Naomi Watts is adopting a new approach to her career. She's decided that she wants to explore her lighter, happier side to match the joy she's found as a mother to two boys and long-term partner of Liev Schreiber. She doesn't want to find herself threatened by Tsunamis (The Impossible), tormented by psychopaths (Funny Games) or otherwise driven to despair in her film roles. Watts began that attitudinal shift playing opposite Bill Murray in last year's St. Vincent and now she's co-starring with noted comic actor Ben Stiller in While We're Young, in which she and Stiller play a fortyish couple who recapture some of their youthful spirit by hanging around with a twenty-something hipster couple played by Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver (Girls).......
"I've loved Ben Stiller's work for so many years and getting to work him and having also worked with Bill Murray has been an incredibly joyful experience," Watts says. "Having been part of so many darker kinds of stories, I realised that it was wearing me down and I was starting to suffer from that. I knew I wanted to change directions for a while because I've found so much happiness with Liev and our boys that I didn't want to feel emotionally drained by the work I was doing."
Directed by Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha), While We're Young is an intriguing comedy/drama that sees Watts and Stiller go on a wild ride trying to overcome mid-life martial blues and drawing inspiration from their new found millennial friends. It's the kind of film which allows Watts to show off her lighter side while balanced by the underlying sadness and melancholy that often comes through in her performances.
In person, the 46-year-old Watts still retains a youthful and almost girlish appearance. She admits to having settled into her role as a mother "very comfortably" and loves her time looking after her and Schreiber's "boisterous boys," Sasha and Kai.
Naomi and her family divide their time between homes in Manhattan, Los Angeles (where her partner Liev Schreiber works on the acclaimed Ray Donovan TV series), and a summer beach house in New York's exclusive Hamptons enclave.
Watts, recently seen in the Oscar-nominated Birdman, will also be seen in the upcoming Insurgent, playing the role of Evelyn in the second installment of the blockbuster franchise which began with Divergent and which stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. With respect to her Insurgent castmates, Watts is very impressed: "They are so great. They're very disciplined, they're very serious about what they do, very committed, and wildly, wildly talented."
Q: Naomi, this would seem to be a new chapter in your career. Do you feel you've found a new niche doing comedy?
WATTS: It's something different for me. I'd stayed away from doing comedies earlier in my career because I didn't read that many interesting scripts and I was always drawn to darker and very emotional material. I'm at different point in my life now and I've been enjoying playing characters who have a little more fun in their lives. I have so much joy in my family life that I don't want to spoil that mood.
Q: Like many actors, do you tend to feel that serious and very dramatic films offer the most challenging kind of work?
WATTS: It depends on the film. Dramas are generally by definition more intense and push you to test your emotional and psychological limits. But even in the comedies I've done my character often gets her heartbroken. Some of the best comedies have many serious moments and can reach audiences just as profoundly as dramas. I find it hard to draw a very clear line sometimes between drama and comedy, especially in films like St. Vincent and While We're Young. There's a lot going on underneath the lighter moments.
Q: What was it like working with Ben Stiller?
WATTS: I loved how he can be so understated and yet you feel so many emotions when you watch him work. Whenever I've watched his work, I've always been struck by this underlying sensitivity and even sadness to some of the characters he's played. We had a lot of fun making the film and I would love to work with him again.
Q: Do you ever worry about middle-age fatigue coming into your life?
WATTS: I honestly don't think so. Liev and I came together only much later in our lives and when we met we were ready to be together and make a life together. The couple Ben and I play in the film have been married for a long time and grown older together which is a very different kind of dynamic. I have such a wonderful time with Liev that I don't really worry about suffering some kind of mid-life crisis. I really look forward to everything now.
Q: What's your time at home like?
WATTS: Me and my three men have a lot of fun together! We go bicycle riding together, we go to the beach, and I feel such a warmth sharing my life with Liev and the boys that it's hard to describe. It's very fulfilling and something I dreamed about for many years.
Q: It's a very different life from what you experienced when you were struggling to get work in LA for several years?
WATTS: (Laughs) That was scary for a while. When you're trying to find work and you have no money in your bank account and no medical insurance - it was pretty hard for me. But that experience taught me to be very practical and focused and fortunately it all worked out. Now I only worry about the happiness and well-being of my family and enjoying every day with them.
Q: You've said in the past that you had a very romantic but serious side when you were in your twenties?
WATTS: Yes, I've always been that way, starting as a teenager. I was never a happy-go-lucky party girl, I was always very introspective and sensitive. I was wary of things and I put a lot of pressure on myself and once I started finding work after Mulholland Drive I kept working as hard as I could because I never forgot what it felt like to be worrying about finding another role and making ends meet. It was hard for me to turn down work because I enjoyed the feeling of security that came with being busy and always having several projects lined up.
Q : Are there any lingering emotional scars from your days as a struggling young actress in LA?
WATTS : I don't have many good memories of that time in my life. I had very few friends and sometimes I would spend days by myself without having a real conversation with anyone. Sitting in cafés by myself and feeling miserable. I don't even understand why I went through that kind of thing because I'm someone who enjoys being with people and being sociable.
LA is just a tough place if you're not working and you're not successful and until David Lynch gave me the chance of a lifetime I was just lurching from one job to another hoping to have enough money not to worry about paying the rent.
Q: You've said in the past though that you didn't really want to let yourself get too comfortable even after you started working regularly?
WATTS: Yes. Even when I started becoming famous the memories of being turned down so many times for parts when I was younger still haunted me. I was still very shy and not as confident as maybe I should have been. I was lucky though that during that time Nicole Kidman was there to always support me and give me confidence to keep on going. She was always there to console me and keep my spirits up and to help me believe in myself. She's been such a great friend to me over the years.
Q: You seem so happy these days. Do you feel you've changed a lot?
WATTS: Even though I went through some difficult moments earlier in my life I've always had a happy nature. It was just a matter of getting to a place where I could let that side of me take charge again. I get my sunny side from my mother, who was always very optimistic and positive even when we would have to travel a lot from one country to another.
Q: What would be one thing about your partner, Liev, that most people wouldn't know about him?
WATTS: He plays a lot of tough characters. But in real life he has this incredibly sense of humour. Liev has such a great spirit and sense of wanting to have an active and interesting life.
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