Watson woos in rare romantic comedy

Critical analysis: “Ms. Watson, her blue eyes nearly as wide as the screen, has a smart, quiet oddness that plays beautifully off Mr. Sandler’s somersaulting bipolarity. Lena may be a romantic convention rather than a fully conceived personality, but she is also the audience’s surrogate: Her love for Barry is the cue for our own, and Ms. Watson (who some of us are half in love with already) brings us to him in the palm of her hand.”

— A.O. Scott, New York Times

Awards pedigree: Received the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Critics Circle awards for actress in “Breaking the Waves” (1997); received two Oscar and two Golden Globes actress nominations for “Hilary and Jackie” (1999) and “Breaking the Waves”; SAG actress nom for “Hilary and Jackie.”

Upcoming: Scheduled to headline two theater productions later this month, “Uncle Vanya” and “Twelfth Night,” both directed by Sam Mendes, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City

Casting arthouse veteran Emily Watson opposite the “Waterboy” himself, Adam Sandler, may seem an unlikely combination, but it was the peculiar pairing that energized Watson for her role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love.”

“Before we even started, we already had a nervousness and curiosity about each other because we came from such different backgrounds,” she says of Sandler. “He felt a little exotic to me, but I was excited to be working with him. I think that helped develop our relationship onscreen.”

Anderson penned the screenplay specifically with the two actors in mind. Watson plays Lena, a captivating, sweet English woman for whom Sandler’s Barry, a socially awkward outcast, falls head over heels.

Watson says she was drawn to the “curiously dreamy” nature of Lena, who has an inexplicable wellspring of kindness and affection for Barry, despite his angry, often violent, outbursts.

“She’s the sort of person who lands in your life and you know magic is going to happen,” Watson says. “The movie delivers a feeling of intoxication of what

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it’s like to fall in love in a really stomachachey kind of way.”

Playing the love interest in a romantic comedy is a departure for the two-time Oscar-nominated thesp who’s known for her intense roles, which include a distressed mother scraping through Dickensian poverty in “Angela’s Ashes” and a God-fearing woman who becomes promiscuous at the behest of her husband in “Breaking the Waves,” a red-letter screen debut that garnered rave reviews and many accolades.

“In a way, (Punch-Drunk Love) was a big challenge for me because my roles often involve a lot of things to be grappled with, and this was subtler,” Watson says. “I usually come in with a whole armory of acting props, but Paul wanted me to throw out all the ways I’ve worked before, to let it be something more than the usual.”

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