Naomi Watts On The Power Of Letting Go Of Perfection

Sheila Marikar

July 7, 2020

Article taken from Women’s Health.

Naomi is embracing this moment with a healthy mix of pistol squats, talk therapy, and, yes, cake.

Naomi Watts felt pretty good going into 2020. After spending the holidays in Australia—where the 51-year-old actress spent part of her childhood and where some of her family still lives—eating and drinking whatever her heart desired, she embarked on an anti-inflammation diet she’s relied on numerous times in the past as a sort of reset. She cut out wheat, sugar, dairy, and alcohol. She worked out three to five times a week, alternating between boutique fitness classes, yoga, and personal-training sessions. After one month, she felt so good, she continued with the routine. She planned to keep it up through April, when she was due to start filming the first of three projects she had lined up for the year.

We all know what happened next. “COVID came, and I was like, ‘Nah, I’m gonna have a glass of wine when I want,’” she says. “I’m stealing the kids’ Oreos. I never stop eating pasta. We’re baking cakes, banana bread—I don’t ever want to see another piece of banana bread after this.” She also started eating bacon again. “I was closer to vegan before [this situation],” she says.

Naomi has been homebound for six weeks when she FaceTimes me from Long Island, New York. Sitting in a director’s chair, wearing a cream-colored sweatshirt, chunky-framed, cool-girl eyeglasses, and a blunt-cut bob, she looks every bit the leading woman in control. But she’s the first to admit she’s not, and she’s fine with that.

“I’ve always liked to be physical. I’m an active person.”

These weeks have given the star of The Loudest Voice time to think about anxiety, uncertainty, and how to make the best of things…that is, when she’s not homeschooling her children, Sasha, 13, and Samuel Kai, 11; cooking for the family; or finding ways to work with basically all film and television production shut down. “All bets are off,” she says, “and I think that’s just fine. Whatever you need to do, you do.”

For Naomi, that means counterbalancing baked goods with sweat sessions, often in the form of The Class, an hour-long workout that merges calisthenics and plyometrics with a soundtrack of all-the-feels music and self-help guided instruction by creator Taryn Toomey. (Among Naomi’s fave messages: “Start showing up. Breathe into yourself. What do you say when the road gets rough? When the sh*t hits the fan?”) Taryn Toomey sometimes directs her students to shake their bodies and scream, to vocalize any tension they have stuck inside.

“I’ve always liked to be physical,” says Naomi, who grew up running and dancing. “I’m an active person. But I also love the outlet that Taryn creates. It’s a ‘get your freak on’ kind of thing. It doesn’t feel like a traditional workout. You get to move your body, but you also get to shift your mind in a way that’s really cathartic.” She currently tunes in to livestreams about four times a week from “an empty area [in the house] with a good-size mirror.”

Naomi also does strength-training sessions created for her by her longtime Los Angeles–based personal trainer, Keith Anthony. Her go-to move: squats. “I don’t know all their names,” she says, getting up out of her chair, “but I just did this one the other day, where you’re on one leg; can you see me?” Indeed, I can: She demonstrates a pistol squat, in jeans—a move that, after three sets of eight on each leg, renders her almost unable to walk up and down the stairs. Other loves: goblet squats with a 25-pound weight (“three sets of 20, until I get to failure,” she says) and jackknife crunches with a stability ball. “We’ve been told the endorphins keep you going and are great for anxiety and depression,” she says. “That all sounded good, but now, we really get to experience that.”

She relies on other strategies for mental wellness too. Naomi has been open about seeking therapy: To prepare for the 2017 miniseries Gypsy, in which she plays a cognitive behavioral therapist who infiltrates the lives of her patients, Naomi did numerous sessions with, you guessed it, a cognitive behavioral therapist. “I found the research very interesting,” she says. “It felt like a practical way of dealing with and managing specific issues within a certain time frame. Being able to improve or change your behavior by breaking patterns makes it tangible and beneficial.” She also dug deep during the time she spent with her own therapist, whose guidance was particularly helpful during her separation from Liev Schreiber, her partner of 11 years and the father of her two children. Additionally, she uses meditation to help manage anxiety. More specifically, she practices a form of it called transcendental meditation (or TM), which involves repeating certain mantras to achieve a state of “pure awareness”—and shoots for 20-minute sessions every day. “I try to keep it consistent. It 100 percent always makes me feel better.”

“I got a few cake box mixes. Normally, I’ll go, ‘Okay, now do this, don’t let that go there, watch the eggs, be careful when you’re separating,’ but now, I’m like, ‘Experiment. Do it. Make all the mess you want.’”

Settling into the unknown (and pivoting) is becoming natural to her. The three projects she planned to shoot in 2020 remain up in the air, and she’s hesitant to talk about them because she doesn’t know what will be viable once it’s possible to gather the many necessary people—cast, crew, hair, makeup, lighting—on a set again. Two years ago, though, she branched out and invested in a business outside the entertainment industry: Naomi is a partner in Onda (“wave,” in Spanish), a nontoxic-skin-care store.

She first got interested in the concept when she went to visit a friend, former mag editor Larissa Thomson, and forgot to bring her toiletry bag. Thomson let Naomi—whose skin had suddenly become sensitive and prone to itchy, red, dry patches—borrow her face washes and creams, and she was blown away by the results. “I think it was the combination of long workdays with lots of makeup applications, the chemicals in the products I was using at the time, and the hormonal changes I was going through,” she says. “Using clean products made an immediate difference.”

Ideas and connections ensued, and Naomi introduced Thomson to longtime pal Sarah Bryden-Brown, thinking the two would make a good team. About a year after they launched Onda, a one-stop shop, Naomi joined the pair. “I never planned to be in the day-to-day business of things, but over time, I’ve gotten more involved,” she says of testing new products and weighing in on how to grow the brand. Her role, however, has not come with a fussy 17-step skin-care routine. “I don’t cleanse in the morning,” she says, though she does double-cleanse at night.

“I just add moisturizer and serum, or a moisturizer with sunscreen.”

And after face food, there’s food food. It’s three cups of coffee; an avocado toast around 11 a.m.; a big, crunchy salad for lunch (her go-to is arugula, feta, olive, tomato, cucumber, and avocado with a homemade dressing of garlic, olive oil, lemon, mustard, and vegenaise); and something hearty for dinner, like a Moroccan chickpea couscous or pasta puttanesca.

Of course, in her current world, there’s also been a lot of mac and cheese and potato chips. And while she’s not normally a dessert person, there’s been a lot of cake too. Baking is an activity that she’s found keeps her children happy even when they’re homebound. (Back to that love-hate relationship with banana bread!)

“I got a few cake box mixes,” she says. “Normally, I’ll go, ‘Okay, now do this, don’t let that go there, watch the eggs, be careful when you’re separating,’ but now, I’m like, ‘Experiment. Do it. Make all the mess you want.’”

One upside of sheltering at home (besides endless cake-making) has been that the kids see more of both parents. “We’ve spent plenty of time together,” she says, adding that she and Schreiber remain amicable by keeping “the same goal in mind, which is the kids’ health and well-being.”

There’s been a lot of family bonding, lately—Naomi’s brother, the photographer Ben Watts, shot her for the cover of this issue, in part because they were quarantining together. Naomi changed in the back of his truck and acted as her own glam squad. “I FaceTimed with a hair and makeup person,” she says, and mimes dusting her face with a brush. “I’m sitting there going, ‘Okay, so where do I put this?’”

Ironically, in not putting too much pressure on herself right now, Naomi seems to have figured out how to be comfortable in her own skin in a very uncomfortable time. “I’m very impressed with these people who are saying, ‘I cleaned out the pantry and color-coded my bookshelves and watched this documentary series and read this book,’” she says. “I’m finding that it’s hard to get through a lot of things. My attention span is just not as good as it could be, but I have had days where I’ve had creative moments and conversations with people where we’ve actually come up with ideas.”

“There are ups and downs,” she says, “but the world is united for the first time in our lifetime. That’s a significant feeling.” It’s an optimistic sentiment that she—and the rest of us—can hold on to as we look toward the future. Leave it to Naomi to find the silver linings.

Script developed by Never Enough Design