Watts endured harrowing work for 'The Impossible'
“Fear takes us to so many different places,” Naomi Watts says. “You can't really judge. One person's suffering is going to manifest itself differently than another's.”
The Australian actress is mulling how different people react in the face of catastrophe. Some summon untapped courage, generosity, selflessness. And then there's the guy in “The Impossible,” the film Watts stars in with Ewan McGregor — based on the real-life ordeal of a family that is literally swept away in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami — who won't lend out his cellphone. So what if McGregor's character, lost and in shock, needs to let his parents know he is alive?
Set in Thailand, and inspired by the experiences of the Alvarez Belons, a family of five on Christmas vacation at a coastal resort when the tidal waves came crashing in, “The Impossible” screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Watts has received best-actress nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes for her portrayal of Maria, who's separated from her husband and two youngest boys and caught in a raging current of water and debris with her oldest son (a remarkable Tom Holland).
The first half of J.A. Bayona's masterful disaster movie follows Maria, who is resolved to find her family, to survive, no matter what. In Thailand, the tsunami resulted in more than 5,000 deaths, with an additional 2,800 missing and unaccounted for.
“If there is any good coming out of these kinds of disasters ... it is that it strips away everything else,” says Watts, speaking in Toronto. “People come together. It's not about class, and it's not about race. It's about: How are we going to get through this? And that's when the space for humanity comes back into it.”
Except for that guy with the cellphone, maybe.
“Well,” Watts adds with a smile, “not always, but maybe the next moment.”
The star of David Lynch's “Mulholland Drive,” of David Cronenberg's “Eastern Promises,” of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's “21 Grams,” Watts says that making “The Impossible” — while it was nothing compared to what her real-life counterpart experienced — was physically harrowing work.
Those scenes of Watts swirling in the waves, with tree limbs and car parts shooting past her — that is not CGI.
“I didn't know it was going to be so difficult,” she says. “They had it all very well prepared — we had allegedly the second-largest water tank in the world, and they had these giant cups that we were anchored into ... so you were just above water level, you could use your head, and you can use your arms so you looked like you were swimming. ... And you're on this track, and then a giant wave was coming toward you ... and then side pumps were shooting more water, and all the garbage and debris. ...
“So, it got increasingly difficult, and then we noticed that we couldn't actually act, or speak. We were lucky if we could get one word out, and that word would be ‘LU-CAS (Holland's character, Maria's son.)!' ”
“It was tough, and then the underwater stuff was even more difficult. That was very scary,” she says. “But it was all marginal compared to what Maria and her family went through.”
Watts, in fact, met with Maria Belon before shooting began.
“I didn't want to pry too much. I didn't want to seem too actor-y. But she had so much to say, so it was perfect,” Watts recalls. “And something that I didn't quite understand at the time was that she said she felt completely sure of her instinct. That nothing got in the way of it. And she'd never had that feeling before. Which made her incredibly heroic, because every decision she makes seemed to be the right one.
“And I think that instinct is in us all, but it's so easy to second-guess, isn't it?
“Not that I want a disaster like this to happen for me to get to that place, it just overcame her, and she never doubted herself. And that's just an admirable strength in anyone, and it got her to that place of purity.”
Steven Rea is a movie critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Review: Stylish whodunit ‘The Loft’ doesn’t reach narrative heights
- ‘Black or White’ leaves Kevin Costner spent — emotionally and financially
- 5-year-old boy needed for ‘Let It Snow’ role
- ‘Let It Snow’ filming in Millvale
- Review: A tired gimmick weakens thriller ‘Project Almanac’
- Review: ‘A Most Violent Year’ speaks softly, carries much menace
- DVD reviews: ‘The Judge,’ ‘Fury’ and ‘The Book of Life’
- Pittsburgh-set ‘Me and Earl’ big at Sundance, gets distribution deal
- Romero’s son plans ‘Living Dead’ origins story
- Review: ‘Black or White’ finds dramatic promise in the grey areas of American race relations
- Review: Law can’t manage to keep ‘Black Sea’ afloat