Cannes: Naomi Watts in Talks to Join Matthew McConaughey in 'Sea of Trees'

Naomi Watts Oscars 2014 - P 2014
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Naomi Watts Oscars 2014 - P 2014

UPDATED: Director Gus Van Sant and McConaughey turned up at the festival Thursday to talk about the project, which begins shooting this summer.

CANNES – Naomi Watts is in talks to star in Gus Van Sant's Japan-set drama, Sea of Trees.

The news that Van Sant is planning to cast the Diana star came from the director himself, who showed up at the Cannes Film Festival Thursday with Matthew McConaughey, star of the film, to tout the project to foreign buyers. Sea of Trees, with a budget of $25 million to $28 million, is one of the biggest titles being shopped at the market this year.

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Sea of Trees is the first title from Bloom, the new sales company launched May 13 by veteran foreign sales agent Alex Walton and Ken Kao. Bloom sought to further elevate the project's profile by flying in Van Sant and McConaughey (the actor arrived Wednesday night from Los Angeles, and will depart Friday).

McConaughey, fresh off his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club and who is next in theaters in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, said the script for Sea of Trees was the best he's read in five years. He'll play an American who travels to Japan's famous "Suicide Forest" with the intention of taking his own life. Instead, he decides to help a Japanese man (Ken Watanabe) who has become lost, and the duo set off on a reflective, and sometimes dangerous, journey to find their way out.

"It's like [reading] a whole bunch of haikus back-to-back," McConaughey said. "I got the chills, which doesn't usually happen. And with Gus, I thought it was the perfect match."

Watts would play the wife of McConaughey's character. Their marriage is told through a series of flashbacks, Van Sant said.

"There are many different relationships in the film," the director said. "I can only hope that it will look fantastic."

Sea of Trees is McConaughey's next movie and begins production in July or August. Van Sant would like to shoot in Japan. If not, he's eyeing the Pacific Northwest (Van Sant lives in Portland).

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Van Sant said he received Chris Sparling's script from producer Gil Netter (Life of Pi). CAA and WME arranged financing and are co-repping U.S. rights. Kao, heir to the Garmin fortune, is producing and financing Sea of Trees through his Waypoint Entertainment.

McConaughey gave foreign buyers a history lesson on the Suicide Forest, which lies at the foot of Mt. Fuji. "If you go online and look for the perfect place to die, this is the place that comes up. There are even signs that say, 'remember, you leave a family behind.'"

The actor said he is preparing for Sea of Trees by contemplating "the metaphors" provided by the script, and that the character's "visitation with death actually gives him life."

Watts, who received an Oscar nomination for 2012’s The Impossible, has three films in post-production: Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, comedy St. Vincent De Van Nuys and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman. She’s repped by CAA and Untitled Entertainment.