"Sometimes a movie set fools you into believing you're safe," says Naomi Watts. But she felt anything but safe playing Maria Belon during the 2011 shoot of The Impossible, Juan Antonio Bayona's epic about a vacationing family in Thailand swept away by the 2004 tsunami, which claimed more than 230,000 lives.
Says the actress of the real Belon: "She was sure of every decision that she made. She's impressive, and to this day I'm impacted by her."
Mother and Son
"Me and Naomi were so close, I could think of her as my mum as soon as the camera was rolling," says Tom Holland, who plays her onscreen son.
Filming the Tsunami
Watts in the tank in Spain, re-creating Maria Belon's tsunami experience. "When you watch these kind of movies, you always imagine how you would've handled it yourself," says Watts. "I know what I'm like in a crisis. Even in a mini-crisis, even without a crisis, I'm second-guessing myself all the way."
Keeping Her Head Above Water
The actress shoots a scene where Maria clutches a tree as the flood batters her with debris, which caused actual bruises that had to be duplicated later with makeup.
Watts' career-capstone performance has earned her Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG and Critics' Choice nominations for best actress.
Watts in a tank, preparing to take oxygen and a scary plunge underwater, where a technical snafu once trapped her. "It was horrific," says Watts.
A Tough Role
"The action stuff was hard on the body, but the acting was harder," says Watts, who conveyed Belon's complex feelings under tough conditions and with very few words.
The Big Wave
Watts had a scary moment in Alicante, Spain, where effects wizards Pau Costa and Felix Berges re-created the big wave in a 393-foot-long seaside tank with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.
Everyone felt the pressure of respecting those touched by the tragedy, but no one felt more pressure than Watts, whose ordeal was both physical and psychological.