Born September 28, 1968, in Shoreham, Sussex, England; daughter of Peter (a sound engineer) and Myffanwy (a store owner) Watts.
Addresses: Home —Los Angeles, CA.
Actress in films, including: For Love Alone, 1986; Flirting, 1991; Matinee, 1993; Tank Girl, 1995; Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering, 1996; Babe: Pig in the City, 1998; Strange Planet, 1999; Ellie Parker (short), 2001; Mulholland Drive, 2001; The Ring, 2002; 21 Grams, 2003; Le Divorce, 2003; Ned Kelly, 2003; I Heart Huckabees, 2004; We Don't Live Here Anymore, 2004; The Assassination of Richard Nixon, 2004; The Ring Two, 2005; Ellie Parker, 2005; King Kong, 2005. Television movie appearances include: Brides of Christ, 1991; Home and Away, 1991; Bermuda Triangle, 1996; The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer, 1999. Worked as a fashion model and fashion-magazine editor, 1980s.
Naomi Watts struggled for more than a decade in her quest to break out of the anonymous starlet talent-pool in Hollywood. The British-born actress, best known for her roles in both Ring horror movies as well as a breakout performance in Mul-holland Drive, had just a few years earlier been forced to take work in embarrassing projects, including the third Children of the Corn sequel. In 2005,
Watts had a childhood that seems fodder for a screenplay itself. Born on September 28, 1968, in Shoreham, England, she was the daughter of Myffanwy, called Miv, a Welsh woman who wed the sound engineer for Pink Floyd, an emerging British rock band at the time. Watts arrived in a family that already included her brother, Ben, born the year before. Their father, Peter, provided the maniacal laughter for the Pink Floyd track "Brain Damage" on the group's era-defining 1973 LP Dark Side of the Moon. By then, however, Watts's parents had divorced, and her mother struggled to earn a living as a stage actress. In 1976, when Watts was seven years old, her father died. She recalled the trauma as "very sudden, and very shocking and upsetting," she told Ingrid Sischy in Interview. "My mom was still young and did not know how she would cope with two small children."
Watts recalled her first acting thrill at the age of four or five, which came when she went to see her mother's performance in an English community theater production of My Fair Lady. Seated near the front row, Watts tried in vain to get her mother's attention. "I kept waving to her, and she wasn't acknowledging me," she recalled in the interview with Sischy. "I kept thinking, 'Why won't she notice?' I wanted to be up there playing with her in that world."
Later in their childhood, Watts and her brother were sent to boarding schools in England. Watts was an admittedly poor student, a daydreamer as well as a risk-taker who liked to sneak out of the dormitory at night with her fellow troublemakers. In the early 1980s, with Britain in the midst of a deep economic recession, Miv decided to move to Australia, a plan to which the 14-year-old Watts strongly objected. She eventually adjusted to the new home in Sydney, however, and as a teenager ventured into modeling. On her first-ever audition for a television commercial, she befriended another teen model named Nicole Kidman who was also trying out for the job that day in 1982. Neither of them were hired, but the two shared a taxi ride back home, since it turned out both lived in the same part of Sydney. The friendship would be an enduring and enriching one for Watts over the years, with Kidman's success inspiring Watts to try her luck in Hollywood, too.
Unlike Kidman's, Watts' career would take some lengthy detours. She first went to Japan to model, and had a terrible experience with it. "It was after that that I made the decision that I didn't want to be in front of the camera ever again," she told Sischy in Interview. Returning to Sydney, she managed to parley her modeling experience into a job with the marketing department of a local department store, and from there went on to serve as assistant fashion editor at an edgy Australian fashion magazine. It was while working as fashion editor at another magazine that a friend talked her into joining a weekend drama workshop, since they were short a few female participants. The stage experience reminded Watts of how much she wanted to act, and she quit her job the following Monday.
Watts' first screen credit had come with a small role in a 1986 Australian film, For Love Alone. It took five more years before she landed her next job, and that came thanks in part to Kidman: Watts attended the premiere of Kidman's breakout movie, Dead Calm, in 1989, where she met a director who offered her a part in Flirting, a film about a trio of boarding school students. Watts was one of the leads, alongside Kidman and another relative unknown, Thandie Newton. From there Watts was cast in an Australian mini-series about Roman Catholic nuns, Brides of Christ that was shown in the United States on the A&E cable channel, and after that point decided to join Kidman in Los Angeles.
By then Kidman had wed Tom Cruise, one of Hollywood's biggest stars, and the connection helped Watts land a few auditions. Her own breakout role, however, was slow to come, and she suffered a number of small roles in bad or otherwise forgotten films. These included a part as the Shopping Cart Starlet in Matinee, a 1993 film with John Goodman as a B-movie producer, and a supporting role in 1995's Tank Girl, the much-anticipated comic-book adaptation that failed at the box office. Her career seemed to stall after that, and she made ends meet by accepting roles in anything she could get, such as Grace Rhodes in Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering, as a voice extra in Babe: Pig in the City in 1998, and as the murdered woman in a television movie, The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer, based on a true story of anti-war activist Ira Einhorn, who was accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend in 1977 and then avoiding prosecution for the crime by hiding out in France for 16 years.
Watts was rejected for a number of parts that might have improved her chances. She was reportedly on the shortlist for unspecified parts in Devil's Advocate —a breakout part for Charlize Theron— The Postman, Kevin Costner's 1997 post-apocalypse drama, and in the 2000 box-office hit Meet the Parents. Finally, her agent began asking around Hollywood, querying the producers and directors who had previously considered Watts about why they had turned her down. "'They're saying that you're too intense, that you want it too much'" Watts was told, as she recalled in the Interview profile by Sischy. She cried upon hearing this, but then returned the Venice Beach apartment where she lived. Her mother happened to be visiting at the time, and told not to worry. "'Do not believe these people,'" were her mother's words of caution, Watts told Sischy. "'They cannot define you, they don't know you.'"
Watts listened to her mother's advice, and kept taking acting classes and trying out for parts. She won one of the lead roles in a 1999 David Lynch pilot for ABC, Mulholland Drive, which aimed to replicate the success of his Twin Peaks series a decade earlier, but the network backed out, and Lynch was forced to use a French studio's financing to reshoot it into a feature film. Released in late 2001, the odd, dark drama incited a love-it or hate-it reaction among critics, but those who had been charmed by Lynch's disturbing vision singled out Watts for her role as Betty Elms, a Canadian who comes to Hollywood and finds it even more venal than expected, but swims with it anyway. "Her performance, nailing every subversive impulse under Betty's sunny exterior, ranks with the year's finest," asserted Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, while Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman compared her to "a pixie Sharon Stone," and asserted that "she's an extraordinary talent."
Critics took notice once again when Watts appeared as the beleaguered mom in The Ring, a sci-fi/horror flick that took in $130 million at the box office in late 2002. Reportedly both Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet were interested in playing the lead character, an investigative journalist whose son comes across an evil videotape that brings unspeakable terror to those who view it. Critics were divided once again over the film's merits, but Watts won kudos for her performance. Gleiberman, reviewing it for Entertainment Weekly, called her "wholesomely sensual, with a rare ability to make fear look strong." Gleiberman also liked what he termed her "live-wire charisma reminiscent of the young Debra Winger. She just about vibrates in response to whomever she's on screen with, and the audience watching The Ring shares that tingle."
By this point, Watts's career had reached star status. She earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress in 2003's 21 Grams, as a grieving widow who convinces the hapless professor (Sean Penn) who received her slain husband's heart in a transplant to avenge his death. She no longer had to take made-for-television movies, or projects that seemed destined for a straight-to-video release. Instead she was cast as Kate Hudson's sister in Le Divorce, then one of the leads in I Heart Huckabees, in 2004, and in the well-received We Don't Live Here Anymore, that same year. In the last film, she was played opposite her friend Mark Ruffalo as part of an adulterous quartet.
Though she would turn 37 in 2005, Watts won the lead in a historic Hollywood remake of King Kong, filmed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. It was a part that had made both Fay Wray and an unknown Jessica Lange famous in its earlier screen incarnations in 1933 and 1976, though Watts was a good decade older than either of her predecessors in the role. She was cast as Ann Darrow, the actress who travels with a film crew to a remote island in search of a massive prehistoric ape. The beast's existence proves to be real, and Darrow's presence is the only thing that can calm him.
Watts gave a farewell of sorts to her long years of struggle in Hollywood with Ellie Parker, a full-length comedy released in 2005, but based on a 16-minute short written and directed by a friend, Scott Coffey. The shorter version earned a terrific response when it premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, with Watts as the title character, a young woman determined to succeed in Hollywood who endures an endless round of humiliating auditions. Watts certainly mined her own experiences when she made it, she told Cassie Carpenter in an article for Back Stage West. "Sometimes you would barely get eye contact or a handshake, and they would be sitting down looking at your resume, saying, "Can't see anything recognizable, OK, go ahead." And then the wind just goes out of you, so it's impossible to shine in those moments."
Making up for those lean years, Watts now commands a per-picture paycheck in the $6 million range thanks to her box-office draw. She was able to buy her own home in Los Angeles, where she lives solo. Once romantically linked to fellow Australian actor Heath Ledger, she endured an inordinate amount of press attention because of the eleven-year age difference between her and Ledger, whom she met on the set of Ned Kelly. Finally, she could view her years of rejection before achieving stardom from a more balanced perspective. "In retrospect," she theorized to Sischy in Interview, "all those disappointments were the perfect thing because if I'd gotten one of those parts I'd auditioned for, I would probably still be on some TV series today."
Allure, August 2003, pp. 168-171.
Back Stage West, November 20, 2003, p. 1.
Entertainment Weekly, October 19, 2001, p. 51; October 25, 2002, p. 54; February 6, 2004, p. 48; January 14, 2005, p. 62; March 25, 2005, p. 51.
InStyle, November 1, 2004, p. 406.
Interview, December 2003, p. 162.
New Yorker, November 24, 2003, p. 113; March 28, 2005, p. 82.
People, November 4, 2002, pp. 71-72.
Rolling Stone, November 8, 2001.
Time, October 21, 2002.
Variety, February 9, 2004, p. S68.
Vogue, August 2004, p. 136.
W, March 2004, p. 402.
— Carol Brennan