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Jun 17, 2010
[Article] Naomi Watts mixed babies and bootcamp to bust out of her maternal state
June 17, 2010 1
SHE'S been man-handled by giant gorillas and stalked by malevolent ghosts, but even Naomi Watts baulked at the prospect of baring all for the cameras only weeks after giving birth to her second son.
"I'm so not feeling in my best physical shape and there I am having to strip naked -- which I'd never even done before," the Oscar-nominated actor says of her role in the raw and compelling drama Mother and Child.
Watts plays the daughter Karen (Annette Bening) gave up for adoption when she was but a teenager herself, a decision that has left a crater at the centre of both women's lives.
Elizabeth (Watts), an overachieving lawyer, compensates with sex.
"She's a kind of nymphomaniac," Watts says. "That's obviously who she was, so you couldn't really hold back."
True to form, Watts didn't. The roles the English-born, Australian-bred actor favours (The Ring, Funny Games) tend to sail fairly close to the edge.
"Generally, I'm drawn to things that scare me a little bit," she says.
This may also explain why she fronted for boot camp with 10-week-old Samuel about a month after wrapping on Mother and Child.
"I'm probably one of the few people who can say I breastfed my baby while packing a loaded gun," she says with a laugh.
Fair Game director Doug Liman insisted Watts do paramilitary training to prepare for her role as Valerie Plame, the CIA agent outed by White House officials in an attempt to discredit her husband (played by Sean Penn).
"I was in quite a heavily maternal state -- figuratively and literally," Watts says.
"(Liman) wanted to make sure I was able to move away from that soft, feminine side. Even though Valerie is both of those things, she is also someone who did exceptionally well in her training and was made of steel in both a physical and emotional sense."
It didn't take Watts long to toughen up. On her first day at camp she let out an involuntary groan after being kicked to the ground. The instructor warned her not to call out again unless she needed to go to hospital.
"I saw the director's face light up. That was part of the training," Watts says.
Underneath that screen goddess exterior, those who know her say, is a genuine tomboy.
"I was never a girly girl. I grew up with a brother who was 19 months older than me and I always tried to follow in his footsteps. In fact, most of the time I got up the tree faster than him," she says.
As well as being put through simulated interrogations for Fair Game, Watts took part in some fairly hardcore car stunts, did target shooting practice and handled a set of explosives.
If Watts' recent work schedule makes her sound like a Hollywood supermum, it might be timely to acknowledge she was half an hour late for our phone interview because she had fallen asleep on one of her sons' beds. (Watts' eldest son, with partner Liev Schreiber, is almost three.)
After making three films back to back -- Watts followed Fair Game with Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger -- she did take a nine-month break before signing on for the Jim Sheridan thriller Dream House, with Daniel Craig.
Last month, thanks to Fair Game, Watts had a film in competition at the Cannes Film Festival for the first time since David Lynch's Mulholland Drive in 2001.
"It was great. I felt really proud and there was a lot of nostalgia about the time I was there last. That was the moment that launched my international career. For so long I'd been trying to duke it out in LA -- things would come around and just not turn around quite as you thought they might."
Even Mulholland Drive, originally envisaged as a Twin Peaks-style television series, appeared to be another fizzer.
About 18 months after it was shelved, Watts was told Lynch was turning it into a movie and wanted to shoot some extra scenes. She was in Australia making a telemovie when the Cannes invitation arrived.
"The next day the phone just rang and rang and rang, which was a very different story from how it had been for so many years," she says.
Even now, Watts doesn't take her success for granted.
"I'm incredibly grateful for being in a position where the phone still rings and the calls are still coming in from directors I respect. I feel like my intentions are the same as they have always been. I can't be seduced into doing (a film) for the wrong reason. The moment I do, I'll probably fail."
Mother and Child, which she shot in eight days, was one of the screenplays that gave Watts "the tingly, goosebumpy moment" she waits for. She is drawn to complex people in real life and on the screen.
"Nothing too fluffy will keep me interested. It doesn't mean I'm this weird and edgy person. I'm not. I'm pretty light and upbeat, but I've got a side to me that's dark."
Mother and Child tells the story of two women who are irrevocably linked, even though they have never met.
Strangely, that connection was replicated in the filming.