Name: Naomi Watts
28 September 1968 (Age: 44)
Where: Shoreham, England
Height: 5' 5"
Awards: 1 Oscar and1 BAFTA nomination
After her Oscar-nominated performance in 21 Grams and super-hyped appearance in the hand of the giant gorilla in Peter Jackson's King Kong, Naomi Watts must now be added to the growing list of Australian actresses who've risen to Hollywood prominence. For a long time, though, it really looked like she wouldn't make it. Having failed to match the success of her friend and early co-star Nicole Kidman, she spent years struggling in minor roles and B-movies, watching the inexorable rise of compatriot Cate Blanchett, hearing the rumour-mills heralding the arrival of fellow Aussies Frances O'Connor and Miranda Otto. But finally, breaking through in David Lynch's bizarre and beautiful Mulholland Drive, she had the opportunity to exhibit an emotional intensity few actresses can match. She would not look back.
Though Watts claims to be an Australian, there are several nations keen to claim this new superstar for their own. She was born on the 28th of September, 1967, in Shoreham, Kent, just to the south-east of Greater London and very much in England, thank you very much. Her father was Peter Watts, a real name within the music industry, who'd worked as tour manager and sound engineer for The Pretty Things for four years before taking on the same duties for the fledgling Pink Floyd. He'd join the Floyd in 1967, some 6 months before early leader Syd Barrett was sacked and Dave Gilmour enlisted. There is a photograph in drummer Nick Mason's book Inside Out that shows Peter enjoying life on the beach at St Tropez with his new baby - Naomi.
To see Peter Watts in his element, one can also peruse the back cover of Floyd's 1969 live album Ummagumma. There he is amidst the sound gear, much of which he invented himself in order to allow the band to reproduce their extraordinary studio sound onstage. Indeed, the equipment he made would allow the group extra licence in the studio, too, to the extent that some aficionados believe Watts to've been directly responsible for the sound and sound-quality that would make Floyd such a monster success. That's his laugh you hear during Speak To Me and Brain Damage on Dark Side Of The Moon.
Naturally, her father's position would see young (very young) Naomi attend some of prog-rock's most memorable events, though not as many as her older brother Ben (later a well-known photographer). Sadly, these good times were painfully fleeting. In 1972, when she was 4, her parents would divorce, leaving her in the care of Myfanwy, her half-Welsh, half-Australian mother. Myfanway's father Hugh Roberts had met mother Nikki while serving in the Far East during WW2 and together they'd set up home in Shoreham.
The hard-up Myfanwy, still very young, would take the kids to stay with her parents, with her three sisters and with several poorly-chosen boyfriends, the family's travels taking them all over the south - Kent, Sussex, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and more.
. If this was disorientating for Ben and Naomi, what happened next must have sent them into a spin. Just as Peter and Myfanwy had enjoyed a reconciliation and were considering making a second go of it, disaster struck. Peter had left Pink Floyd in "mysterious circumstances" in 1974. Now, two years later, in August 1976, he was found dead in his Notting Hill flat, a heroin overdose being suspected. He was only 30. Myfanwy was hit hard and, now desperate for support, she successfully used emotional blackmail on her parents, who'd since moved back to Hugh's original home in Wales. If they wouldn't let her and the kids stay, she said, she'd have to have the children fostered.
And so it was that Myfanwy, Ben and Naomi relocated to Llanfawr Farm, near Llangefni on the island of Anglesey, north-west Wales, within view of Mount Snowdon. The kids would attend primary school at Ysgol Henblas in Llangristiolus (they'd return years later when Ben renewed his marriage vows at Llangristiolus church) and would study Welsh. Once more they would have to find a new voice, new ways of fitting in with a new bunch of peers.
Perhaps this continual need to adapt would serve Naomi well in her later career. What's certain is that even at this tender age she had been bitten by the acting bug. Myfanwy was a designer by trade (she started as a window dresser for Burberry's then moved into film) but was also a keen amateur dramatist, having dumped her thespian ambitions to raise the kids. Back in Shoreham, at the age of 5, little Naomi had seen her star as Eliza Doolittle for a local troupe and had been thrown by her mother's costumes and odd accent. Throughout the show she'd waved at her mum and was disturbed by the lack of reaction. But then, when Myfanwy did finally acknowledge her with the briefest of waves, she suddenly understood this new world of make-believe. Believing she'd been let in on a special secret, she would eventually join the same group and take part in many different skits and plays. She'd also have her interest in performance further piqued by Deborah Harry from the band Blondie (Naomi would choreograph dance moves for all their hits) and the movie Fame, released in 1980. Here was a behind-the-scenes explanation of what it might take to become an actress for real - classes and hard work. She'd see plenty of these before her breakthrough came.When Naomi was 10, Myfanwy would remarry. Her new husband was the singer in a band and, being of good English stock, was careful about the children's education, sending them off to decent boarding schools. Here Naomi proved to be smart but lacking in concentration, preferring to dream rather than study. What she craved was experience, choosing to spend much of her time with older kids and ultimately being grounded for sneaking out at night to seek such company. The strict boarding school regime was not really for her. After all, she came from a truly bohemian background, where her mum baked their bread and made their clothes, and parents and guests thrived on music, art and pot.
Come 1982, things would change radically. Having scored work in Australia and with England mired in the ugly and destructive first years of the Thatcher administration, Myfanwy returned convinced that Down Under was the Land of Opportunity. Much to the distress of Ben and Naomi, she shipped the family off to Sydney where she proved to be absolutely correct in her decision. She found plenty of work as a stylist on TV ads, moving into set-dressing and prop buying, then becoming a costume designer on the glamorous soap opera Return To Eden. Naomi's stepfather, meanwhile, enjoyed reasonable success with his band - unfortunately, his marriage to Myfanwy would end in divorce.
By now keen to perform, Naomi was enrolled in acting classes by her mother, quickly moving to more advanced lessons. This was good for the young girl who, with her brother a fine cartoonist, her mother a designer, her stepfather a musician and one of her aunts an artist, had worried that she lacked a creative spark. With her mother's commercial work opening new doors, she auditioned for a series of TV ads. At one, she was one of three girls who had to sit around all day nervously waiting to discover which of them would be chosen for a bikini ad. Naomi lost out but gained a great deal more when, sharing a cab home with the other failed candidate, the pair struck up a strong friendship. The other girl was Nicole Kidman.
Naomi was not a great success at school, failing to graduate. Instead, she concentrated on an intensive drama course and outside work. To fund herself, she was a papergirl and a negative cutter, then managed a deli on Sydney's North Shore. Still unconvinced of her creative potential, at age 18 she moved into modelling, signing to an agency and spending the next year in Japan. This was a bruising experience for the young girl, an endless raft of auditions, often ending in her being told she wasn't pretty enough. She returned to Sydney where, following in her mother's footsteps, she was hired to work in advertising for a department store who wanted to appear more youthful and stylish. So successful was she that she was quickly poached by Follow Me, an arty fashion mag competing with Vogue, where she was given the post of Assistant Fashion Editor.