NEW YORK — When Naomi Watts was cast as outed CIA agent Valerie Plame in Fair Game, director Doug Liman had just one criticism of her.
“Doug said, ‘You’re too soft and maternal, and you’re going to boot camp,’” she remembers. “I did some paramilitary training for three days. So don’t mess with me.”
The reason she looked a bit maternal, of course, was because she had just given birth to her second son with husband Liev Schreiber.
“Basically, I had a baby on December 13th, I read the script on December 28th and we were filming in February,” she says. “I was allowed to have my baby every few hours to feed him while I was armed with a weapon. I did incredible things that I’ll never get to do — or wish to do, actually, for that matter — again like setting off explosives, ramming cars without a seatbelt or a helmet."
And while three days may not seem like all that long, the gruelling training she went through — alongside actual government trainees — sounds pretty gruesome. At least the details she’s allowed to disclose, that is.
“There’s one thing I’m not even allowed to talk about,” she says. “As Doug walked out, they sort of kicked me in the shins and threw me to the ground and I went, ‘Ow!’ and he said, ‘OK, don’t say ow again unless you need to go to the hospital.’ So it was intense.”
Luckily, she had some support at home, since Schreiber was preparing for another CIA role in Salt while she studied up for Fair Game, which proved convenient.
“It was very funny and very strange to have, first of all, two of us shooting at the same time — that’s the first time it ever happened with us — and second of all that we were both playing spies,” she says. “We were laughing about it. There were a lot of moments where we shared our research and watched documentaries on the CIA and compared notes. It was quite funny and unusual, and good timing in a way because he helped me and I helped him.”
Meeting your character
For Watts, playing not only a real person but also one still living — and not far removed from the events of the film — proved especially intriguing. But while she got to meet and work with Valerie Plame, she admits the schedule didn’t allow for a lot of politeness.
“You don’t get her all at once. It takes time. And I’m kind of like that, too,” Watts says. “So we just were careful and easy with each other and we slowly went into it, and then finally it was crunch time and I just presented her with a list of very confronting and personal questions.”
And while co-star Sean Penn had the luxury of visiting Plame and husband Joe Wilson at their home in New Mexico, Watts’ being a recent mother made getting time together trickier.
“We worked out that Santa Fe to New York door-to-door travel was 12 hours, and it wasn’t going to be an easy thing,” Watts says. “She said, ‘Well OK, how about we meet halfway? Let’s meet at Chicago airport?’ And I’m like, who meets at an airport? Oh, a spy does.”