Naomi Watts Is Acting Her Age
October 18, 2022
The actress and beauty founder was told her career would be ‘over’ by 40. Instead, she’s entering her sexy, post-menopause era, happier and busier than ever.
Naomi Watts playfully peeks between the yarn on a Stella McCartney floral crochet sweater and uses the fringe hanging from a royal blue Christopher Kane dress as props for her shimmies and poses before the camera. She receives no direction and doesn’t need it. To a soundtrack of ‘90s alternative rock hits, she owns InStyle’s photo studio — twists, winks, gets the shot, and moves onto the next. A tie-dye graphic T-shirt and big tulle skirt from the late Virgil Abloh’s final Off-White collection plays across decades, and Watts does too. She’s every bit the starlet — the camera absolutely loves her — but she has the self-assurance, focus, and drive no one knows like a working mom in her prime, which, for Watts, is right now at age 54.
When the 4 Non Blondes hit “What’s Up” comes on over the speakers, the whole scene is very ‘90s alt-girl, but rather than quintessential Gen-X angst, Watts exudes joy. She giggles between high kicks, sending the tutu aloft while wearing green suede Christian Louboutin boots with a five-inch plexi platform heel. Naturally, everyone on set lets out a cheer.
Linda Perry may have written the song when she was 25 and curious “what’s going on,” but the feelings of disillusionment and confusion are easily translatable to what many women experience as they approach menopause. This is precisely what Watts is here to unpack. “Perimenopause is a transitional time, but once you’re on the other side of menopause you get to reclaim yourself,” she says on Zoom a few days after the shoot.
In addition to starring in Amazon Studios’ Goodnight Mommy, a remake of the 2014 Austrian psychological horror film of the same name, and Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series The Watcher, a true crime story about a New Jersey stalking case, the actress has been hard at work on Stripes, a beauty brand she’s launched to tackle the stigma surrounding menopause.
Watts was inspired to create the line, which she likes to say targets menopause-related symptoms from “scalp to vag,” because she spent years feeling shame about going into early perimenopause at 36 and battling the dry, itchy skin and myriad other symptoms that came with it.
“When I was shooting the TV show Gypsy, I was really having a lot of symptoms at that point in time and, luckily, I told my makeup artist that I was having problems sleeping,” Watts says. “She’s around the same age, and I just needed one person to understand what I was going through. She identified with what I was experiencing and totally wrapped her arms around me. That meant the world to me that she understood having to work up to 16 hour days while dealing with symptoms.”
But Watts says first time the word “menopause” was used in relation to her health was during a doctor’s appointment. She and her former partner, Liev Schreiber, had been trying to get pregnant without success, so a friend suggested she get a blood panel done.
“I knew that there are changes to the body around the age of 35, but I didn’t know that it was a really late time to start thinking about getting pregnant,” Watts tells me. “In today’s world, pregnancies are happening all around us up to mid to late 40s. My doctor mentioned I might need a donor egg, and for whatever reason, there’s still societal stigma around not conceiving naturally. So that kicked off a whole world of secrecy and shame, and I started looking into other possible alternative routes I could take.”
Watts shares that she wasn’t a candidate for IVF, and says she probably spent thousands of dollars trying every possible remedy to boost her fertility, from Chinese herbs to wheatgrass shots. She did eventually get pregnant, and tears up in the video above while recounting the first time she felt Sasha, now 15, kick after the mounting self-doubt during her years trying to conceive.
A second pregnancy quickly followed and it was after the birth of Kai, now 13, Watts says her symptoms of perimenopause intensified.
“I just knew it was not a good thing to be walking through the same kind of loneliness and secrecy and shame again,” Watts shares. “I did test the waters with friends out there by cracking jokes about menopause, and they weren’t really met with open ears and empathy. It was just like, let’s move on to the next subject.”
Menopause has been stigmatized for too long. With Flash Forward, we turn it into an open conversation and celebrate the people making that possible. Scroll to the bottom for more from this special issue.
Watts initially wanted to write a funny, sexy handbook on navigating menopause as a means to bring the conversation to the mainstream, but ultimately it was her experience as co-founder of clean beauty boutique Onda Beauty that led her to starting her own beauty brand.
“It became clear to me that even though some brands were catering towards women of my age group, I didn’t feel like they were representing the women in an honest way, whether it was through their ad campaigns or just their general messaging,” she says. “You would find 26 year olds or 28 year olds in their advertising, and that just seemed like a promise that we could never fulfill. And it actually makes you feel bad because you’re not seeing yourself represented in that piece of storytelling.”
To create Stripes, Watts teamed up with Amyris, a biotech company that’s also behind a number of top clean beauty brands such as Biossance, JVN Hair, Rose Inc., and Pipette. The result is a concise line of products with a science-backed approach to its formulas and a holistic view of the body’s experience leading up to and through menopause. The launch lineup includes 11 products that target common perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms from head to toe, with the hero ingredient being ectoine, a powerful emollient that also protects skin against external stressors.
hile everyone experiences symptoms differently, dehydrated skin and vaginal dryness are among the most common, so Watts wanted to address them.
“We included hair and body stuff, and then the vaginal products because that’s also an area that suffers. One thing people say about menopause is that the libido lessens, and of course it does a little bit because our hormones are not driving our moods anymore,” Watts says. “But it doesn’t mean we stop thinking about sex or we stop wanting sex; we still have desire. You just have to get a little more organized and put a little more effort into it because women can be put off by sex when things are drying and it becomes painful. But I find, actually, post-menopause, things have been pretty good.”
Along with being effective, Watts wanted the products to be fun to use, so they all have tongue-in-cheek names. There’s the Dew As I Do brightening cream moisturizer; The Power Move hydrating and plumping serum; The Cool Factor cooling and soothing face mist; The Resting Clean Face creamy cleanser; The Full Monty nourishing body oil; The Crown Pleaser densifying hair mask; The Root of It thickening scalp hair serum; Vag of Honor hydrating vaginal gel; Oh My Glide soothing and hydrating vaginal oil; and two supplements, The Inside Addition and The Support System. The products range from $40 to $85, and the packaging is made with glass and post-consumer plastic. Some have a refillable option.
It was also important for Watts that Stripes be the educational resource and community she didn’t have when she first became perimenopausal, a need the 54-year-old feels particularly prepared to fulfill.
“I think we’re the first generation who really knows how to use the internet that has gone through menopause, so there’s never really been a platform for [this],” she shares. “It feels like an intergenerational thing that we’re doing because we’re now realizing what our mothers and grandmothers went through in silence, alone. And we’re saying we’re not going to remain silent through our suffering.”
Stripes’ website will feature medical experts in addition to firsthand accounts of how people are dealing with perimenopause and menopause. Watts’s hope is that this time of life will eventually be seen to be as liberating as it has been for her.
“There is a point in time during perimenopause that you do feel like you’re losing yourself, but I would like to see more information about how you do get yourself back,” Watts says. “And when you get yourself back, you are actually the most authentic version of yourself because you’re not a victim to your hormones anymore.”
With Stripes, Watts is at the forefront of the growing conversation about menopause, despite being in an industry that is notoriously ageist. Last year, Stacy London, former host of TLC’s What Not to Wear opened up about her own experience when she introduced State of Menopause, a line of skin care and wellness products that relieve symptoms. A handful of beauty industry veterans like Rochelle Weitzner of Pause Well-Aging and Lorrie King and Celeste Lee of Caire Beauty have also entered the space, taking their experience working behind the scenes of the biggest beauty brands to create their own successful lines for this long-neglected demographic.
“My career didn’t really start until my early 30s; that was when Mulholland Drive came out. At that time, I was also being told that your career would be over around your 40s. That didn’t make any sense to me,” Watts shares. “Someone said to me, ‘Well it’s when you become unfuckable.’ I was so put off and struck by that statement. I guessed that meant when you can no longer produce children, but so then what? Oh, I get it, the older women play the villain or the mad, crazy lady.”
Education and community are going to make you feel less alone and less like you’re falling off a cliff. I want us to feel like this is a more vibrant time of our lives, and with innovation and integrity, Stripes is planning to do that.
It’s likely Watts isn’t the only actress who’s been told they’ll reach their expiration date in their 40s. The topic was even covered on Inside Amy Schumer in 2015. In a hilarious sketch called The Last Fuckable Day, Schumer stumbles upon Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette, Tina Fey celebrating Louis-Dreyfus’s official “last fuckable day” in Hollywood. In a 2016 Vanity Fair article, Schumer even said the show had trouble finding actresses to participate in it.
With prominent roles in horror and psychological thrillers like The Ring, Shut In, Gypsy, Twin Peaks, to the recent Goodnight Mommy and The Watcher, Watts has not succumbed to this ageist Hollywood trope, but has instead mastered frightening audiences through thought-provoking performances — and refusing to stay in a ‘lane.’
“We as society look at men as they age and think they get more attractive,” she says. “They get wiser, more powerful, and more desirable, and no man is talking to another man really about how they wish they could look better. They may talk about their aches and pains, but there’s no real pressure. It just feels like an unfair playing field, and I wish the conversation wasn’t there at all.”
In Goodnight Mommy, Watts’s character (yes, Mommy) is an aging actress who gets plastic surgery as a means to stay youthful and hides behind a face bandage for most of the film.
“I thought it was so weird and creepy, but it’s also an old exercise that we start in our training when we’re becoming actors,” Watts shares. “We put masks on to see if there’s other ways to communicate stories through expression. You’d have to really rely on your physicality down to the fingertips. So that was really something that I thought was both limiting but worth experimenting.”
As for going behind bandages IRL, Watts says she’s considered plastic surgery, but never taken it farther than that. “I’ve done plenty of research and have gotten close at times and thought about doing it. And that’s not to say that I won’t one day,” she shares. “If I knew I could look great and just like myself but less tired, I’d happily do what needs to be done. But I don’t think we should ever shame anyone who’s made that choice because everyone should approach it at their own level.”
Despite Watts’ first horror role being The Ring 20 years ago, she’s still drawn to the genre. “There is a lot that comes under the umbrella of fear in terms of expression, and so many different emotions to play with,” she says. “I went to a screening of Goodnight Mommy, and seeing how people collectively react by screaming and grabbing each other and then laughing makes it fun. Certainly as an actor I find it very fun to play with such a vast amount of emotions, but I think it also applies to an audience.”
There’s something to the collective experience of things that makes them more meaningful to Watts, which is evident in her work with Stripes as well. Among the range of emotions that menopause makes possible, she hopes the main takeaway from her product line is that this time should be full of optimism.
This is the better half of our life, and we should feel unapologetic about claiming this space as something that’s uplifting.
“Education and community are going to make you feel less alone and less like you’re falling off a cliff. I want us to feel like this is a more vibrant time of our lives, and with innovation and integrity, Stripes is planning to do that,” Watts says. “We want to feel our best. This is the better half of our life, and we should feel unapologetic about claiming this space as something that’s uplifting.”
If we’re looking for an ambassador or doula to take us through to the more optimistic side of ‘the change,’ she’s certainly the woman for the job. Perched on a stool in a cobalt blue AZ Factory shirt dress with a gigantic bow to her back, Watts tilts her head up to the sky and lets out the biggest smile. Now on the other side of the fear, shame, and silence she experienced when she was approaching menopause, it’s clear she knows exactly what’s going on — and she’s enjoying every moment of it.