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Naomi Watts - Biography

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Naomi Watts

Personal details

Name: Naomi Watts
Born: 28 September 1968 (Age: 47)
Where: Shoreham, England
Height: 5' 5"
Awards: 1 Oscar and1 BAFTA nomination

All about this star


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. She was then poached again, whisked away to become full-on Fashion Editor at another magazine. It was looking good.

But it had to change. Though she'd more or less given up on acting - and how attractive a career in the glamorous fashion industry must have seemed - at 20, she was persuaded by one of her former drama class buddies to make up the numbers at a weekend drama workshop. So revelatory was the course that she walked into work that Monday morning and resigned. It was a courageous move that was almost immediately justified. Two weeks later she was invited to the Australian premiere of her friend Kidman's Dead Calm and met John Duigan, director of Kidman's next picture, a sequel to Duigan's indie hit The Year My Voice Broke, to be called Flirting. Duigan would ask Watts to call his casting director asap. She did and was hired.

Flirting was not Watts' film debut. That had occurred three years earlier, in 1986, when she'd won a small role in For Love Alone, where a woman had sought social and sexual freedom amidst the rampant conservatism of 1930s Australia. The movie had starred Hugo Weaving and Sam Neill, now Kidman's co-star in Dead Calm. Flirting, though, would be a new beginning, with Naomi now dedicated to the thespian cause. As said, it was a sequel, the original having told the tale of a prepubescent boy in rural Oz in the early Sixties, suffering as his first love fell for someone else. Flirting saw the lad, still played by Noah Taylor, in his teens and attending an all-boys boarding school. Across the lake is an all-girls equivalent where Thandie Newton waits. She likes the boy's oddness and refusal to conform, he likes her intelligence, her African exoticness and, well, she's Thandie Newton, for God's sake. And so rules are broken and boundaries are crossed, with Kidman and Watts standing out as Newton's best friends and co-conspirators in the sweet affair.

Kidman would soon be off to Hollywood and Days Of Thunder, and into the arms of Tom Cruise (coincidentally, Watts had earlier starred in a well-known ad where she turned down a date with Cruise in favour of her mum's roast lamb), proving to Naomi that Hollywood was an attainable destination. Refusing a role in the long-running soap A Country Practice as she didn't want to get stuck for years, she kept at her classes and instead scored a peachy part in the miniseries Brides Of Christ. An Aussie-Irish production, this was set in Sydney in 1962 and followed the stories of a small group of nuns and their students as they dealt with love, promiscuity, divorce, teenage pregnancy and abortion, exploring the upheavals in Catholic doctrine caused by the Vatican II council. Naomi would star in the second episode as a boarding pupil dealing with the divorce of her parents and remarriage of her mother, then she'd feature heavily in the fifth episode as, along with a liberal nun, she struggled with the notorious birth control encyclical Humane Vitae. With Brenda Fricker as the domineering Sister Agnes and a part for a young Russell Crowe, the series was critically lauded, with Watts getting a good share of the attention.

The same year, 1991, would see her go back on her soap promise and appear in Home And Away. What no doubt won her over was the challenge of playing Julie Gibson, a paraplegic. In the show at the same time was another bound for overseas success, Guy Pearce. Later cast members would include Danielle Spencer, now Mrs Russell Crowe, and Heath Ledger, Watts' boyfriend for two years once stardom had come her way.

To achieve stardom, though, she would have to cross the Pacific to Los Angeles. Clearly, it would make sense to call Kidman in search of advice or support as Kidman, aligned with Cruise, was now a powerful player in Tinseltown. But Watts was loth to abuse a friendship that was not nearly as strong as it would become. Eventually, it took Rebecca Rigg, an actress and mutual friend of both Kidman and Watts, to make the call herself, advising Kidman that Watts would soon be on the blower. Kidman reacted like a good Aussie girl should, and a trip was soon arranged whereby Watts found herself sitting beside Emilio Estevez on a private jet to Montana for a weekend in the company of Kidman and Cruise as they filmed the frontier epic Far And Away.

Kidman didn't just offer cool holidays, though. Her connections saw Watts being seen by all manner of industry powerbrokers. Indeed, they were all over her, and she decided to move to LA. But the only concrete result of any of it was a small part in Joe Dante's Matinee, a charming homage to monster flicks and 1950s cinema entrepreneur William Castle, starring John Goodman. Naomi would play a starlet in a film within the film, a parody of Disney flicks.

Despite the Kidman connection, work was simply not forthcoming in Los Angeles. So, when jobs were offered back home in Oz, Watts leapt at the chance to work and widen her experience. First would come The Custodian, a tense thriller where Anthony LaPaglia would play a burnt-out policeman who joins his friend and colleague Hugo Weaving (earlier the star of Naomi's film debut) in crooked ventures in order to betray him, Watts forming a tempting part of the seamy cityscape. She'd next rejoin John Duigan for a small part in Wide Sargasso Sea, based on Jean Rhys's feminist prequel to Jane Eyre. Boldly erotic with much nudity (though not involving Watts) this would chart the downfall of the first Mrs Rochester, a Creole estate owner in the Caribbean, gradually broken and driven to madness by male-dominated politics and, possibly, voodoo.

Watts would find a far meatier part in Gross Misconduct, directed by George Miller, who'd earlier produced Flirting. The role would also see her very nude and engaging in the kind of rampant rumpo she'd missed in Wide Sargasso Sea. Here she played a college student of Jimmy Smits, seducing him and proving to be a passionate and very adventurous lover. When the affair's discovered, though, she cries rape, sending the movie into a strong court drama where her hugely dodgy relationship with her father is gradually revealed. Some praised the film as a taut drama. Others, concerned by its shameless scenes of sex and masturbation, condemned it as exploitative.

Returning to Los Angeles for good in 1993, Watts was disappointed to find that the agents, producers, directors and casting directors who'd been all over her before now didn't recognise her. All of that initial Kidman-inspired good will had seemingly evaporated. She was going to be in for a much harder time than she thought. There were so many acting classes, so many auditions, so many failures. Now people were finding it too much of a bind to even fax her scripts. She later recalled having to drive for hours into the Valley to pick up three sheets of absolute rubbish, then drive back the next day to see a casting director so uninterested he couldn't make eye contact with her. On another occasion she won an audition with a big-name director and flew back to LA from New York, where she'd been visiting her brother. She couldn't really afford it, but could not let the chance slip - thus she was doubly disappointed when, looking up halfway through her reading, she realised that the director was asleep.

Times were tough. Though she was never so broke she had to take a job outside the industry, she did get thrown out of her apartment for falling behind with the rent, and at one point lost her health insurance. Most of all she missed the high of acting and the intimacy of the film set's surrogate family. She calmed her nerves with yoga as she endured the endless classes and failed auditions. Kidman remained a good and supportive friend but her continuing success only placed Watts' struggles into harsher relief.

Eventually, of course, her efforts would begin to pay off. 1995 saw her in Tank Girl, a crazily ambitious adaptation of the cult comic strip from Deadline Magazine. Mixing live action with cartoons, explosive violence with song and dance routines, it was marked by wild prosthetics and manic energy. On a future Earth turned to desert by a meteor strike, Lori Petty would take the title role as the cynical mercenary who refuses to work for water magnate Malcolm McDowell and is imprisoned in his fortress (Scott Coffey, who'd become a fairly regular collaborator with Watts, would appear too). Here Petty meets Naomi's shy and also ill-treated Jet Girl, and together they escape and wage war on McDowell, aided by obscenely large weapons and mutant kangaroos. As mentioned, it was ambitious, ambitious to the point of lunacy and, though Petty and Watts made for charming kick-ass heroines, it, er, tanked.

1996 was a far busier year for Watts, seeing no fewer than four appearances. First there'd be Bermuda Triangle, intended as a pilot for a series but not taken up by the networks. Here two married physicians take their kids on a holiday cruise, only to be caught in a storm and, along with their boat's dishy captain, trapped on a desert island. Here they discover many other marooned characters who've formed their own town (you can see how the series was planned to work) and discover they're actually in the 27th Dimension - a problem as their son is running out of insulin. Naomi would appear as a documentarian from Chicago, who frolics with the young captain but, being married, she cannot sleep with him, a decision for which she apologises profusely. It was wholesome stuff, indeed.

Next, for the horror film is the last refuge of the unemployed, came Children Of The Corn IV: The Gathering. Part of an increasingly silly Stephen King franchise, this saw Watts in heroine mode as a medical student returning to her small town home to care for sick mum Karen Black. Working at the local infirmary she notices that all the town's kids are falling sick then miraculously recovering. What she doesn't know is that they're being possessed by the spirit of a murdered boy preacher who wishes to wreak revenge on the adult world. Perhaps prophetically, the movie would see Naomi discover a child's body in a well. Six years later she'd encounter another evil dead kid in just such a watery grave - the result being far more successful.

Naomi's next appearance would be in Timepiece, Hallmark's follow-up to their earlier hit The Christmas Box. In a story told in flashback, Watts would play a pregnant Englishwoman arriving in the US during WW2, taking a job as a secretary and marrying the boss. Of course, there'd be trouble along the way, what with the baby not being the boss's, plenty of family tragedy and friend James Earl Jones being accused of murdering a racist who'd been persecuting him. But, this being Hallmark, there'd be brave smiles through the tears and a beamingly happy result.

Oddly, Watts' decision to take a part in Home And Away now reaped its rewards as she used the experience of paraplegia to good effect in Persons Unknown, directed by George Hickenlooper, who'd helmed the original short version of Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade. Here Joe Mantegna runs a security firm in Long Beach, enjoys a one night stand with Kelly Lynch and wakes to find some vital files have gone missing. Hunting her down, he discovers that, along with her wheelchair-bound sister Naomi, she 's planning a robbery to rip off some Colombian drug lords. Mantegna gets drawn ever deeper into their plans, with Watts becoming ever more central to the movie as she forms a relationship with Mantegna and her secrets and motives are slowly revealed.

1997 would see another shot at the big time. But first would come the sweet Australian indie Under The Lighthouse Dancing. This was a fine ensemble piece involving six friends gathering on an island for the weekend for the marriage of two of their number. The bride, though, is soon to die and she knows it as she grasps her final contact with her loved ones. It could have been unbearably poignant, but Watts was on hand with some leavening comedy as she began a relationship with one of the other friends, making the film hugely emotional but still life-affirming.

Back in the US, a chance had come her way in the shape of Sleepwalkers, a new series for NBC. This saw Bruce Greenwood as a sleep psychologist who founds the Morpheus Institute where a group of dream researchers manage to electronically enter patients' dreams. The idea is to help people make sense of and deal with their nightmares, though Greenwood is also keen to communicate with his comatose wife. Watts would co-star as founder member Kate Russell, a feisty dream operative who cares for Greenwood more than she ought to, but respects that he's married (there's plenty of scope for complication when you're in love with a guy with a comatose wife). It all sounded good, indeed, with such writers as Stephen (Traffic) Gaghan on board, it WAS good. But NBC, fearing that it was just a poor man's X-Files, pulled it after just 2 episodes - though all 9 were eventually screened overseas.

In a way, this may have been a blessing for Watts as a long-running series would surely have damaged her big screen chances. As it was, she was turning in increasingly excellent performances in fairly nondescript features, building herself for the future. Next would come the short A House Divided where she and Gary Hershberger were trapped in a house during the LA riots. Then would come the period drama Dangerous Beauty. Set in 16th Century Venice, this would see Catherine McCormack prevented by her lowly birth from marrying her lover Rufus Sewell. Instead, schooled by her mother Jacqueline Bisset, she becomes a famous courtesan, hob-nobbing with the rich and famous, saving the city and finally being condemned as a witch. Watts would appear as Guila de Lezze, who becomes Sewell's wife in an arranged marriage. Deliberately made to look dowdy and severe, she came on as the direct opposite to the cultured love her husband had lost. When he asks her if she knows poetry, she crushes him with a curt "I know the psalms". Ouch.

After briefly reuniting with Hugo Weaving and George Miller when lending her voice to Babe: Pig In The City, she moved on to The Christmas Wish, another heartwarming product of American TV. Here cynical Wall Street trader Neil Patrick Harris would return to the home of the grandparents who raised him when his grandfather dies, aiming to sort out the family business. However, he and grandma Debbie Reynolds find the old man's diary, which mentions a mysterious woman and a Christmas secret, and they investigate, with the young man's cynicism, as you'd expect, being gradually replaced by Yuletide cheer. Helping in this process would be Naomi, former loyal secretary in the family firm, now a ballet instructor and single mum. You can guess the rest.

1999 would bring two more releases. First would come the miniseries The Hunt For The Unicorn Killer, based on the true story of Ira Einhorn. Watts would play Holly Maddux, a young college graduate in 1972 Philadelphia, who falls for Einhorn, a charismatic radical leader and hippie guru. He's known as a man of peace but she discovers he has a far darker side. She wants to leave him, she tries to leave him, but then her body is found in a trunk and he goes on the run, sparking a 20-year international man-hunt that would only end in 1997 when Einhorn was captured in France and finally extradicted to the States. It was another good, emotionally-testing role for Watts, this time in a more prestigious production.

Next she'd return to Oz to join Claudia Karvan and Hugo Weaving (yet again) in Emma-Kate Croghan's Strange Planet which followed three girls (all roomies just out of college) and three guys (partners in a legal firm) through the course of a year, beginning on New Year's Eve. As they seek to build relationships and careers, the comedy level is high, but so's the existential angst, much of the movie's weight being lent by Watts as she struggles to cope with a devastating break-up.

And now, at last, came the big break, though, this being Naomi Watts, it was tempered by tension and massive disappointment. As is his wont, the great maverick director David Lynch had picked Watts from a pile of photographs to star in his next production, Mulholland Drive (the photo had been taken by her brother, Ben). The film, intended as a pilot for a series to rival Lynch's Twin Peaks, was set in a lurid Los Angeles dreamscape where Watts played Betty Elms a perky wannabe actress from Ontario who finds glamorous Laura Harring, who's just crawled from the wreckage of a car accident and is suffering from near total amnesia, in her shower. Together, they set out to discover who Harring really is and, as realities begin to blur, we come to question who Betty really is.

Watts was not that keen on the finished article, feeling the character of Betty had been sabotaged in the cut. She was too get-up-and-go, virtually slappable. Beyond this, she'd suffered so many rejections and bombs she was unsure if SHE was that good, anyway. Even so, when ABC turned down the pilot (her third series let-down), she and the rest of the principals went to Lynch's house and read him a letter of encouragement they'd written, urging him to go on with the project. Fortunately for them, he did.

Watts would move on to her next project, The Wyvern Mystery, a BBC adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's gothic classic. Set in the 1800s, this saw squire Derek Jacobi feuding with a tenant and, having brought about the man's death, taking his daughter Naomi into his house. Seeking a wife, Jacobi proposes to Watts, but she turns him down, having fallen for the squire's son, Iain Glen. Fearing the old man's vengeance, the young couple go on the run, hiding out in a big, empty and scary manor house where a pregnant Naomi discovers family secrets and is generally terrorized. Again she'd chosen her role well as it allowed her to face birth and death, romance and sex and deliver a peerless scream queen.

Having starred as a materialistic and hypocritical wannabe in the comedy short Never Date An Actress, then taken the lead in another short, Ellie Parker, written and directed by Scott Coffey, formerly her co-star in both Tank Girl and Mulholland Drive, she returned to horror with The Shaft. This saw director Dick Maas remaking his own 1983 Euro-hit De Lift, now setting it in New York City's Millennium Building. As the elevators go mad, killing the occupants in hideous ways, plucky reporter Naomi investigates, aided by and falling for lift repair man James Marshall. Together they attempt to save the day, as the military take over the show and the dodgy dealings of bio-tech companies are revealed.

Despite winning reasonably regular work, Watts was at a real low. The work she was doing outside the States was classy but low profile. Within the States she was nothing, rejected at every turn. Her agents kept sending her to auditions but she didn't like the jobs involved and only went because she needed the money. She was desperate, and came across as such, laughing too hard, engaging too deeply, making casting directors uncomfortable with her intensity, wanting it too much. Her agents called her in and asked her what the problem was. When they asked her if she was concerned about her age she broke down in tears at this gross misunderstanding of her plight. Fortunately, back in her tiny Venice apartment, her visiting mum was waiting, soothing her mind and urging her to take control of her life.

Even more fortunately, it was only two months later that Mulholland Drive premiered at Cannes. Since 1999, David Lynch had been busy. Having secured an extra $7 million from French studio CanalPlus, he'd been beefing up the pilot, rewriting and filming extra sequences. Watts herself had been given a further 18 pages and now Betty Elms could be seen as the dreamstate alter ego of Diane Selwyn, the washed-up and embittered failed actress she'd play later in the movie. She also shone in a memorable audition scene where perky Betty suddenly morphs into a classic femme fatale. Mulholland Drive really was a movie now, complete with a typical Lynch roster of weirdos and, with Watts and Harring laying themselves on the line, some of the most erotic lesbian sex sequences ever committed to celluloid. It was something of a sensation, far more than the cult offering people might've expected, and Lynch was nominated for an Oscar.

Suddenly, things were looking up for Watts, in work and life. For a year she'd been seeing Stephen Hopkins, the British director of Lost In Space and The Ghost And The Darkness. The pair had actually met back when Naomi was a kid and Hopkins, 10 years her senior, had directed her in an ad. Sadly, they'd only last another year, as Watts' star continued to rise at great pace.

Adding to her newly high profile was her friendship with Nicole Kidman. Amidst crazed tabloid interest, Kidman had split from Tom Cruise and everybody wanted to know about it. Was Penelope Cruz involved, what would happen to the adopted kids, did Scientology play a part? Kidman was engulfed by the press and Watts moved in with her to help support and protect her. When Kidman made her first public appearance after the split, at the premiere of The Others (unhelpfully produced by Cruise), she walked up the red carpet flanked by Watts on one side and old friend Rebecca Rigg on the other.

Having reunited with Scott Coffey and Laura Harring in David Lynch's out-there series of shorts, Rabbits, set in a gloomy apartment where the actors dressed in bunny costumes and spouted bizarre dialogue against a massively inappropriate laughter track, Watts would move on to her first real headlining role - The Ring. Adapted from Hideo Nakata's original Asian hit, this saw her as a newspaper reporter with a young son, investigating the case of a spooky video doing the rounds. When you've watched it, the phone rings and you're given seven days to live. Aided by her son's freaky drawings, her search leads her to a remote island cottage, oddball Brian Cox and, er, evil stuff.

Grainily shot and with Watts providing real emotional depth, The Ring was a huge hit, taking $128 million at the US box office. Better still, when released on DVD it sold 2 million copies in the States within 24 hours. Watts, who'd taken the role only after it'd been turned down by Jennifer Connelly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, was on a new high.

But it wasn't this financial success that she'd been striving for all these years. It was the opportunity to play decent parts in interesting productions. It was unsurprising, then, when she chose not to bolster her popularity with blockbusters. Instead, her next release was a black Brit comedy called Plots With A View. Here Alfred Molina played a funeral director in a small Welsh town, in competition with Christopher Walken who's bringing Vegas-style pizzazz to his burials. Molina's had a lifelong crush on Brenda Blethyn but she's married to town big-wig Robert Pugh, a cad who's involved with Naomi, his scantily-clad, gold-digging secretary. Hilariously scheming, Watts is plotting to bump off Blethyn, complicating Molina and Blethyn's plan to fake Blethyn's death and scarper to the Pacific, but everything changes when Blethyn discovers her husband's affair. It was fun stuff, raised above the average by Watts and Walken. Very different would be The Outsider, an American TV movie set in the old West, where Naomi played an Amish woman whose husband is lynched by cattle ranchers. Saving dying drifter Timothy Daly and nursing him back to health, she discovers that he's in fact a gunslinger. When he offers to revenge her and she begins to fall for him, she begins to question her beliefs and her repressed existence. Based on Penelope Williamson's novel, it reconsidered American mythology and history from the female perspective.

Sticking to the outlaw theme, Naomi's next picture would take her back to Australia for Ned Kelly. Here Heath Ledger would take the title role as the Irish farmer battling with racist cops led by Geoffrey Rush. Watts would play the wife of a rich English landowner who hires Kelly when he's first released from jail. She has the hots for the lad but it was a severely underwritten part. Along with Cate Blanchett, Watts was now among the finest Australian actresses of the time and did not deserve to be a simple love interest. More pleasing for Watts was that she became Ledger's love interest in real life. Though he was 10 years her junior the affair would continue for two years. The couple would also, along with Rachel Griffith, appear in the play Proof in Melbourne.

Back on the Silver Screen, Watts would continue with the Merchant-Ivory production Le Divorce. This was a sophisticated comedy aiming to examine cultural differences between the French and Americans in their values and manners. Watts would play an American girl married to a faithless Frenchie. She's pregnant, stressed, about to be divorced and stalked by Matthew Modine, husband of her own husband's Russian mistress, so sister Kate Hudson flies over to Paris to help, only to be drawn into the sexual intrigue of Paris herself. It was interesting stuff but with perhaps a little too much going on.

Naomi's final release of 2003 would be her best. 21 Grams, directed by Alejandro Innaritu, would see her co-star with Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro, the stories of the three main characters being drawn together by a traumatic car accident. Penn would be a professor requiring a heart transplant, Del Toro an ex-druggie and jailbird obsessed with a disciplined life, while Watts would play a recovering addict, trying to keep it together for her husband and two daughters. When the accident happens, she shatters, snot bubbling from her nose as she screams out her pain. It was an amazing performance, heartbreaking and gutsy, and deservedly earned her an Oscar nomination. She would surely have won had she not been up against Charlize Theron's efforts in Monster - it was an exceptional year.

2004 would see Watts staying true to herself, veering away from stardom and seeking parts, even small parts, in classy projects. She began the year with We Don't Live Here Anymore, based on the stories of Andre "In The Bedroom" Dubus and concerning two Oregon professors and their wives. One of them, Mark Ruffalo, is married to Laura Dern but has fallen in lust with Naomi, wife of his friend Peter Krause. Krause and Dern discover the affair and embark on a half-hearted affair of their own, and things become ever more seedy, purely because no one has the desire or moral fortitude to stop them.

Watts would next reunite with Sean Penn for The Assassination Of Richard Nixon (Penn is exactly the kind of actor Watts would want to work with), based on the true story of Samuel J Bicke. Here Penn would play an office supplies salesman, and a bad one at that, whose marriage to Watts is over. He gradually slips into madness, continually visiting her and his dogs and daughters, unable to comprehend what's happening. She in turn tries to explain that it's really over, recoiling more and more as his condition worsens. Two fine performances, one bomb - the film did not even take $1 million in the US. Lord knows why.

Naomi would end the year with the oddity I Heart Huckabees, joining a stellar cast including Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law and Isabelle Huppert (it was another role turned down by Gwyneth Paltrow). A philosophical comedy, it saw environmentalist Jason Schwartzman take on the chain-store of the title while employing existential detectives Hoffman and Tomlin to sort out his internal problems. Jude Law would appear as an executive for Huckabees, who's seeing Watts, the company's public face, and they too would hire the detectives to follow them around, Watts deliberately making herself ugly in the search for her true identity. It sounds messy and it was, all efforts to lend some heart to the intellectualism coming to naught.

2005 would be a massive year for Watts. Her first release would be Ellie Parker, an expanded version of the short she'd earlier made with Scott Coffey. This would see her still in the title role, as an actress charging from auditions to therapy and back. We'd see her on the loo, on drugs, on edge in her primal scream-style acting classes. She vomit, whine, struggle to get a part in a Russian-produced Civil War epic and have sex with her stoner boyfriend in the bath. It was dead grungey, few holds were barred and it was no surprise to hear that much of it was based on Watts' own experiences. In fact, at one point during the on-and-off four-year shoot, Watts had been rear-ended (her CAR, that is) and Coffey had rushed over with his Digital Video so they could improvise a scene there and then. When the short version had been shown at Sundance in 2001 it had been a critical smash, with many people buying teeshirts sporting a line Watts spouts during an audition to play a Brooklyn junkie ho' - "I sucked it good".

Next, having signed an unbreakable contract to do so, she starred in The Ring 2, where her character had moved from Seattle to Oregon but not escaped the horror as her son has the ghost of a horribly mistreated little girl trying to possess him. Despite being directed by original helmsman Hideo Nakata, it wasn't that great but still a major hit - a far cry from Watts' next picture, Stay. This saw psychiatrist Ewan McGregor temporarily counselling suicidal art student Ryan Gosling. Meanwhile McGregor's shacked up with Watts, a former patient and artist who's also suicidal. Reality's messed with and confusion reigns as director Marc Foster examines the way we perceive things and order them in order to feel secure.

2005 would end in spectacular style with Peter Jackson's King Kong, with Watts as Ann Darrow, the 1930s starlet who captures the heart of the enormous gorilla. She was under huge pressure to top the efforts of her predecessors in the role, Fay Wray and Jessica Lange, but managed it with something to spare. She had by now, of course, proven herself to be one of the finest screen actresses in the world. She'd need to be in 2006 when she stepped into the shoes of the legendary Greta Garbo for a remake of The Painted Veil, based on the work of Somerset Maugham. Unhappily married to Edward Norton, she'd engage in an affair that would lead her on a voyage of self-discovery in the Far East.

Continuing to flit between LA, Australia and Norfolk where her mother runs her successful design and furniture business, the renowned House Bait, Naomi Watts now has it made. After years of depressing toil in Los Angeles she can now pick and choose her roles. She'll certainly choose interestingly, though expect the occasional mainstream fare to appear on her CV as she's begun an art collection, specializing in photography. She deserves it, she's worked hard to become one of the best there is.

Dominic Wills


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