Whether it’s Mulholland Drive, Funny Games or 21 Grams, we remain endlessly amazed at the emotional depths that actress Naomi Watts will reach for in portraying a character. Not once do we ever see her fake an emotion and audiences cannot help but to wonder what places she goes to in order to display such raw emotion.
The latest example of this is The Impossible, in which she plays Maria, a doctor who is vacationing with her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three boys in Thailand. Their fun, however, comes to a horrific end when a tsunami comes out of nowhere and completely destroys the coastal zone and separates the family members.
The Impossible is based on the true story of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and Watts’ character is based on Maria Belon, who miraculously survived the tsunami along with her family when it smashed through the resort they were staying at.
Recently, at the film’s LA press day, Naomi Watts sat down with us to speak about the film. She discussed the most difficult aspects of making the film, what it was like filming the underwater scenes, how her outlook on life changed after making the film and more.
Check it out below:
We Got This Covered: What was the hardest aspect of making this movie?
Naomi Watts: The water. When I wasn’t in the water I was in pain or in a high pitched emotional place, so it was definitely hands down the hardest thing I’ve done. Before that I would say King Kong was the most physically, emotionally demanding role, and I actually remember promising to myself that I would never do something like that again. It’s sort of like childbirth, isn’t it?
We Got This Covered: Do you like being near the water?
Naomi Watts: I actually have a fear of the water because I nearly drowned. I got caught in a rip tide and I wasn’t a good swimmer because that was when I was emigrating from England to Australia.
We Got This Covered: Did you suffer any injuries while making this movie?
Naomi Watts: I got lots of bruises and scrapes and stuff like that on a daily basis. But the thing that physically got me the most was I had a horrific cough from the beginning to the end of the water sequence which was six weeks. I think I have permanent respiratory damage (laughs). It was one of those hacking coughs because not only were we in the water all the time so you couldn’t get rid of it no matter what medications you were on, but it was also in this dusty place as well.
We Got This Covered: How long did it take you to film all the water scenes?
Naomi Watts: There were two tanks: the underwater and the above water tank. That was four weeks every day.
We Got This Covered: How did you do that?
Naomi Watts: With difficulty, but Tom (Holland who plays her son Lucas) found it to be the most fun a 14 year old boy could have (laughs). But he’s also, apart from being 14 and a boy, an acrobat and a proper athlete so he’s set up for that kind of thing.
We Got This Covered: Did you meet the actual family at any point and what was that like?
Naomi Watts: Yes and it was fantastic. Originally when I met Maria I was incredibly nervous and I didn’t know where to begin. I felt like “I’m just an actor and you have lived through this extraordinary horrendous thing, and I just don’t know where to start.” But we sat there in front of each other for five minutes, she didn’t feel the need to speak and I couldn’t, and then she started just welling up and the story was told just through a look. I started welling up and then we just thought “okay let’s get on with this” and she continued to speak for three and a half hours and time just went by like that.
She stayed with me the whole time. I don’t just mean physically, but we were connected; we sent emails back and forth, she would write endless letters about all the details that took place. The thing that she talked about was her instinct and her ability to trust herself which I think we lose so often. I feel like I am full of self-doubt and second guessing which is why this story becomes an interesting one because you wonder how you would deal with this.
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We Got This Covered: Did the subject of luck come up at all?
Naomi Watts: Oh yeah. She (Maria) puts it down to total luck because there were 250,000 lives lost and so many others affected. She doesn’t want to be thought of as heroic in any way even though to me and to others she may feel like that. But if there’s any suggestion of that, then that would be unfair. It was just pure luck and she can’t say it any other way.
We Got This Covered: After you finished shooting this movie, did you go through any profound change personally in your outlook on life or did you just go back to everyday life like nothing has changed?
Naomi Watts: Look, I’d like to think that every film I do stays with me and gives me some kind of a lesson in a way. I would say connecting with Maria and her story affected me profoundly. If I met her today without knowing that she had been through a tsunami I think I would be intimidated by her and not be able to relate to her because she’s got this fearlessness and positivity, and I’m probably quite cynical and not like that (certainly not all the time). It just makes her very impressive knowing what she’s been through and how she sees things.
We Got This Covered: What was it like doing those hospital scenes where your character doesn’t look like she’s going to make it?
Naomi Watts: This was difficult because you worry as an actor that if you’re forced into one position physically if that will limit you. Obviously the loss of blood and energy was making her very passive, but it’s important to keep the emotion moving and the spirit of the character coming through. Maria spoke about how she wanted to keep humor there and she wasn’t dying until she was dead, so there’s a sense of the fighter in her.
We Got This Covered: That little boy that you and your son rescue, was that reflective of who Maria really is?
Naomi Watts: Yeah I think so. It became so important to her, and there’s that line in the movie of “if it’s that last thing we ever do” and we have to do it. Despite the urgency of wanting to move forward and away, that was all that mattered. She said because she was a doctor and knew how much blood she was losing, she was pretty sure she was going to die. So that was the most important thing to leave a lesson for her son.
We Got This Covered: Maria’s family is Spanish but the family in the movie is an English speaking one. Was that a commercial decision?
Naomi Watts: I think it was because Juan Antonio [Bayona] knew how much money he wanted for the movie, and it had to be open and more accessible to bigger markets.
We Got This Covered: Had you seen J.A. Bayona’s other movie, The Orphanage, before you decided to do The Impossible?
Naomi Watts: Yes, in fact when the idea first came to me my agent called me up and said there’s this script about the tsunami and I said “really? I don’t know. That doesn’t sound like such a great idea. This is such a big, powerful story and so many lives lost and affected and it feels wrong to make a movie about that and make it spectacular in some way.” But then I heard that Juan Antonio was directing it and I knew The Orphanage and I thought he’s a proper filmmaker so let me read it. Five pages in I knew I wanted to do it. It just felt really grounded in truth and that’s because it was all of their (the family’s) experiences blow by blow; everything that happened to them is on the screen.
That concludes our interview with Naomi but we’d like to thank her for taking the time to talk with us. Be sure to check out The Impossible, in theatres this Friday.Previous