Sitting in a beachside restaurant in Cannes, Naomi Watts is experiencing a wave of nostalgia. After all, it was here a decade ago that she became a star, when she played a wide-eyed wannabe actress in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

“It became a career after that moment,” she says. “Before, I was an actor for hire.”

Ten years of toiling away unnoticed in flop films like Tank Girl had left its mark – but Lynch changed everything.

“It felt good to be acknowledged,” she nods.

And employed – with the likes of David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises) and Peter Jackson (King Kong) flocking to work with her.


Given this shot at Hollywood glory, you could understand if Watts never took a sabbatical ever again. But since her last major role, being terrorised to within an inch of her life in 2007’s Funny Games, she’s become a mother-of-two – to Alexander (3) and Samuel (2) – with her actor-partner Liev Schreiber, who she met on the set of period drama The Painted Veil.

“You do worry it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’,” she admits. “But I guess I just got a lucky break. I’m so absorbed with my children, this is what I’m doing now.”

Yet her screen hiatus doesn’t seem to have lessened demand for the actress. With two new films due this month, the 42-year-old has also just wrapped Jim Sheridan’s psychological thriller Dream House, with Daniel Craig, and tsunami drama The Impossible, with Ewan McGregor.

If that wasn’t enough, she’s just signed on to Clint Eastwood’s biopic about FBI director J Edgar Hoover, alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, and is still in talks to play Marilyn Monroe for Chopper director Andrew Dominik in an adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel Blonde. Out of sight she may have been – but clearly not out of mind.

From CIA agent to Woody Allen muse

Her latest films are “chalk and cheese” she says. First is CIA thriller Fair Game, in which she plays real-life operative Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown when White House officials deliberately set out to discredit her left-wing husband (played by Sean Penn).

Watts admits there was some comparison to her own life – given both she and Plame spend their days taking on different identities. “The difference is, if I mess up, I could get panned by the critics,” she says. “If she messes up, she could end up with a bullet in her head.”

Her second movie is Woody Allen’s new romantic comedy You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, in which she plays Sally, whose marriage to Josh Brolin’s failed novelist is hitting the rocks.

Allen’s fourth film to be shot in London brought Watts back to the country she was born and raised in – until her mother moved her to Sydney when she was 14.

“It was great to be in London,” she reflects. “I stayed in a friend’s house and we had the kids, and we had a communal garden. It was the best time of year for weather, and my mum was around. I’ve got friends there. So I got to have a life as well.”

Down to earth

In truth, bringing her two young children to London was unusual for Watts, as she and Schreiber have made a pact to share out the child-minding.

“You have to go by this thing of taking turns a little bit, which we have just done,” she says, pointing out that she stayed at home last year while Schreiber did a six-month Broadway stint in Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge. “You have to be conscious of other people’s needs in a relationship. Communication is key. We have kids, we have careers … there’s a lot to work out in our relationship. And we get through it.”

Admitting that her children give her stability, it also seems that becoming famous relatively late – she was 32 when Mulholland Drive was unveiled – has kept Watts’ feet on the ground.

“Success coming to somebody too early can be a negative thing,” she says. “I worked hard and paid my dues in Australia. It’s good because you appreciate it more.”

Ironically, in Marilyn Monroe, she will take on the ultimate symbol of a doomed celebrity.

“It’s a daunting one,” Watts acknowledges. “This is an iconic woman who everyone feels they know in some way – so the pressure is on.”

Some do like it hot alright. 

» Fair Game opens on March 4. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger opens on March 18. 

– Alison Grinter