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TORONTO — Earlier this week, just hours before the Toronto International Film Festival world premiere of Juan Antonio Bayona‘s The Impossible — a harrowing film based on the true story of one British family’s 2004 trip to a beach resort in Thailand, where they were torn about from each other when a massive tsunami engulfed the nation’s coastline — I had the opportunity to spend some time with the star of the heartwrenching drama, Oscar nominee Naomi Watts.
The 43-year-old British-born, Aussie-raised actress and I talked about her early struggles to find work that almost prompted her to quit the profession (it took her 10 years before she “made it”); the film that changed the course of her career and made her one of the most respected and sought-after actresses of her generation, David Lynch‘s Mulholland Dr. (“That’s sort of the marking point of my career… I couldn’t get a handshake before”); and her eerily consistent streak of appearing in at least one noteworthy film almost every year since: Gore Verbinski‘s The Ring (2002), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s 21 Grams (2003), David O. Russell‘s I Heart Huckabees (2004), Peter Jackson‘s King Kong (2005), John Curran‘s The Painted Veil (2006), David Cronenberg‘s Eastern Promises (2007), Rodrigo Garcia‘s Mother and Child (2009), Doug Liman‘s Fair Game (2010), and Clint Eastwood‘s J. Edgar (2011).
Of course, much of my conversation with Watts — who, with her partner Liev Schreiber, is the parent two young boys — centered around The Impossible. The delicate blonde discusses what it was like to work in Thailand under the direction of Bayona, who is best known for the modern-day horror classic The Orphanage (2007), and alongside Ewan McGregor and three terrific child actors (particularly Tom Holland, but also Oaklee Pendergast and Samuel Joslin). As much of the film takes place in the water, she wound up spending a chunk of her time on set in the world’s second largest water tank, which was employed to make necessary the use of only minimal CGI. “Little to none” was used, she says, emphasizing, “It was all real” — and it certainly looks that way.
Watts sums up the experience of making the $45 million film as “a massive undertaking, working with children and water — two difficult things,” particularly because the production went on for seven months, far longer than anticipated, thanks to bad weather in the area. But she nevertheless emphasizes that it was a special experience — particularly because the person whom she was portraying, Maria, was alongside her for much of the time.
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