Naomi Watts: 'I certainly learned a lot more of the Spanish culture'
With great uncertainty Naomi Watts took on the role of Maria, the brave, and very lucky, mother in the upcoming film from Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona that chronicles one family's horrific experience during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.Despite a grave injury, the character, based on the real-life of the spanish woman Maria Belon, was confident and sure-footed, able to display great courage in getting herself and her oldest son to safety while unsure of the fate of her husband and her two youngest boys. With Naomi we had the opportunity to talk in Toronto about her experience of shooting in Spain and enjoying the spanish culture.
Q: What was it like working with a Spanish director? Do you speak Spanish?
A: No, I don’t speak Spanish. But I loved it, from the moment I met these guys, him and Belen, I just love how connected to the story they were, and how truly moved they were, and on the first meeting they were just telling it with floods of tears and just not afraid to go there, and I find them very positive, uplifting people and yet they are prepared to face these difficult things and fun, the Spanish people are a lot of fun. (laughs)
Q: Do you have a lot of knowledge about the Spanish culture?
A: Yeah, bits and pieces but I certainly learned a lot more, they are always late, that is a cliché that has so much truth literally. But loved it, a real joie de vive. They are hard workers and completely focused and committed all the time but there were weekend activities and…
Q: Spanish food?
A: Spanish food, yeah, they took us to some great Spanish restaurants.
Q: Do you remember where you were in 2004?
A: I was in Los Angeles.
Q: Do you remember what you felt?
A: Yeah, it was shocking and I remember being stuck in front of the television and watching the whole thing progress and get kind of worse and worse and fatalities, the numbers growing and then I actually did this telethon that George Clooney had organized and so I felt yeah, pretty close to it by the time it came, the script. But we visited it with all the research and the available footage and there was lots of documentaries and then of course meeting Maria and the whole family, that was the big stuff that really helped.
Q: What did she say to you? It must be hard to describe what she was going through.
A: Yeah, I mean, she’s incredibly articulate, she can talk and talk and talk about it, without any fear or, I guess disaster or tragedies hit people in different ways, and some people closed up or want to move on and she was just an open book. And it was great, it was just all good information, she talks endlessly about moments leading up to it, the thoughts that went through her mind, the physical side of things during the event and then after, how it affected them to other people, the family, it still lives on, have you talked to her?
A: If you get to, you will see. She tells the story with a look in the eye and she’s been through something massively profound. And the first time we met, it was such a buildup towards the actual meeting, that finally when we got in the room together, it was almost like, we are here.
Q: Being the mother of two boys yourself, was it hard to go through that in the movie?
A: Yeah, I mean I’ve been the mother of kids before in movies, before I had children, and the imagination is a powerful thing, but certainly now having had kids, I mean every day, whether I am making a movie or not I have a scary thought, so it certainly has a weight to it.
Q: Is it a difficult moment to live, or don’t you go there, imagining that it’s your boys.
A: Yeah actors will try anything, it depends on what I am trying to achieve.
Q: You don’t look very glamorous in this movie.
A: (laughs) I mean God, what would be the point of trying to look well groomed, the story is finished in one moment if that’s what you care about, the focus of this story is to be as honest as possible, and recreate this disaster and how it struck people, and the vanity just has to disappear, there are moments and times and places that allow for vanity, and this wasn’t that.
Q: Why is this story close to you, why did you pick this film?
A: I don’t know, like people ask, how do you make choices, it’s a gut thing, it’s either there from the first read or not, and the minute you try to stop thinking and put logistics to it, or I should do this and it’s going to be quick, and it’s an easy one or a paycheck or this, pretty much those things have not worked out for me. When I do it because I have to, that’s when the best stuff comes. But I would say if there is any running theme, yes I would like to work with brilliant filmmakers, and Juan Antonio is definitely a brilliant filmmaker, and absolutely adores film, studies it like, he’s an amazing film geek, he’s always asking about other directors I worked with, and taking notes, but on top of which the story has, there’s a life and death thing and I guess that’s come up in my work often.
Q: There’s been Oscar talk, I know this is maybe a weird thing to talk about, but how do you feel when there is buzz around?
A: (laughs) As David Lynch so brilliantly said about Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watts, when he gave me that award at that National Board of Review, it was my first award, and said, there’s been a lot of buzz. Naomi Watts, for this role or whatever, and he turned on his tape machine and went buzzzzzzzz, (laughter) that’s what buzz is. That’s really it. And then he left the stage and I had to get up and talk.
Q: That is so cool.
A: There’s been buzz a lot and a lot of silence too, and I don’t know what to say. (laughs)
Q: Are you frightened of water after this movie?
A:I was frightened of water before this movie. I guess I’m like that, I try to move through fear, and also it’s a great story, it’s a great character, a great story of how this family deals with the idea of loss, and the coming and regrouping but yes, I am terrified of massive waves and I nearly drowned at Barley with my mother and my brother when I was a teenager, I’m English-Australian. We grew up in England and we emigrated to Australia, and on our way out there we spent several weeks in Barley, and we didn’t know about riptides, and we were not strong swimmers, and we got caught in a riptide, it was quite frightening and to this day, I’m afraid.
Q: So how did you manage this?
A: Well I just had to trust that everything was safe. And it was scary, but they looked after us. So it was safely done.
Q: Do you think this family’s survival was based on pure luck or do you think its fate? Do you think it was something looking after them? Are you spiritual in that way?
A: Yeah I am, and so is Maria, definitely. But it’s a tough one because you can’t really, it’s not fair to think like that, how come disaster hit other people but how come they were lucky? She has a lot of survivors guilt about that and she felt united with everybody that went through that, the tourists, the local people, and felt really guilty about getting on a plane and leaving with her whole family, wanted to stay, but she also felt like this story is worth telling, because there were so many sides and so many variations of the story and hopefully it taps on more than just her story.
Q: Do you believe in God, do you believe something is looking after you?
Q: You are laughing.
A: I am fairly pragmatic I would say, I am more on the pragmatic side of things, I like to think I have a spiritual side, and I do, I believe in, I don’t know, I am not religious. I am definitely not religious.
Q: You were going to play Mary Ann (xxxx-11:49), what happened to that movie, is it still happening?
A: I don’t know, I have been out of touch, and I have been busy doing other things but I think they were having trouble financing it, and Andrew the director wanted to hold out for the right amount of money, didn’t want to do it cheaply, and he was also busy, I was busy, whether or not it will actually happen, remains to be seen.
Q: Were you excited about playing her though?
A: Oh yeah, it would have been great. It was a very, it’s not sort of typical biopic, it’s based on the novel and Joyce Carol Oates and so it was pretty dark, (laughs) it was very dark.
Q: But you tend to like that.
A: Yes. I do.
Q: Why do you like the dark side?
A: Because it exists in all of us and people must think that’s who you are, it’s not only me, but I do have a dark side, just like everybody else. I don’t think I’m especially dark to play these characters, it’s really something for me to do I think, and for myself and hopefully in terms of the storytelling.
Q: And you are going to be playing Diana, how does one understand her and is it difficult to play her?
A: Very difficult, definitely the hardest thing I’ve taken on.
Q: Are you in the middle of shooting it now?
A: I know it’s very hard to be here in that sort of headspace, but yeah, it’s very hard because there is so much available information, and it’s very hard to discern what is truthful and what is not. So it’s almost like you have to block that because it becomes noise, and everything you read is almost conflicting with each, and having said that, I did manage, I talked to some people that were very close with her and I think what Steven Jeffries did with the script was as close to the truth as you can get.
Q: And you said you grew up in Britain, did you love her too?
A: I mean as a kid yeah, I was really all excited about the wedding, I watched it on the day, and I was devastated when, I remember where I was when she died, I was in Canada actually and in Vancouver filming, I remember it being, like remembering where you were with these other disasters, and so it’s a big undertaking.
(c) America Reads Spanish