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
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
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
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.