Naomi Watts on Being a Mom and Playing One in the Movies
June 9, 2017
Article taken from Parade.
When Naomi Watts’ son Sasha started fourth grade last year, he told his parents he wanted to start walking to school…alone. “Could he do it? Probably, yes,” says the actress. But “I’m not ready for that.”
“This is the age where they start building their autonomy,” says Watts, 48, who co-parents Sasha, 9, and son Kai, 8, with her former partner, actor Liev Schreiber, 49. The kids’ drive to learn and grow becomes more clear to her every day, she says. “They ask really intense, deep questions, like, ‘Who was the first person ever to be on Earth?’ and ‘Who was the mummy of the mummy of the mummy of the mummy?’ It sometimes just knocks me over, the deep level of thinking they go through.”
It’s a reminder to her that parenting regularly rides a fine line between nurturing your children’s independence and intelligence—and protecting them.
Parenting on Film
Watts’ character faces a similar quandary in her new movie, The Book of Henry, out June 16. She plays Susan, a divorced single mother raising her two boys. One of them, Henry (Jaeden Lieberher, 14, who co-starred in 2014’s St. Vincent with Watts and Bill Murray), is a bona fide genius. Henry handles his mom’s paycheck, invests in the stock market for his family and creates intricate plans in his notebook for Rube Goldberg–like machines with dozens of moving parts.
Susan’s younger son, Peter—played by Jacob Tremblay, 10, who starred alongside Oscar winner Brie Larson in Room—worships Henry but needs a bit more TLC. Their next door neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler, 14, of Lifetime’s Dance Moms) is being mistreated by her stepfather and needs the support of Susan’s family.
The challenges faced by the children present some serious topics.
“Right away it spoke to me,” Watts says of reading the Henry script. “It just felt like a fable, about how to keep a family together.”
Working with the child-heavy cast came easily for her. “Those kids, every day, were just incredible,” she says. It helped that she’d already co-starred with both boys: In addition to working with Lieberher in St. Vincent, she performed alongside Tremblay in last fall’s thriller Shut In.
Watts found her own youthful energy reawakened on set. “That’s the great thing about being a parent—kids bring out the child in you,” she says, “that spirit that should never go away.” And in her family, it hasn’t.
Her own children get the biggest laughs out of her when they’re busting her on her “fake” American accent if she’s using it on set between scenes. “They’re like, ‘Don’t speak like that!’’’ she says, laughing. “They just want you to be yourself.”
‘I’m From Everywhere’
With a background like Watts’, being herself is complex. “I feel panicked when people ask me, ‘Where are you from?’ It’s complicated,” she explains. “I’m from everywhere!”
She was born in Kent, England. Her mother worked in fashion and dressing windows for department stores, then later in commercials and film, and is now an interior designer. Her father was a road manager and sound engineer for the band Pink Floyd.
“My mom and dad divorced early, and then he died,” she says of the tragedy that struck their family when she was only 7. “It was a struggle” for her mother, she says, “but she had the help of my grandparents—we lived with them for about three years.”
In those early years, “I was definitely a performer,” Watts says, recalling her involvement in local concerts, skits and holiday plays. At 14, she and her mom moved to Australia. She appeared in the 1986 Australian film For Love Alone, then relocated to the United States and made a name for herself in Hollywood with the movie Mulholland Dr., followed over the years by a wide range of other films, including The Ring, King Kong, The Impossible and Birdman.
In 2005, she began dating Schreiber and relocated to New York City. The pair announced this past September that they were separating as a couple after 11 years. “We are in a good place,” she says of their relationship now. “We’re very close friends, and we’re raising two beautiful boys.”
Despite her many years in America, Watts holds on to some key parts of her past—like her humor, which she says is definitely English. “I feel like it can be quite crass,” she says with a smirk. “And then I have that British self-deprecating thing, constantly apologizing. I’m not good at self-confidence, which is a very American trait.”
Her years in Australia gave her a tendency toward being open, honest and frank. “Australians wear their hearts on their sleeve; they’re very open and down-to-earth.” Yet in most of her roles, she plays an American. As convincing as her accent always is, she admits she still struggles with it.
The hardest part, she says, is nailing the r sounds.
“Sometimes I overcompensate; we don’t do the hard r’s. And that’s the one that Kai, my son, always busts me on. He’s like, ‘Mom, it’s not arrrrr!’”
Even today, Watts likes to do a few weeks of prep on her accent for a part before she gets to set. “I was talking to Nicole about it. We were saying, ‘Why doesn’t it get any easier? It almost gets harder. How is that possible?’”
“Nicole” is fellow Aussie actress and friend Nicole Kidman, who’s had a big year herself, first with the film Lion and then the HBO series Big Little Lies. Watts and Kidman met while the two were auditioning for a TV commercial together early in their careers—both clad in bikinis for the part.
“We’ve kind of known each other for 30 years now,” Watts says. “We still always check in and spend as much time together as we can when we’re in the same city, and we just take off where we left off.”
Looking toward her next project, Watts is open. “The big thing I wanna do is theater,” she says. Broadway makes the most sense for her since she’s living in New York, “although I’ve heard, you know, it’s much scarier in New York. I’d love to do London.” She’s shyer than you might think. “I am terrified. I’m not good in front of live audiences.”
And as she keeps her eyes open for the right project onstage, she looks forward to seeing her other upcoming projects onscreen. On June 30, she’ll star in Gypsy, a new TV drama for Netflix, playing a therapist who delves too deeply into her patients’ lives. She’s also in Showtime’s new Twin Peaks series—in a role shrouded in secrecy. She’s excited about her dive into the world of high-quality television.
“I love that there’s all this room for female-driven stories,” she says. “It’s a great time for women—all the fantastically complicated women. TV’s not afraid of it.”
She’ll be joining Brie Larson in the big-screen film adaption of the book The Glass Castle, set for release August 11.
She loves working, but she’s never been good at sitting back as an audience member and watching her own work.
“I’ve never gotten used to that,” she says. Much like a parent who has to lead her children into the world and then release them—to walk alone to school one day and on toward life—she feels the same way about the roles she takes on.
“You never feel it’s finished,” she says. “It’s hard to let go.”