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Naomi Watts Talks About "The Painted Veil"


Naomi Watts Talks About

Naomi Watts and Edward Norton in "The Painted Veil."

© Warner Independent Pictures

The Painted Veil is a love story based on the classic W Somerset Maugham novel. Set in the 1920s, the story follows an English couple, Walter (Edward Norton) and Kitty Fane (Naomi Watts), who marry for all the wrong reasons. After moving to Shanghai with her new doctor husband, Kitty falls in love with a handsome stranger. The discovery of Kitty's infidelity prompts Walter to move the couple to a small Chinese village where he has volunteered to provide medical services to those ravaged by a deadly epidemic.

Naomi Watts Analyzes Her Character in The Painted Veil: “I liked Kitty from the first moment I read the script. She sort of leapt off the page. She was ahead of her time, or at least she thought she was in refusing to conform to conventions. She just got swept up in this frivolous world, in who’s who and how one should look. She can’t stand her family breathing down her neck constantly saying, ‘You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to get married.’

She’s sort of enjoying this floating by and the attention of many rather than just focusing on one person. So, when she gets this proposal, it’s a form of escape. It’s just, ‘Please let me get out of here,’ and the fact that he is going to an exotic place sounds even more exciting. And then when she has the affair, she’s just continuing to be a self-destructive person. When he stops punishing her and she gets to this new place, I just loved her transformation. I felt that it was important to commit to the flaws in her so that the transformation is that much greater and her journey is more powerful.”

Getting Involved as a Producer: “I think this was a long journey and it took us a long time to find its feet," explained Watts. "There were many obstacles along the way. Getting on board as a producer really just shows my passion for it. Quite often you’re attached to something and if it doesn’t get up and go, it can lose its shine, if you will. [It] becomes a little bit lackluster, if nobody else is jumping on board. But this never lost its shine.

Edward and I championed it and we found John [Curran, director]. I’d worked with John before. I knew he could handle this material brilliantly because of his ability to understand the relationship and the conflict within that, without judgment, and even putting humor in the most awkward of places - and really, again, creating that collaborative workspace.

Sometimes when you fight for what you believe is right for your character, you don’t want to come across as just seeming [like you’re] an actor trying to buy more screen time or something. You want to have the voice from a point of view that is thinking of the whole film. I think for me it was important that the backstory was there, that she was running away from something. That we didn’t just get straight into the love story. There were temptations to get the story moving at times and really slim down that beginning part of the story. I really felt it was [important].”

Naomi Watts on the Class Distinction of that Era: Watts says it made her feel a bit awkward to play a character so class-conscious in The Painted Veil. “Yes, exactly. The audacity to be carried two weeks across country by a team of people. And all she could think about was the fact that it wasn’t comfortable. (Laughing) It’s ridiculous, and that really comes across in the film. And, but, yeah, there were some great moments of utter frustration and also even it being quite comical at one point when they’re sort of having that argument…when she’s inside, fanning herself and she’s having a conversation through the curtains. So, yeah.”

Dealing with the Love Scenes: Watts admits she doesn’t find love scenes that hard to do. “You find yourself anticipating them a lot. You get in your head, ‘How do we see this? How are we going to play it? How much am I going to show?’ But once you’re there, you’re there. And with the love scene between Walter [played by Edward Norton] and Kitty it’s great because it’s such a pivotal point. It’s almost animalistic, the hunger and the desperation to connect with a human being and all that tension. But then I really fought for, not for that, but for a tender moment in that finally they were able to be gentle and give in and accept and receive, so I think it expresses a lot.”

Undertaking Some Very Difficult Roles: Prior to shooting The Painted Veil Watts had spent many months working on the more physically demanding role of Ann Darrow in King Kong. Painted Veil director John Curran says Watts arrived on his set “emotionally beat up.” “I mean eight months of 14-hours a day jumping, running, being punched, pushed and pulled,” said Watts. “It really did take its toll, and I’m not a big person. So this was a luxury. The emotional aspect of it is exhausting, but we had time. We actually had quite a luxury of time as we moved from place to place.”

Asked what sort of film project she prefers to tackle, Watts responded, “I probably never would have done King Kong without someone like Peter Jackson. It’s not the stuff I normally gravitate towards. It was a great experience, and sort of very different from what I have done. I must say, I do like the intimacy of an independent film and the collaborative workspace. Every day it started with a two-hour discussion about how we felt this scene would go. Sometimes there would be disagreements and we are all quite strong-willed. There were often three varying ideas to honor, so, there was something great about that. We did all see it different ways and sometimes the ideas were shared and sometimes they weren’t. We just played them all out.

On a bigger movie it’s a much more controlled environment. There are so many other things going on, particularly on a film like King Kong’ where there are effects to consider and stunts and all kinds of things. But I’m fortunate to have been able to have done something like that and then flip back to an independent film. Perhaps some things that may not have been so easy to get off the ground because the tone is too pure and things like King Kong can help that.”

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