Naomi Watts and Andrew Lincoln on Working Alongside Real-Life Bloom Family in 'Penguin Bloom'

Watts also opens up about the learning curves of filming in a wheelchair.

Naomi Watts is shining a light on disability and healing from trauma with an unlikely hero at its center in her new drama Penguin Bloom.

The film is based on the true story of Australian mother Sam Bloom who, while vacationing in Thailand over the holidays with her husband Cameron and three boys, fell 20 feet from the roof of their hotel's balcony after a rusty railing gave away and fell to the concrete below. The accident fractured her skull, ruptured her lungs, shattered her spine in several places and left her paralyzed from the chest down.

An avid surfer and adventurer, Bloom’s accident and subsequent disability left her depressed until a baby magpie named Penguin entered the family's life and renewed her sense of hope. The Blooms' experience sprung the book Penguin Bloom, which eventually fell into the lap of Watts, who immediately knew she wanted to bring this story to the screen.

“The book came to me through my friend Emma Cooper who’s also my producing partner,” Watts tells THR in a new interview before the film's release. “I read it on a Sunday morning with my kids in bed leafing through the pages and being completely drawn in by these beautiful images of this creature, this little tiny bird. I just felt really drawn in by this moment and I saw the magic of this bird creating the unity and the repair of one's hope.”

The actress, along with co-star Andrew Lincoln, who stars in the film as Sam's husband Cameron, had many conversations with the actual Bloom family on their story during the course of filming and notes that the couple was heavily involved in the production even offering up their actual house to use for the films set.

“As soon as I signed on for the project we were Skyping one another and I sort of bombarded [Cameron] with a thousand ridiculous questions,'' says Lincoln. “I went out surfing with his family and we just hung out. The key thing I said [to Cameron] was, 'What do you want out of this film?' and he said 'I want them to get that we’re soulmates, that throughout this terrible trauma that it is ultimately a love story.' ”

Lincoln also adds that theme of family resonated both on and off the set. “I had my family [on set] and Naomi had her family with her so it was an extraordinary atmosphere that was really conducive to being as honest and true and open and also also honoring this extraordinary true story.”

However there were still learning curves. Watts explains that her scenes involving a wheelchair took a lot of practice and encouragement from Sam. “[Sam] sent video footage of her transferring from bed to chair,” says Watts. "It's not an easy thing to do even getting lifted by someone. Andrew had multiple moments where he had to lift me up and just to tell the lower part of your body to just flop is not easy.”

And then there was the tricky task of acting alongside a real-life magpie. Lincoln notes that rather than CGI, which was used a handful of times, a majority of the scenes involving Penguin were shot using the real birds. “Well we had seven magpies,” he explains, including the baby chick all the way to the full-grown flying bird. “So when one of them got tired or full, this extraordinary guy Paul would feed them with little live worms. But these birds were extraordinary.”

Watts credits the real-life Sam Bloom as the key to making this film feel as real as possible. “She not only shared her house and her dark secrets of everything her family [went through],” explains Watts, “but she also shared her diaries, which were deeply personal and gut wrenching. I sobbed and sobbed when I read the page, and you know, truly got closer to understanding what a private hell she was living and really understood her strength and it's just an inspiring story."

Penguin Bloom premieres on Netflix on Jan. 27. Watch the video above for more on this interview.