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Naomi Watts Talks Marriage, Parenting

It's not easy to watch Naomi Watts as the mother of three caught in the devastation of the 2004 tsunami in The Impossible, which opens today. Sure we may be envious of her romantic screen time with Ewan McGregor, but that's where the fantasy ends in this terrifying, but gripping, portrayal of a real family vacationing in Thailand.

Struck by one of the most destructive acts of nature in history, the award-winning actress transforms herself yet again. Making it easy to forget the blonde beauty is actually alive and well, living in New York City with her partner Liev Schreiber, and their two adorable boys. We talked with Watts about how she makes family work in the world of make believe, and how to avoid disasters.

How did your kids react when they saw you all bloody on set of The Impossible?

I wanted them to come and see—not the massive wounds—but to come and see me. So I told Liev and we talked about it with them and said, "OK, mommy is in a movie where she has pretend ow-ies and they’re not real and she’s someone just in the movie who got a little bit hurt but she’s OK." We tried to think of the best way for them to understand it, and once they got used to it and saw it, they got more involved. My fantastic makeup artist gave them the brushes and they were throwing on the chocolate powder as dirt and Sasha was painting blood on me. It’s unusual but we felt it had to become a game, so they didn’t have this fear.

You aged in J. Edgar and will look like Princess Diana in your next film. How do they handle that?

They have a second glance, but they don’t really see it because they still see me moving the same way and talking with the same voice, so its almost like they see right through it. They’ve seen me on most of my sets and we always give them the prep of, "Mummy is working and we have to look different." As long as they know I’m not in pain, whatever they see, they get it. So far we’ve done a good job, because they haven’t had any nightmares.

How is the house with two boys?

It’s pretty much nonstop. I use the expression, "Mummy is a delicate flower." I stole that off a friend who is also a mother of boys, and I thought that was hilarious. They love roughhousing with daddy, and they need it, living in a place like New York where you don’t have gardens to run around in, but it’s not the same. So lots of roughhousing, and you can get really hurt. Head-butting and things going wrong—not on purpose—but there are lots of tears, and so I always say, "No, no, mummy is a delicate flower, save the roughhousing for daddy!" Luckily I grew up with an older brother, so I’ve always been more of a tomboy and never much of a prissy girl or delicate flower EVER. But I’m just a bit old now and my body doesn’t work the same way!

Who is good cop or bad cop?

We’re pretty balanced, so Liev and I trade. Sometimes you’re softer, and next moment you are cracking down. It’s about trying to be consistent. There are rules, but they can be broken every now and again. We do believe in disciplining, so there are time-outs and stuff. Sometimes just to keep them still, but it’s only when they hurt each other.

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Do the kids want you to get married?

The kids haven’t said anything about marriage, but maybe it’ll pop up at some point. My thoughts on marriage change often. Since I was a kid, having grown up in a divorced family, I was strongly against it at one point and now I feel as good as married. We just don't have that certificate.

Do you see much of your BFF, Nicole?

I missed her the other day. She was around here having a playdate with Sunny and my boys, and I happened to be working and my mum was here with the kids. So they had a nice playdate, it’s really lovely. She was here for some time over Christmas last year, and we were checking in about which shows to go to, and she went to Nutcracker and so did we. It’s really lovely for both of us.

How do you juggle two careers, two kids and two countries?

We try to take turns working. Actually, it's worked so far in that we've probably overlapped only by a couple of weeks once or twice. That's a very fortunate thing, because our family is the most important thing. And luckily our children are still young and at the age where, "So what if they miss a bit of preschool?" The learning is actually on the road. Like last year when we shot in Thailand and they got to ride on elephants and had frogs and snakes in the shoes—these are adventures that they'll never forget. When it comes to them being in proper school, we'll have to keep things a bit more rock solid and stay more in the one place, but I'll always have to make room for going back to Australia at least once a year, because it's just such an important part of who I am, and we're so far removed from Australia now in New York. It just feels so far away, and it's so important to me for them to know that that's who I am. That's part of me.

Were you afraid of acting out every mother’s worst nightmare on this film?

I’ve never been afraid of "going there" on screen. Some fears I keep at a distance, but I hope to be someone who moves through fear.

What things scare you?

I consider myself a pretty fearful person.

But you have to be brave to go where you go for roles?

I feel much braver in my work, in that arena than my own life. I don’t like to talk about myself. I don’t like to be judged. Those are all things that bring up a huge amount of fear. I have a fear of abandonment. I have lots of different fears like anybody has. And now all my fears are about my kids’ safety.

Do you talk to your kids about disasters and stuff?

If it comes up, yes we talk about it. But I don’t force conversations about stuff that might scare them. But when it’s happening in the news, we talk about it. They do know what a tsunami is.

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