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Jan 25, 2013
[Article] Naomi Watts, Anne Fontaine on Forbidden Love in ‘Two Mothers’
In the new film, “Two Mothers,” actress Naomi Watts plays Lil, a middle-aged Australian woman who, with the help of her best friend Roz (Robin Wright), has raised her teenage son after her husband passed away. Roz’s own son is about the same age, and together their two families enjoy life in a remote seaside town.
In an early scene of “Two Mothers, which premiered this past week at Sundance, Lil and Roz sunbathe while watching their sons ride the waves on their surfboards. “Look at them, they’re like gods,” Roz says, as the camera follows the strapping young men as they command the forces of the sea.
The scene foreshadows the unexpected, some would call forbidden, turn in the lives of these four people. (Again, spoiler warning.) When Roz’s husband is pulled away to Sydney for a career opportunity, the two women and their sons spend more and more time together, eventually leading to secret love affairs between Roz and Lil’s son, and Lil and Roz’s son. (....more after the jump.)
“Two Mothers,” based on a book by Doris Lessing, is written by Christopher Hampton and directed by France’s Anne Fontaine. Exclusive Releasing bought the film and plans a theatrical run and VOD launch later in 2013. Watts and Fontaine sat with The Wall Street Journal after the film’s premiere.
Anne, in the post-screening Q&A, you said you were surprised at some of the reaction from the audience, which was often laughter. What were you expecting?
Fontaine: It was the first time I saw it with an audience. I think part of the laughs, some of them found it stimulated and funny and surprised – they have a surprise when they see where the story goes. But some of them were because they felt uncomfortable. It was a way to say “Oh my god,” and that’s more an American way to react than a European way, I think.
Naomi, what was your reaction to the audience?
Watts: I always watch a film that I’m in through the audience. It was definitely, like Anne said, a surprise, and I agree that when we are processing a feeling and we’re sort of in shock or taken by surprise, it’s a heavy piece of news, it manifests itself in different ways. I think collectively a group of people, you can’t scream, and somehow the laugh is their way of responding. You don’t know what laughter means sometimes. I have a thing where I laugh nervously if someone tells me bad news. It’s because I can’t cry. And I’ve got another friend who does it all the time, much worse than me, and I never know what she’s thinking. I think that’s what happened. Last night we were a little bit shell-shocked because we didn’t know how to interpret it.
It’s such a unique story that perhaps most people couldn’t even imagine it.
Fontaine: I think that’s the fact that they say “No, it’s not possible that it goes there,” and then it’s there—
Watts: And then you actually move to a place of willing it to happen and continue it. And then you’re sort of like, “Oh, I’m not that person! I’m not part of this!”
Naomi, your character Lil is the more vulnerable of the two women, but in some ways she’s also stronger because her love can encompass pain. How did you approach her?
Watts: I fell in love with her right from the first read. I just loved that she had this contradiction in her, that she was able to continue loving him as a strong woman and also deal privately with her pain. But also wanting it, like craving it. At the end, when she’s explaining why she couldn’t say no, you understand that human desire, even knowing it wasn’t right, yet she couldn’t live without it. I forgave her and sort of empathized with that contradiction.
Did you and Robin have many conversations about your characters and this situation they find themselves in, before filming began?
Watts: We spent a good deal of time together rehearsing it. We both talked about this friendship, how powerful it was and how they had been through everything together. Childhood to puberty to marriages, boyfriends, and then husbands leaving and my husband passing and her husband drifting, that divide. I just loved that they were going through the exact same things at the same time. That fear of okay, now we’ve reached this point. This is the last summer, the boys are going to go off to their lives, and I think it was absolutely not premeditated but it just happened. And then it was a way of keeping the circle connected, and the fear of “If I lose you, then who am I? My role of motherhood is finished, I have to let you go.” I understood that pain and anxiety.
When Lil explains that Roz is the only one who didn’t do anything wrong, she says that maybe it’s because she didn’t do anything wrong that she ruined everything. What does this say about human relationships and the role of morality?
Fontaine: It’s a very complex thing because Roz is listening, and Lil says that she couldn’t resist and it’s very touching to hear that. She breaks their relationship in a way at this moment. You see the face of Roz completely immobile, and I thought it was interesting to have the two faces there and only one shot. You can see one and the other, and you do the work yourself to see the faces. I think you don’t know if she’s going to forgive or not at the end, but you can understand that she could understand her friend. Even though Roz sacrifices her relationship with Ian, but as Lil says, she couldn’t do it if [her boyfriend] was not so light. That changes everything. It was something without a future, but after that it goes on and on.
The film represents love in many different guises: maternal love, best friend love, spousal love, love out of wedlock. Was your intention to question our assumptions about true love?
Watts: It’s not as traditional and conventional as we read about in the classics. It knows no shape. It comes as it comes. That’s what I loved about it.
Fontaine: We can’t judge them because to judge is to be only secure. I think the story goes very deeply inside love – forbidden love, but love. And it’s not really forbidden. It’s almost forbidden. Any person can have something like that.
Naomi, how does this role compare with other lead female roles you read?
Watts: I thought it was just so powerful. What’s rare about this one is that it has an equally rich role in the same film and in the hands of a female director. It was just wonderful to be involved in such a female-centric picture.