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Oct 16, 2014

[Article] Naomi Watts charms co-star Bill Murray and her role in "St. Vincent"

Onscreen, Naomi Watts has stared down King Kong, a mysteriously murderous VHS tape and even the Indian Ocean tsunami. Still, she was daunted by Bill Murray.

In St. Vincent, Watts plays a pregnant, sour-tongued Russian prostitute opposite Murray’s titular crusted misanthrope. A two-time Oscar nominee, Watts felt “way out of (her) depth” in a broad comedic role — and as filming approached, she wasn’t finding much comfort in Murray’s real-life reputation.

“I’d heard stories that Bill doesn’t necessarily love everyone,” Watts explained carefully during an interview at last month’s Toronto International Film Festival.

In uncharted territory and “absolutely terrified,” Watts chose the direct approach.......

“The only way I knew how to be on that set was to be in character the whole time. The only way I could really talk to Bill (is) I went straight into his trailer: ‘So, what you want? Let’s play,’” crowed the 46-year-old, suddenly affecting her character’s disdainful dialect.

“I just thought, well, it doesn’t matter if (Murray) likes me or not,” she added later. “This is the character I’m playing and does she like him that much? I just twisted it. I think I found my way in. I just would give him what for and boss him around like this girl did — and you know, bend over in front of him and stuff. Do some dances. Try to keep it light.”

That Watts was terrified by the role is precisely why she wanted it. Although her career has been blessedly diverse — highlights include Mulholland Drive, The Ring, The Impossible and 21 Grams — she’s never really done comedy.

She was among the many impressed by first-time writer-director Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent script — which landed on the prestigious Black List for best unmade screenplays — but she presumed producers were considering her for the worried-mother role that ultimately went to Melissa McCarthy.

Watts’ interest was piqued when she realized she was in the running for the hooker-with-a-heart-of-cold role instead. But she knew she was in for a fight — industry mag Deadline, for instance, reported that “every age appropriate hot actress in town chased this role.”

“I don’t think I was the first choice for this role. I think people would agree with that,” said Watts, clad in a periwinkle dress and lofty heels. “Because I’m not the funny chick, the go-to girl. I think there were other people they were speaking to. I sort of had to convince (Melfi) a little bit more.

“I didn’t audition or anything, but I said: ‘Will you look at (I Heart) Huckabees, will you look at Ellie Parker? That’s the closest to comedy I’ve done in a long time.”

Once she got the role, she needed no extra motivation for a deep dive. She watched video of recent Russian immigrants — noting an unsmiling demeanour — and began frequenting New York’s most Russian-populated nail salons, capturing the accents of her manicurists with a tape recorder.

During the shoot, she was certainly put through her paces, spending three hours per day in a makeup chair to accommodate her prosthetic pregnancy. In one scene, the cumbersome appendage was among the only things Watts wore as she navigated a strip-club stage.

“There I was dancing on a pole with all of these girls who were in their late teens or early 20s,” she recalled, shaking her head. “It was quite confronting.”

Then there was the unglamorous wardrobe, a gaudy mishmash of brightly coloured velour, sagging and stretching around her prodigious fake baby bump.

Watts’ commitment level even captured the respect of the master, with Murray reserving special praise for the way Watts smoothly blended into the Brooklyn neighbourhood where the film was shot.

“We got so much respect in the neighbourhood of Sheepshead Bay being with this girl walking to the set,” he marvelled during the festival. “The locals just didn’t bother us because we had her with us.”

Certainly, Watts is pleased to have proven her adeptness at comedy. As diverse as her resume would seem, she says she’s been subject to a somewhat narrow conception of her skills.

“For some reason I got on that track of ‘woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown’ and it just kept sort of feeding itself,” said Watts, British-born and Australian-raised. “I’m not the romantic comedy type — even though I would love to do one at some point, it’s just that people don’t come to me and also they don’t always work so well.

“I’ve always felt like I get humour. I crave humour. And I’m around funny people all the time because I love it.”

It’s doubtful many actors would screw up much sympathy for Watts, though, given how fruitful this period in her career has been.

This year she’s also had roles in the acclaimed Oscar contender Birdman and Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, and she’s booked parts in upcoming films from a series of auteurs — including Quebec’s Jean-Marc Vallee, Gus Van Sant and Errol Morris — as well as the blockbuster Divergent franchise.

“I’ve done a lot of those support roles of late. They seem like a great idea at the time because I’ve got a family and kids,” reasoned Watts, who has two children with actor Liev Schreiber. “It actually does end up being a lot of work when you have to promote two films at once and be working on another one. But I also just felt like it’s quite nice not having all the onus on you.

“You know, I had not such a great run with the whole Diana thing,” she said of her widely maligned biopic. “I was wanting to try some different things, and comedy is definitely a new area for me to pursue and I’ve been wanting to do it. And suddenly you do one and a lot of people start calling you to follow that throughline.”

It seems like she’s on the verge of complaining, but she catches herself.

“High-class problems,” she smiled.


Amy said...

I think she said in another article that as Bill Murray has given her his private phone number, people have since been treating her as his agent trying to contact him through her. That's funny.

Chumsleybaby said...

Very good article, i've enjoyed reading it. Thanks for posting.

EYRO said...

Yeah onother good interview here

Anonymous said...

As difficult as it is she has won Bill Murray over.