Naomi Watts Interview

Naomi Watts gives a powerful performance as an esoteric ingenue in surreal

Naomi Watts gives a powerful performance as an esoteric ingenue in surreal "Mulholland Drive"

Subscribe to Naomi Watts alerts

"Working with David Lynch means you have to trust him -- a lot," says Naomi Watts, star of the idiosyncratic director's latest bizarre, mind-bending chiller, "Mulholland Drive." "But what man better to trust than (one) who's created such a number of great films with great complex characters?"

Complex doesn't begin to define Watts' role in the film as an ingenuous ingenue mixed up in a dark, cryptic Hollywood mystery. At first Betty Elms seems like an absurdly wide-eyed innocent, fresh off the bus from Ontario with stars in her eyes and dreams of an acting career.

"It's like she's from the 1950s, beaming with optimism and joy," Watts laughs, then describes the exaggeration required of her for the scene in which Betty arrives in L.A. glowing with awe like an adult Shirley Temple. "I remember shooting that moment, and David was like 'Pump it up! It's like the best moment you've ever experienced in your whole life!' I felt like I was psychotic because, I'm not three-and-a-half, you know?"

But as Betty becomes involved with a femme fatale amnesia victim (Laura Harding) and embroiled in investigating the woman's dangerous past, layers of seeming naivete peel away, revealing her to be shrewder than she lets on. Such an acting challenge is what made Watts so enthusiastic to talk about the film during a visit to San Francisco last month.

"When I was first reading (the script) I thought, she's too happy and perky and peppy. I thought, she belongs on a cereal box! Then you get a few pages in and you can tell there's something quite manipulative about her. You can tell that all that lovely, perky happiness is not actually the truth. It's something twisted."

Watts is a petite, slender blonde with the posture of a military guard and an inquisitive personality, peppered with playfulness and sensuality. Getting ready to pose for pictures, she kicks her legs over the arm of her chair, suddenly taking on a seductive sparkle as if someone cranked up a metaphorical volume knob labeled "gorgeousness."

On screen in "Mulholland Drive" she shows astounding range and subtlety as an actress, slowly and resourcefully exposing slivers of Betty's esoteric psyche. After successfully walking a credibility tightrope with the character's innocence in the early going, she shows off Betty's surprising acting chops in a startling audition scene in which she uncorks a wanton sexuality. Then in a typically Lynchian narrative zigzag, the movie's last act jumps backwards in time and Betty mysteriously vanish as Watts morphs into an entirely different character -- a junkie with shocking connections to the enigmatic amnesia victim.

Watts' strung-out performance in these later scenes is astonishing to watch, especially in contrast to the giddy girlishness that comes before it. What may be more surprising is the fact that the actress didn't have to audition for the role -- at least not in the traditional sense.

"(Lynch) has a system where he goes through photographs and pulls out the ones he likes and says, 'I want to meet with these.'" Watts says, noting that if the director had seen any of her movies -- she was Jet Girl in the comic book cult movie "Tank Girl," a prostitute in "Dangerous Beauty," a boarding school student in the early Nicole Kidman vehicle "Flirting" -- he never mentioned them. "He doesn't even look at your credits."

"When I met with him, it was just the two of us sitting down and chatting. Nothing about work, just about life," which was a relief, Watts grins, because "I'm a terrible auditioner."

At the time "Mulholland Drive" was planned as a pilot for Lynch's return to series TV. But even though ABC had a hit with the director's surreal soap opera "Twin Peaks," they passed on this ever more outlandish concept that included such nightmarish characters as a crippled, mobster/movie mogul midget manipulating the lives of susceptible Hollywood denizens.

"There had to be a whole bunch of new ideas added when we found out it was going to be a movie," Watts says, but she declines to offer any more details. "David doesn't like to get into the specifics of what was TV and what was film. It takes away from the mystery. But I'm staggered to this day about how he pulled it all together."


Subscribe to Naomi Watts alerts

More Naomi Watts

The Divergent Series: Insurgent Trailer

Following on from the events of 'Divergent', the mysterious government has discovered a magical maguffin which had the power to create the idyllic future they...

Birdman - Exclusive Featurette Trailer

The cast and crew of 'Birdman' discuss the visionary filming techniques behind the movie in a short featurette. Among them are director, writer and producer...

While We're Young Trailer

Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) are a middle-aged married couple struggling to keep up with their quickly ageing bodies and still feeling like...

St. Vincent Movie Review

Bill Murray shines in this story of a cynical grump whose life is changed by his friendship with a bright young kid. Writer-director Theodore Melfi...


The Divergent Series: Insurgent Trailer

Following the revelation that she is Divergent and not specialised for any of the dystopian Chicago factions, Tris (Shailene Woodley) uncovered a series of intrigue...

Michael Keaton Discusses "100% Percent Original" 'Birdman' At New York Film Festival

Michael Keaton has spent most of his career on the fringes of Hollywood even after playing such iconic roles as Batman and starring in cult...

Edward Norton, Emma Stone And Naomi Watts Pictured At The NYFF Screening Of 'Birdman'

The 52nd New York Film Festival gave a showing of 'Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)' on 11th October, 2014. Posing on the red...

Birdman Trailer

Riggan Thomas (Michael Keeton) is faced with a serious problem. In an attempt to make himself appear relevant in the new world following his role...



Naomi Watts Newsletter

Subscribe to this news alert service to receive news and reviews on Naomi Watts

Unsubscribe | Unsubscribe All