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“The Ring” Interview: Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts has reason to be all smiles. More than a decade after we first met while
she was very much the proverbial unknown young actress trying to make a
name for herself back in Australia, the British-born Aussie has finally been
discovered by Hollywood.

Now starring [and literally carrying] her first Hollywood film, the eerie thriller The Ring, Watts laughs at the notion that here, at least, she is unknown. If you listen to the media, Watts is Hollywood’s “next big thing”–despite her having done some 30 films over 12 years. “Look, whatever they want to believe is fine!” she says amidst peals of laughter. “Perspective is perspective and you can’t mess with that. It’s fine in a way when they say ‘Oh, she’s fresh’. I mean, who can argue with that?”

In Los Angeles’ trendy W Hotel, the actress is a radiant presence. The beautiful
34-year-old is wearing a pink striped shirt, gray pants and a woolen tank
top, her blond hair hanging perfectly to her shoulders. But luminous as she is on
and off the screen, Watts recalls that as an adolescent, she was a far less the attractive young woman and calls herself very much “a later bloomer,” recalling her plain Jane tomboy days. “I had a big brother and never had Barbie dolls. Instead, we
played with action men and drew pictures of wars, not roses,” she says, laughing.

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“All of [my brother’s] friends became MY friends. I wasn’t a ‘girlie girl’ who
was precious or any of that,” she adds. “Grooming and that kind of stuff never
entered into it. I never had pretty pink nail polish on or pretty pink
dresses. None of that was a part of my life; I was about force and being
tough girl. I never became aware of my body or looks until I was in my early

Born in England, Watts moved to Australia when she was just 14. She recalls
how she felt having been uprooted from her friends at the time. “I moved
around England a lot when I was a kid, and that was unsettling at a time
when my mum was still trying to find her feet in terms of what career she
wanted, “she recalls.

Her parents divorced when she was 4. “My dad was
on the road all the time, so we lived with my grandparents, and I ended up
going to 7 different schools.” Her maternal grandmother was Australian,
which was one of the factors that prompted her mother to make the
decision to move to Australia, “which I just hated the idea of doing. At 14,
you know, you’re just trying to find your feet,” Watts says.

Initially wary of her new homeland, Watts eventually settled in. “Once I got there, it was a bit of a culture shock and there were obviously some things we all had to adjust to,
but I ultimately loved it and in retrospect it was the best thing that my mum ever did.”

Her acting career began in a small way, appearing as one third of a trio of
friends in John Duigan‘s Flirting, in which she appeared with longtime
friend Nicole Kidman. Watts remembers seeing how Kidman coped with the kind of fame and spotlight attention that she herself might experience one day–not that the pair necessarily discussed this in any great detail. “I’ve experienced it with her, and when you’re a friend, you watch and learn. It’s not that you ask advice and get pointers. ”

Watts‘ own Hollywood career has come in fits and starts. She had high hopes
that such films as 1995’s Tank Girl, 1999’s Hunt for the Unicorn Killer, or the as-yet-unreleased thriller Down, would elevate her profile. But
Hollywood can be fickle, and there were a number of times she seriously considered packing it all in. It was her friend Nicole who

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urged her not to give up. “She was always very encouraging…when the chips were
down and I was really thinking of throwing in the towel, she kept on telling
me to hang in there, that all it takes is one thing, and she was right.”

That ‘one thing’ was the unexpected theatrical release of David Lynch‘s
Mulholland Drive, which was originally made as a television pilot. She was
both surprised–and not–that film served as her Hollywood career
springboard. “It doesn’t surprise me because that role was so
outstanding, and not many actors could get to play that in their whole career.” On the other hand, she adds reflectively, “I
never thought I’d EVER get a chance so it ended up being surprising that it
took David Lynch, one man, to have the guts to believe in me and help
everyone else understand that I did have something.”

Hollywood has now, finally, beckoned in a big way. The name of the game is
choice and she has plenty to choose from, which suits her just fine. Watts
ow stars in her first Hollywood film, The Ring, a remake of the
acclaimed Japanese horror pic in which she plays a reporter trying to
unravel the chilling mystery of a videotape that kills whoever watches it
exactly seven days later.

She explains why she was attracted to
this as her first big U.S. film. “It’s such a great role, especially
the protagonist being female when that kind of part is normally reserved for
the guys. She gets to go through such an incredible journey, not just with
the struggle and chaos that’s happening around her, but her own personal

That journey has her starting out “as this very flawed woman,
which attracted me. I like her complexities and the fact that she thinks
everything’s OK because she’s not fighting with her son. She then discovers
that throughout the journey that she needs to be a better mum.”

Although there are moments of absolute terror in The Ring,
Watts relied a lot on her imagination to express the kinds of fears her
character conveys throughout much of the film. “I’m someone who has a degree
of fear like any normal human being,” she explains. “I love to play it,
because it’s a really good emotion to play. I love that I can contribute to
manipulating someone else’s emotions because we all can trick our own minds
into believing or feeling things where you can go to a movie and have
someone else trick you.”

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Watts adds that she loves “really good, psychological thrillers. Most of the ‘horror’
films that I’ve loved are those that take more time to frighten you, which
are creepier, like Don’t Look Now and The Shining. I think The Ring has that
air of intelligence about it.”

Although now much more in the glare of the spotlight than she was a little over a year ago, the actress is preparing the fame with which she may have to contend. Always guarded about her privacy, Watts won’t discuss her much publicized
relationship with fellow Aussie Heath Ledger, whom she met on the set of The
Kelly Gang
in Australia. “It’s a just a part of it despite it being
pretty stressful, unusual, unnatural, all the attention, focus and stuff,
but you just keep on doing what you’ve always done…I never want to
be one of those people who is too afraid to leave the house and miss out on

Watts is now in the kind of position she has been fighting to attain for
over a decade, and with that comes the kind of choices she wants to make.
In November,
she will begin rehearsals for 21 Grams, directed by Amores Perros director Alejandro González and starring Sean Penn and Benicio Del
Toro, no less. She recently wrapped Le Divorce with Kate Hudson, the British film Rain Falls with Kate Beckinsale, Plots with a View co-starring Brenda Blethyn and The Kelly Gang with Ledger and Rachel Griffiths. Life couldn’t be sweeter for Ms. Watts. No wonder she’s all smiles.

The Ring opens on Oct. 18.

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