In her breakthrough performance in “Mulholland Drive,” Naomi Watts played a struggling actress who eventually turned homicidal. In her Oscar-nominated turn in “21 Grams,” she played a coked-up grieving mother … who eventually turned homicidal.
If her upcoming projects with freaky auteurs such as Michael Haneke and David Cronenberg are any indication, Watts clearly can’t stay away from the dark side for long.
“Yeah, I suppose I am ordinarily drawn to the darker stuff. You won’t find me in a romantic comedy. Those movies don’t speak to me. People don’t come to talk to me about those scripts, because they probably think I’m this dark, twisted, miserable person,” she adds, with a chuckle that belies any such possibility.
In “The Painted Veil,” John Curran’s adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, Watts plays 1920s Englishwoman Kitty Fane. Spoiled, immature, yet mindful of her precarious social station, Kitty winds up unhappily married to a scientist (Ed Norton) who whisks her away to a remote Chinese village, where their strained relationship and eventual reconciliation play out against the backdrop of a local cholera epidemic.
Watts presents a pinched, pouty and initially unsympathetic character who manages to bloom amid the unlikeliest of circumstances.
“It was quite a relief to play something that was redemptive,” Watts says, adding that Kitty shares one important quality with her previous characters. “I think all these women are able to survive something. They’re on the verge of a breakdown of sorts, but they come through. Sometimes they’re not necessarily coming back on top, but they survive.”
“Veil” reps Watts’ first collaboration with Norton, whose work she had long admired and whose strenuous efforts to get the film made became a project spanning more than five years.
It also gave Watts an opportunity to reteam with Curran after 2004’s “We Don’t Live Here Anymore.”
“John handles the characters beautifully, particularly ones that could so easily be judged,” Watts says. “Just as you’re about to write someone off as horrific, you see the human side of them, and you’re able to feel compassion.”
Favorite film of the past five years: “City of God”
Actor who impressed you greatly after working together: “Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Andy Serkis, who played King Kong. It was extraordinary, truly extraordinary, what he did.”
Next project: Michael Haneke’s American remake of his 1997 film “Funny Games.”