann Darrow, Iím Ann Darrowí. I was, Ďoh, no, she doesnít want me to play the partí. And at the end of the night she said some words, basically giving me her blessing, saying that I was the perfect Ann or something. She didnít give me any advice of how to do the scream, though.

What is the connection between Ann and King Kong?

I donít think King Kong falls in love with her because she is beautiful. It didnít happen in the surface sense Ė it was not an external thing that made two beings connect. They try to find a way to exist together and take care of each other. It sounds ridiculous, but it does happen between them. It was not the beautiful golden girl. Peter really stirred away from that.

Anything funny happened on the set of King Kong?

Oh, yeah. The actor who was playing King Kong (later done on computer) was pretty much my size. When I was looking at him he was usually up in a metal construction. But when he was looking at me he would hold a Barbie doll. Hmmm. Itís not necessarily a funny story.

A crescent number of foreign actors and directors are coming to Hollywood. Is it more difficult to make it in this industry for foreigners than for Americans?

Well, it felt like it for me because I had to basically start all over again. So any work than Iíd done in Australia Ė they werenít big films that were recognized by America Ė and nobody had the time to look at them. So I was entering the room meeting this people and starting from the beginning. So that was tough because I felt Ďoh, I had already done this and you donít have the timeí Ė I had constantly to prove myself. It was a disadvantage for me because, you know, audition is always horrific. Lately, however, it seems that having an Australian passport gets you immediately in the door. But it wasnít the case for me; Iíve been here for almost ten years now. In fact, back then I couldnít even talk with an American accent. After all this years I got better on that.

You said yes to 21 Grams without even reading the script. Why?

Because I believed in Alejandro (GonzŠlez IŮŠrritu, the Mexican director). I had no idea it was going to be as great as it was. The script was wonderful, every page I turned it was Ďwowí. I did the same thing with Peter Jackson; of course I knew the story, I agreed to do that without having read it.

How was it for you to perform the masturbation scene at Mulholland Drive?

I was really difficult for me, really hard to do, without a doubt it was the most difficult thing Iíve ever done on film. Itís a private moment, so it made me very emotional and sad. David (Lynch, the director) had a very specific thing in mind for the scene Ė he wanted it to be angry and girl who was desperately reaching for that connection again, that sheíd lost. But she was very angry and very frustrated of not getting there. So she was taking it out on herself; it was violent and unloving. When I see that I kind of cry; and when I was filming it I was crying a lot. And David didnít want that Ďcause Iíd arrived in a place of emotion. He wanted something that showed that I wasnít reaching for, that I wasnít there. We did a lot of takes. I remember a dialog with him that I was ďI canít do it David, I canít do itĒ. And he was there, in the back of his monitor, ďok, Naomi, okĒ. But he wouldnít say cut.

How fashion is important for you?

Iíve always loved clothes. When I had no money Iíd go to flea markets, I love hunting out and borrowing otherís peopleís clothes and try out new things. I love many designers Ė Iím now wearing Manni (a black dress). I like Marc JacobsÖ I hate to mention names because I always forget a few, and they are all so generous on giving me clothes. I wear different designers. Iím very eclectic, never head-to-toe. I just tend to dress mood based, depending on how Iím feeling. Most of the time I go out in my jeans; I love jeans, I love t-shirts and comfortable shoes. I rarely wear make-up.

Some people call you British, others Australian. Which nationality you consider yourself?

I was in England from when I was born to 14 years old, then in Australia from 14 to 22. Then I started traveling a lot. The formative years and the teenage years where there; so I think of myself as British and Australian. Iím definitely not an American. In fact, a lot of my family move back to Australia.

Your father was a sound engineer for the Rolling Stones. How was it growing up in a home with a rock ní roll vibe?

There were definitely a rock ní roll vibe and there still is. We were very connected to the band at that time. And even when my mom got divorced, we had remained friends with the bandís wives and their kids. Then my mom remarried with a musician, actually, so there were always kind of rock ní roll people around. I did affect my career.


[ copyright © 2004 by Tania Menai ]