Academy Award-nominated actor Naomi Watts talks to MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER about her experience portraying the character of Maria Belon in the soon-to-be released film The Impossible, working with director Juan Antonio Bayona, and what influences her choice of roles

The luminescent Naomi Watts has consistently taken our breath away in all her screen avatars. Whether as brightly brittle blonde ingénue in her breakout role in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or as the driven journalist in Gore Verbinski’s little horror film The Ring, as the actress in Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake or as the midwife in David Cronenberg’s ultra-violent thriller Eastern Promises, Watts’ performances have regularly pushed the envelope. She has shown she can hold her own alongside Hollywood biggies such as Sean Penn (21 Grams, Fair Game), Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises), Ewan McGregor (Stay) and Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar).

The Academy Award-nominated actor will now been seen The Impossible based on a true story of a family’s struggle for survival after the 2004 tsunami. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, the film opens in India on January 4. In an email interview, Watts talks about preparing for her role and how she chooses roles. Excerpts…

This is the second time you are working with Ewan McGregor. Can you tell us something about the experience?

It was lovely, it’s always nice to work with actors again especially if you had a good experience with them before. We have a really nice rapport with one another. He is a great guy and a fabulous talent. There’s a beautiful warmth that comes through his face. I am just lucky and happy to be working with him.

What drew you to the character of Maria Belon?

It came to me through my agent, and he said, ‘There’s a movie about the tsunami.’ And right away I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, that doesn’t sound right.’ But when I first read the script, I thought, wow, it sounds so clear and true, not like someone just decided to use this tsunami as a terrible backdrop for this family. I later found out that much of it was based on Maria and Henry’s words and their experiences. It was incredibly powerful to meet her and talk to her about it. She was so generous and helpful and right there every time. It all came flooding through her. She is incredibly strong and courageous.

Was the shooting very demanding?

Yes, I would have to say the stuff in the beginning in Alicante was hardest. I am not 25. I am not Tom’s (Holland) age. I am not even 30. I am in my 40s now and it’s not normal for me to be thrust around like this. It’s a hard thing to do repeatedly, for months. But this journey has been such an incredible experience; with highs and lows.

How did you prepare for your role?

I wanted to be physically fit and have the right amount of stamina. We actually had a lot more dialogue that we were supposed to say in those scenes, but we couldn’t! Every time you open your mouth in there, you swallow a gallon of water, so we were lucky if we could even get out “Lucas!” or “Mom!” I’ve had my own fearful moment in water once before — nothing to that degree, but I was swept out in a riptide and wasn’t able to swim that well. That was before I moved to Australia, so I know that fear well.

As The Impossible is based on a true story, did you meet your real life counterpart in preparation of your role?

Yes and it was fantastic. Originally when I met Maria I was incredibly nervous and I didn’t know where to begin. I felt like “I’m just an actor and you have lived through this extraordinary horrendous thing, and I just don’t know where to start.” But we sat there in front of each other for five minutes, she didn’t feel the need to speak and I couldn’t, and then she started just welling up and the story was told just through a look. I started welling up and then we just thought “okay let’s get on with this” and she continued to speak for three and a half hours and time just went by like that.

Your choices of roles are always interesting. What are your criteria for choosing a particular role?

I don’t know! They’re just themes that are just interesting to me. There’s no calculating: Either the material moves me or it doesn’t. Having said that, I would say that if there are any repetitive themes in my work, it’s usually about facing things like life and death or fear, I suppose.

Can you tell us something about working with director Juan Antonio Bayona?

When I heard that Juan Antonio was part of the project, I thought, “He is a proper filmmaker.” I have seen his fantastic work on The Orphanage. Clearly, if he’s invested, it must be something great.’

Was the film shot simultaneously in Spanish?

Yes, I think it was because Juan Antonio Bayona knew how much money he wanted for the movie, and it had to be open and more accessible to bigger markets.

Any plans to visit India?

I would love to visit and I might plan a trip soon.

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