Naomi Watts talks about bonding with kids on- and off-screen

Naomi Watts plays a single mother of two boys in the movie The Book Of Henry.
Naomi Watts plays a single mother of two boys in the movie The Book Of Henry.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Actress Naomi Watts shares how she handles her sons and child actors in show business

LOS ANGELES • Naomi Watts is no shrinking violet on screen, having proved her mettle against a raging gorilla in King Kong (2005), a deadly videotape in The Ring (2002) and the Indian Ocean tsunami in The Impossible (2012).

Now, in The Book Of Henry, out in United States cinemas over the weekend, she is battling wits with a gifted 11-year-old.

As Susan Carpenter, Watts plays a role she knows well: a mother, now single, of two boys - the precocious Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), who acts as her personal investment banker, and the seemingly more ordinary Peter (Jacob Tremblay).

When Henry suspects that the girl next door is being harmed by her stepfather, the town's police commissioner, he ropes his mother into a rescue plan.

"I loved how it had a foot in many different worlds," Watts said. "One minute, it's a sweet family movie.

"Then, it moves into some complex dramatic moments and then it takes some surprising twists into the suspense-thriller genre."

The England-born, Australian- bred Watts, 48, lives in New York with Alexander, nine, and Samuel, eight, her sons with actor-director Liev Schreiber, from whom she publicly separated in September.

In an interview at a hotel in New York, she spoke about two other big projects: the return of crime drama Twin Peaks on Showtime and the psycho-sexual thriller series Gypsy, debuting on June 30 on Netflix.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

What real-life mothering skills did you draw on to play Susan?

How far you will go to protect your own kids.

You previously acted with Jacob in Shut In (2016) and with Jaeden in St Vincent (2014). Did that bond make it easier to play their mother?

Yeah, which is great because how do you create that instant chemistry, especially with kids? You want the kids to jump up on you or you want to be able to scruff up their hair or kick them on the butt. That is the nuance you need to create a reality.

As a celebrity, it must be an enormous task to protect your own children, especially going through a public separation.

I do not want to get into it too personally. But we are doing the best we can in a tricky situation and, so far, I feel really good about how we have dealt with it. The kids seem to be in a good place.

Do your sons watch your movies?

No, I do not really see any advantage for them and they just watched King Kong only a few months ago.

I remember showing them the trailer (years earlier) and my littlest one getting completely freaked out. They just do not want to see their parents under distress or in danger. Now they get it.

They came to the set when I was shooting (The Impossible) in Thailand, and I had bruises and wounds, and I was worried about them seeing me like that. But I showed them how you put on strawberry jam that looks like a bloody wound and they started to understand.

In Twin Peaks, you are playing the wife of one of the characters. How was working with director David Lynch again?

Fantastic. It has been how long between drinks? Too long.

Mulholland Drive (the movie) is not quite 20 years old now. I managed to stay in touch with David.

He does not get out much so you go to his house and have coffee... and he is always talking about ideas.

There was a moment where it did not look like (being in Twin Peaks) was logistically possible and I was stalling. And David rang me up and said: Are you going to do this or not? Come on. And I was like, I have to do it just to be in his magical, brilliant world again.

In Gypsy, you play a cognitive behavioural therapist who gets too involved in her patients' lives.

She is a well-intentioned woman, but she is at a point in her life where things are feeling a little stale. And she is feeling that with her patients as well - like they are not getting it and she really wants to help them.

Then, before you know it, her curiosity gets the better of her and she is in this whole rabbit hole.

She has neglected a side of her past that was a bit wilder in order to live this life with more structure. So she goes off in the wrong direction.

What is the moral of the story?

It is a cautionary tale. People often fantasise about things like, who would I have been if I lived this life or what have I not done and how could I reinvent myself?

You do not have to do that when you watch a TV show. You get to see someone else get into all kinds of trouble for you.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2017, with the headline 'Bonding with kids on- and off-screen'. Print Edition | Subscribe