Naomi Watts’ unsympathetic character in Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child would present a problem for an actress who wants to be liked.
But Watts’ courageous refusal to worry about her image sets her apart. She routinely tackles tough parts like Elizabeth, an attorney who moves forward like a shark, destroying everything in her way — she is not a nice person.
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Watts says she found Elizabeth interesting from the first read, trusting Garcia’s vision. In one scene, she leaves her panties in her neighbour’s drawer after seducing her husband.
Watts sees what she did, not as a slap in the face, but a gift.
“It was just — ‘No! Like NO, that’s not who you are, and that’s not who this man is. I know him better and you should know that. You need to know and save yourself!’ It was so weird; it shakes you up, the way Rodrigo writes. These characters are not evil, but messed up.
“She shows repellent behaviours like running away from people, sleeping with her neighbour, and I wondered ‘How does this not make her a villain?’ The closer I looked, I realized she feels so much pain that she has to control everything.”
Elizabeth’s pain was rooted in knowledge that she was abandoned at birth; she didn’t try to find her mother and erased her true past. Watts says Elizabeth missed out on that primal, basic mother/child bond, the one that is so strong in her own life.
“My relationship with my own mother is so important to me. It’s the most meaningful one in my life, particularly as I didn’t have another parent. She was my role model, my everything. She was 20 years old when she had me, right in her prime and she had to deal with me! No time for her to have her own life. She was just too young. Our relationship is like sisters.”
Watts has two children with Liev Schreiber -- Alexander Pete, 2, and Samuel Kai, 1. Motherhood has changed Watts in many ways, including the way she views her career.
“I’ll watch my clock because I know I want to get home and put the kids to bed or pick them up from school. And before I was someone who would stay up to three in the morning working my character out.”
Watts has two films premiering at Cannes this month — Fair Play, based on the book by Valerie Plame, about a CIA operative whose identify was revealed by a newspaper columnist and You Will Meet a Dark Stranger for Woody Allen.