Hollywood star, mother of two young sons, beauty ambassador… At 46, NAOMI WATTS is busier than ever. The Brit-born actress talks to Charlotte Pearson Methven about staying ahead of the game
Naomi Watts seems so comfortable in her own skin that it’s no surprise L’Oréal Paris has chosen her as the proud face of its newest anti-ageing product, Revitalift Filler. At a dinner held in Paris to inaugurate her into the role, it’s clear that the 46-year-old British-born actress and mother doesn’t want to be fawned over as she sips her pink champagne – she blends in seamlessly, blonde hair swept back casually and barely a scrap of make-up, save for a slick of matt red L’Oréal Paris lippy.
Accomplished as Naomi is (two Oscar nominations, for her performances in tsunami-inspired The Impossible and as a grieving mother in 21 Grams), her vibe is not an intimidating one. She falls into that ‘normal’ mould of celebrity – the sort we fancy we could be mates with on account of pictures of them doing the school run in Ugg boots. Her forehead moves freely and she is even, I observe at dinner, doing the unthinkable (in fashion and beauty circles, anyway) and eating bread, which, this being France, is a white baguette..........
Taking to the mic, she speaks in a soft Australian accent (her teen years having been spent in Oz) with inflections of her native England and America (her current home is in New York City). She looks a decade younger than she is, with a glowing complexion, no doubt nourished by the L’Oréal products she has long admired. But, she admits, referring to the new wonder cream she is fronting, ‘At my age, I need some help – something that has real science behind it, to create that fullness of cheek, that ample cushion that you want and that you once had.’
The afternoon after the dinner, I am ushered into her suite in one of Paris’s most luxurious hotels, where she is curled up on a sofa sipping tea. ‘Instead of thinking, “How can I slow the ageing process?”, I’ll think, “How can I bend the rules?”’ she says, when I ask her how she manages to look so good. ‘The product I’m endorsing, Revitalift Filler, is a moisturiser that mimics the effects of a filler. With the highest amount of hyaluronic acid ever used by L’Oréal Paris, it can achieve a powerful effect in a way that feels natural and is perfect for someone, like me, in their mid-40s, who does not want to do anything too drastic.’
It’s fitting that this elixir is being brought to us from Paris – the city that epitomises growing old gracefully. ‘Parisian women have an inner elegance that’s envied the world over. They are so relaxed about ageing and seem to acquire more charisma and beauty with time. Who wouldn’t want to be like them? That’s the trick – to embrace the natural progression of life and to be confident.
‘My other beauty “secrets” aren’t secrets at all. They’re the obvious ones: major amounts of water, as much as you can; the right amount of sleep; a great moisturiser, and a good, deep cleanse every night. And also tinting my eyebrows and eyelashes, which are completely blonde, to frame my face, and applying plenty of mascara.’
As well as not being enslaved to a punishing beauty regime, Naomi is also not one for starving herself, as I noted at the previous night’s launch dinner (FYI, she also polished off her pudding). ‘Whenever I am in Paris all I want to do is inhale a big plate of cheese. And in New York my favourite thing is a toasted bagel with cream cheese. Not only do I not avoid carbs, I more or less have them in every meal. When I start denying myself foods, that’s when I crave them. I hate diets. Restriction makes me feel rebellious. I find that I look my best when I feel my best, whatever that takes. For me, above all else, it means being around the people I want to be with.’
For Naomi, these are her partner of ten years, American actor Liev Schreiber, whom she met at the Met Ball, a glittering fixture in Manhattan’s social calendar, and their two young sons, Alexander Pete, seven, known as Sasha, and Samuel Kai, six.
‘The children have made me feel younger, on the one hand, but also in a state of complete exhaustion,’ she admits. ‘They do make me laugh, though, with the funny, honest, unfiltered things that they say, and I think laughing is very youthful and great for energy. There are no tricks to balancing work and family. It is a struggle all the time and you just do your best. I think men are much better at compartmentalising.’
Naomi with her partner, US actor Liev Schreiber, at the Screen Actors Guild awards last month
Naomi says that she and Liev, who stars in the popular TV crime drama Ray Donovan, are both hard at work while the children are at school during the week, but that they draw a line around weekends. ‘We don’t use babysitters at weekends. I like to cook for my children as much as I can; as a mum, I think that’s important, even though it’s so easy in New York to eat out or get a takeaway. I’ll usually do fish and vegetables, and I always try to cook a Sunday roast – roast chicken and roast potatoes. That’s the English in me. It sparks something nostalgic.’
Naomi was born in Shoreham, Kent, to Myfanwy, a Welsh antiques dealer and costume designer, and Peter, an English sound engineer and road manager for Pink Floyd. The pair divorced when Naomi was four, and Peter died of a suspected heroin overdose when she was seven. It’s no wonder she was drawn to acting, given the creative bent of both of her parents. Naomi also credits her talent for ‘blending in’ to her gypsy-like upbringing. (It is Liev, she says proudly, who is more often recognised on the streets of New York, while she whizzes past on a bicycle, looking – almost – like Everymum.) From Kent, she moved with her mother and elder brother Ben to Wales, where she attended a Welsh language school, then to Suffolk, before going on to Sydney aged 14, and then LA, in her 20s, to ‘make it’.
I always try to make a Sunday roast. That’s the English in me. It sparks something nostalgic
‘Everywhere is home!’ she laughs. ‘I love all those places. I have now lived the longest time in America, but I adore Australia, too – the fact that from Sydney you can drive just five minutes to the most incredible beaches; in LA you can drive for an hour and not get anything nearly as good. And Britain is in my blood. I am happy for the Brits to claim me. I still have family in the UK and visit often. London is a great city that just gets better and better. I love taking my children to the Science Museum and chilling out around the colourful houses of Notting Hill.’
Naomi says she is a city person and couldn’t imagine retiring to the country. ‘I like the energy of being connected to people. That’s why I prefer New York to LA, because you can walk around and be in constant contact with others, rather than trapped in your car.’
This sociability also influences her choice of exercise. ‘Other than cycling around New York, which is inherently social anyway, I can’t exercise alone. I get so bored. I need to do classes alongside other people. I adore yoga and pilates and there’s something in New York called BBS – Body By Simone – where you do short dance routines to loud music. It’s goofy but fun.’
Naomi is most often photographed on the streets of her Manhattan neighbourhood in flattering but comfortable exercise clothes. ‘For sure, I’m a comfort-first dresser,’ she says. ‘Like how you look,’ she adds, gesturing to my skinny jeans and jumper combo, a compliment that leaves me momentarily blindsided. ‘I’ll just throw on jeans with something nice and easy on top and a good pair of boots. I like my hair to look natural, too, as though I’ve just spent the afternoon at the beach.’
Much of Naomi’s normality comes from the fact that her current success did not fall in her lap. She always loved ‘the world of make believe’ as a child, begging her mother to enrol her in acting classes when they arrived in Australia. For years she muddled through with parts in adverts and a bit of modelling, the turning point coming when she clinched a lead role in David Lynch’s 2001 thriller Mulholland Drive.
‘I still pinch myself when certain directors call,’ she admits. She has been a muse to Woody Allen – a sure sign of having ‘made it’ – and admits that she would still love to work with directors Mike Lee and Wes Anderson, as well as star alongside Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis. ‘Can you make that happen?’ she jokingly asks me. In 2013 she gained much press coverage when she played the Princess of Wales in the biopic Diana.
Naomi was nominated for a clutch of awards for her supporting-actress roles in two of the past year’s grittier films: Birdman (a dark comedy about an actor, played by Michael Keaton, whose career falls apart) and St Vincent (in which she plays a pregnant Russian pole dancer opposite Bill Murray). She has three more films set for release in 2015, including one in which she plays the female lead opposite Matthew McConaughey, in Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees, a drama mystery set in Japan.
Before I am ushered out, we revisit the topic of beauty. Does she think that women in the film industry are under more pressure to look young? ‘No,’ she says, pointing out that her roles have only become more interesting as she has matured. ‘I think there’s pressure everywhere to look younger. Our eyes are just trained that way – to be drawn to that youthful skin, that spark in the eye – so any tricks you can fall back on are great.’
It’s clear that she is proud to be representing the new Revitalift Filler. ‘L’Oréal has been around for more than 100 years and that says a lot about the brand. Their products are elegant and chic, but you can also trust them because you know they’ve got the best science behind them. I remember the old Elnett hairspray and watching my grandmother douse herself in a halo of it as she was setting her hair in curlers.’ As well as the products, Naomi likes the iconic mantra of L’Oréal: ‘Because you’re worth it.’
‘I remember first hearing that and thinking, “Wow, what a bold declaration.” To be able to say that is very empowering. It’s a great mantra to always have in mind – to strive for and believe in. Collectively, the power of “we’re worth it” can go a long way. And individually, it’s important to remind oneself daily: “You’re worth it. Take care of yourself.”’ And with that the lady excuses herself to go and do just that.
RIGHT NOW FOR NAOMI
What makes a woman beautiful? Confidence – someone at ease and at peace with themselves. Young women must trust themselves to age gracefully.
Beauty icons Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Catherine Deneuve.
Worst beauty faux pas An asymmetrical haircut that I gave myself when I was 15 – it was a disaster!
Other favourite L’Oréal products J Lo Collection Privée Lipstick and Volume Million Lashes mascara.
Wardrobe staple A good blazer.
Women you most admire Hillary Clinton – fingers crossed for the 2016 election! The brilliant Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett – an amazing mum who has done so much for Australian theatre.
Advice for a young girl today Work hard, trust in what you’re good at and put all of your energy there.
Travel essentials A cashmere blanket, my iPad Mini and a good moisturiser, such as L’Oréal’s Revitalift.
Top spots in Australia In Sydney, Bronte Beach is gorgeous, and the coast and forest meet at Byron Bay, which is lovely.
Other holiday hotspots Kenya, Italy and France.
On your iPod Everything from my first favourite album, David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, to Damien Rice, for when I’m in a mellow mood.
On the TV I love House of Cards and, of course, Ray Donovan – I’m hooked on that.
Recent good read The Wave, about the tsunami – a heartbreaking story and a beautiful piece of writing.
Favourite films Harold and Maude, Carnal Knowledge and Don’t Look Now.