Naomi Watts Cover Interview
There’s something different about Naomi Watts – something intriguing, elusive, even. But, underneath, she’s just trying to find the right balance between work and family and friends. Aren’t we all, says Kathryn Flett.
Naomi Watts is that rarest of creatures: a bona fide A-list star who sustains a flourishing career alongside a happy family life. After seven years and two sons (Sasha, four, and Sammy, three) with actor Liev Schreiber, the Watts-Schreibers are considered one of Hollywood’s most solid couples. Might not sound that big a deal to you but, in Hollywood, where long-term relationships can be counted on the fingers of one hand, it’s something of an achievement.
Now 43, Watts is still very much the archetypal blonde most of us first met via David Lynch’s stylish noir-thriller, 2001’s Mulholland Drive. Her brand of classically even-featured beauty may hint at ice-queen but, underneath that flawless exterior, there beats the heart of a no-fuss (unless duty calls, of course), woman’s woman. English-born, Australia-raised, New York-resident, Watts appears to be keeping it very real, leading an enviably down-to-earth – albeit hectic – life.
A woman after my own heart, then. I tell her we have a few things in common: we’re both British/Australian fortysomething mums with sons. ‘Ooh, how old are your boys?’ she asks. Nine and five. ‘A good gap – ours are very close together. So, how often do you get back to Australia?’ She is so warm (her accent is pure easy-going Aussie) that it’s hard not to end up shooting the breeze.
Perhaps one of the things that makes Watts such a non-diva-ish interviewee is that, by her own admission, she was a professional ‘late bloomer’ who, despite acting since her teens (like the late Heath Ledger and Guy Pearce, her CV includes Australian soap Home And Away), was a grown-up before she became a ‘star’.
‘By the time I got my career going in America, I was 30,’ says Watts, ‘and by the time you’re 30, I think you know who you are. I had a sense of myself.’
Do you look back at your twenties and think you were… She breaks-in: ‘Floating?’ Maybe. Or naïve? ‘Yes, definitely – naïve, floating, dreaming, I certainly didn’t know who I was, or what I wanted, and maybe that makes me a late bloomer. But I feel, the longer the life, the deeper it gets – and the roles reflect that.’
Family is important to Watts and it’s clear that, having created her own, keeping it together is a priority. This determination to stay together may be down to the fact that both she and Schreiber shared peripatetic boho upbringings. Watts’ mother, Myfanwy, and her father, Peter (who was Pink Floyd’s road manager) split when she was four, after which she and her older brother, Ben, moved a lot. In 1976, when she was eight years old, her father died of a heroin overdose. Her mother upped sticks and moved the kids to Australia when Watts was 14.
Meanwhile, Schreiber, one year her senior, was having an equally unconventional childhood in the States. His parents, Heather and Tell, split when he was five, and his mother appears to have trailed him through communes, ashrams, and cold-water apartments from the US to Canada and back again.
Today, Watts is in LA, because Schreiber is filming there. With characteristic affection, he recently told The Huffington Post: ‘Yes, I’m definitely batting above average. Typically, would Naomi Watts be out of my grasp? Absolutely. What stupid pills she took seven years ago, I don’t know. But oddly enough, we have a lot in common. We grew up in similar ways. And, it turns out, genetically we make exquisitely beautiful children.’
The couple are, however, happily unmarried. Is it a question of, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? ‘Yes, it’s exactly that,’ says Watts. ‘We feel like we’re married because we’re deep in the trenches, with kids, and we’re committed. We just don’t have the piece of paper, and we didn’t have that “celebration”. But that doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen.’
I suggest, if you and your partner share the kind of upbringing that Watts and Schreiber had, then you can either recreate aspects of it or rebel against it? ‘Yes,’ she nods, ‘but hopefully there’s a middle ground. I don’t want to just imitate or rebel. I want my kids to have an adventurous life, definitely. They’ve been to I-don’tknow-how-many countries, and I hope they’ve got brilliant memories. If they’ve missed six weeks of pre-school, so what? What would you rather do? Have them away from you, stacking blocks, or with you, riding elephants in Thailand?’
So where is ‘home’ for the Watts-Schreibers? ‘Well that’s the million-dollar question,’ she laughs. ‘We take our home wherever we go, that’s the nomadic life of an actor – times two in our case. Our base is New York because the kids are in pre-school there, but does it feel like home? Not really. New York is so not like anything I grew up with. To make it feel like home I bought a house out at the beach, to remind me of Australia. Right now, we’re in LA because we’re filming here, and I’ve still got a house here from before I met Liev. But I don’t feel like LA is “home” and I certainly don’t live the LA lifestyle.’
The question of ‘home’ clearly preoccupies Watts. And it sounds like a work-in-progress. ‘Liev is very connected to New York because of theatre,’ she says of her other half, who has enjoyed huge success on Broadway. ‘If he’s not doing it, he wants to see it – as I do – but as the kids get older we realise they need space. But then there’s always the big school thing to consider… the longest I’ve ever been away from the kids is a week. We juggle our work and we’ve managed so far. Both of us love what we do, but we’re also both very, very hands-on parents and it’s the most important thing for us to make sure the family stays together, so it will inevitably be a juggling act from now, until they’re
grown up. But we do want them to feel rooted in a place, which is something both Liev and I didn’t have.’
And so we segue effortlessly into a classic mums’ conversation about schools and the pleasures (and pitfalls) of raising boys. ‘They’re just rough, aren’t they?’ she grins. ‘Getting head-butted in a wrestle and constantly thinking, “Is my nose bleeding?”. The energy and testosterone surges. I do envy people who have girls, who can sit and play with their tea sets for hours on end, but I always had this strong feeling I’d be a mother of two boys. It’s weird, actually. I mean, I wish I could buy all those cute little Liberty frocks. And, if I knew I’d definitely end up with a girl, I’d do it again. Anyway, I’m happy with my little clan and, at heart, I’ve always been a tomboy, not a girlie-girl, which comes from having an older brother. And later on, I won’t have the issues of complicated teenage girls.’
Living with the rough and tumble of a house full of testosterone, it’s no surprise that, when I ask Watts if she’s ‘high-maintenance’, she gives a raucous laugh.
‘No,’ she shrieks. ‘I mean, I’m high-maintenance if I’m going to an event but, every day, in my own life, I can’t bear putting on make-up or blow-drying my hair. I don’t have the time, or the interest. If you look in my handbag, there’s not much in it apart from sunscreen. I do tint my eyelashes so I don’t have to wear mascara
every day, and I dye my eyebrows because I’m very blonde, and eyebrows are a great way to frame the face, but I’m definitely able to be a “five-minute” girl.’
Watts is, then, an inspired choice to be the face of Astalift – the Japanese premium skincare brand, which has just launched in Europe – precisely because she doesn’t strike me as the kind of woman who’d lend her name to just anything. Astalift is the reason we are speaking today, but she sounds completely genuine when she tells me: ‘I can say with integrity that it’s something I really believe in. I’ve been using Astalift’s Jelly Aquarysta for three months and my skin feels better than ever. I want to give it to all my friends.’
With friends like Watts’ (Nicole Kidman is one of her oldest and best), I’m sure Astalift is delighted. ‘Nic and I have known each other since our school years, and I do make an effort to keep up with my girlfriends,’ but, she admits, it is tough, with family and work commitments, to see her friends as much as she’d like.
‘I’ve got a really great friend in England, but my girlfriends are mostly Australian and, luckily, we can catch up where we left off. It could be six months without speaking – not even an email – and then when we do get together it’s just like yesterday. My friendships are long-lasting ones, but – and I never thought I’d be that kind of woman – I’ve made some great friends in New York, with the mums of the kids that my babies go to school with. We make a point of getting together once a month and that’s really important, because a lot of my older friends are mums of older kids and I needed that fountain of information and exchange of stories. A lot of my old
friends have either forgotten what went on [with kids] at that age or they’re just not interested.’
I tell her I recently saw pictures of her and Robin Wright filming their new movie (The Grandmothers, based on a Doris Lessing story) on a beach in Australia,
sporting enviably beach-perfect bodies and looking very much as though they were having a great day at work. Had they met before? ‘I’ve worked with Sean [Penn, Wright’s ex] three times, but usually I saw Robin at press functions and events, so I hadn’t got to know her. It was wonderful working with this really talented actress whose work I’d admired for years, and getting to know her in person was crazy,’ she enthuses. ‘The film is directed by a woman (Anne Fontaine, who directed Coco Before Chanel) and it’s so rare to find such fantastically rich female characters who embrace each other, rather than destroy each other. Usually two female characters in one screenplay is a story told with conflict.’
And two leading female characters in their forties, too. Not long ago, a screen actress’s leading-lady career was considered over by 40. ‘Everything’s changed,’ says Watts. ‘Women are having children later, marrying later, they have careers – so stories are reflecting that. It doesn’t end at 40, like we were told.’
Her next movie, The Impossible, with Ewan McGregor, is about the 2004 tsunami. ‘It’s a story we all know but, in this case, it’s about family,’ she explains. ‘I always end up choosing things about the need to stay connected to one another.’
However, the news that had this writer squirming with anticipation is that Watts has been cast as one of the 20th century’s most iconic blondes, Princess Diana, in a new film on the last two years of her life.
‘Yeah, it’s a big one…’ she pauses, choosing her words carefully. ‘The prospect of playing Diana is terrifying. Although I think it’s a problem if you’re not terrified. I’ll obviously have to work hard on the dialect, but people forget that I’m British. It’s exciting, but dangerous, because we’re very close, still [to Diana’s death], and to the memory of her, and you don’t want to upset that memory. I lived in England at the time of her wedding and I was filming in Canada when she died. I remember being in complete shock, watching
the telly in a room full of people and we were all crying. She was someone I thought about a lot.’
It feels as though we could spend all day bonding over a couple of flat whites, but our time is up. What does the rest of Watts’ day hold? ‘Right after this I’m going to get the kids in the car and we’ll go and see dad on set,’ she says, happily. ‘He’s filming in Malibu, on the beach, so we’ll get out the buckets and spades and hang out there. He’s doing a pilot for a TV show so, if it gets picked up, maybe we’ll be spending a bit more time in LA.’
Either way, for now it looks as though Naomi Watts will remain on the move, living the hard-working yet easy-going lifestyle this Brit-Aussie has worked hard to achieve, making a home wherever her family’s heart is. In fact, I can’t help thinking it’s precisely the kind of life another blonde bombshell and
mother-of sons – Princess Diana – would have envied.
Naomi Watts is European brand ambassador for Astalift, Astalift.co.uk.