One of the most versatile film actors of the contemporary age is undoubtedly Naomi Watts. Born in Shoreham, England in 1968, she is a skilled performer who possesses the ability to utterly dissolve into any character, and as a result she invokes empathy from the viewing audience.
Watts is the daughter of Myfanwy Edwards, a Welsh antiques buyer, and Peter Watts, the former road manager/sound engineer for Pink Floyd. Her older brother, Ben, is a professional international photographer whose work has been featured in world-renown fashion magazines.
Watts’ parents divorced when she was four. Afterward, she, her brother, and mother traversed southeastern England several times, before settling in Australia in 1982. Classically trained from the age of fourteen in Sydney, she has spent the better part of three decades honing her gift of imagination and flexing her ‘emotion memory’ muscles.
It was during one of her many auditions that Watts met and befriended Nicole Kidman, who later introduced her to agents and filmmakers in Hollywood. She had relative success in commercials, independent films, and a sitcom early in her career, but she met with challenges when she first came to the United States.
Despite the connections she had made through Kidman, Watts had to struggle her way to the top. For almost ten years she was a relative unknown in cinema, but her aptitude and ambition finally paid off when David Lynch came across her headshot, and offered her the lead role in his Mulholland Drive project.
Starting as a pilot for television, Mulholland was not picked up for a series. In the year 2000, Lynch constructed an ending and made the vehicle a feature length film, which subsequently found distribution. The film premiered at 2001 Cannes Film Festival, and a slew of award nominations quickly followed. Watts won the Best Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics for her work.
It is no surprise that Naomi Watts eventually persevered over adversity in the American (and worldwide) film industry. Her range is absolutely immeasurable. Stunning in appearance and rich with talent, Watts has built quite a respectable body of work. Here are 10 films that should not be missed.
10. You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger (2010)
Woody Allen wrote & directed this ensemble piece that was released in 2010. Watts stars among a tour-de-force cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, and Antonio Banderas.
She plays Sally, who is experiencing the crumbling of her marriage to Roy (Brolin), while her father (Hopkins) leaves her mother and promptly marries a young prostitute. Since Roy is struggling to write his second novel, he is digging his heels in against starting a family with Sally. She promptly decides to work for a handsome art dealer (Banderas) to help support herself and her husband.
Given these divergent circumstances, Sally seems to be unraveling as her significant relationships deteriorate, one after another. As a result, Watts runs the gamut of emotions related to losing one’s grip as her patience and affections are pushed to the absolute limits. In typical Allen style, this piece is a gorgeous mess that perfectly reflects the uncertain nature of relationships, love, and the point of life itself.
9. Fair Game (2010)
Naomi Watts takes a turn as CIA agent Valerie Plame, who was allegedly outed as an undercover operative by the United States government as retaliation for her husband, Joe Wilson’s (Sean Penn) published editorial criticizing the Bush administration. Based on true events, this political drama plays well as an intriguing thriller with Watts at the epicenter. This Doug Liman film was nominated for the Palm D’or at Cannes in 2010, due in no small part to her acting.
While adroit at breathing life into fictional individuals, she is also well skilled in portraying actual people. Watts is a master of balancing the spectacular aspects of a role with the dimension of pragmatism necessary to deliver fully fleshed, or ‘round’, characters.
In this telling of events, she is not only Valerie Plame the spy; she is also Ms. Wilson the wife, and Valerie Wilson the mother. When simultaneously embodying these facets, Watts draws attention to the fascinating psychology of one who must live such an intriguing yet dissonant life.
8. King Kong (2005)
This Peter Jackson directed 2005 remake of the black-and-white classic is the ‘blockbuster’ of the bunch. Naomi Watts dazzles as the not-so-typical damsel in distress, Ann Darrow, who captures the affection of the enormous titular ape.
Able to emote and add dimension to the character in a way that surpassed Fay Wray’s technological limitations in 1933, Watts brings fresh verve to the role as she acts opposite a totally imagined creature. She is able to project compassion and even love for what is perceived to be a gigantic, horrific beast; which understandably has the other humans in the tale insanely frightened.
Watts likewise exhibits other complex sentiments that occur both seamlessly as well as in conflict with one another. Although she finds herself in highly fantastical dilemmas, she uses her skills to add a touch of realism that grounds the piece in practical terms and provokes legitimate sympathy from the audience. Watts has an adept, sensitive capacity for executing her roles in highly relatable fashion.
7. Eastern Promises (2007)
David Cronenberg’s shadowy and violent film from 2007 explores the underworld of a Russian mob family living in London. Watts plays a midwife, Anna Ivanov, who witnesses the death of mysterious teenager Tatiana, when the adolescent gives birth to a baby girl under precarious circumstances.
The only answers left to Anna are in the young woman’s diary, which is written in Cyrillic script. As Anna’s deceased father was Russian, his surviving brother may be able to translate the book if he were willing to cooperate.
In the meantime, Anna follows a lead she discovers in the journal that drops her at the very doorstep of the Russian mob. It is at that point that she also encounters furtive Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), the family’s handsome driver/bodyguard, who definitely knows more than he offers to admit. Wrestling between fear for her life and righteous indignation, Watts delivers a concentrated performance as Anna edges closer to terrible truths about the lineage of the orphaned baby girl, and Tatiana’s dangerous past.
6. The Impossible (2012)
Based on another noteworthy event, this 2012 film directed by J.A. Bayona follows one family’s experience amidst the disastrous 2004 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia. Spending a Christmas holiday in Thailand, the Bennetts are a tightly knit, loving unit. Maria (Naomi Watts), her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three sons are enjoying a veritable paradise at their seaside resort when a massive tidal wave hits and absolute chaos and destruction ensues.
The family is separated, with Henry and the youngest two boys’ whereabouts and status unknown. The film then follows Maria and her eldest son in their harrowing journey to survive and discover safety. Seriously injured, Maria struggles between her will to live for her remaining child and her physical maladies. Watts brilliantly combines the happy housewife and mother elements in the opening of the story with a raw determination and strength Maria exudes after the catastrophe.
Watts’ multidimensional approach yields a character that draws admiration and palpable concern from the viewer. Also, she was nominated for a Best Actress award by the Academy, the Screen Actors’ Guild, and the Golden Globes for this film.