If this is middle age, bring it on.
Naomi Watts, 44, spends the majority of her latest film in a bathing suit or nude. She plays Down Under widow Lil in Adore, adapted from a Doris Lessing novella, The Grandmothers. Lil rediscovers her sexuality with the hunky son of her best friend Roz ( Robin Wright) and vice-versa. If Adore were a raunchy cougar flick it might be called Son Swap, but there is real substance to these empowered characters, says Watts. We spoke to the English-Australian actress by phone from Amagansett, N.Y., where she and partner Liev Schreiber and their two small sons spent much of the summer.
How did you get attached to the script?
My friend Julianne Moore sent it to me. She was originally going to play Roz but then had scheduling conflicts. I hadn’t seen much of [director] Anne Fontaine’s work, though I did see Coco Before Chanel. I read it off my computer in one sitting and was captivated right away. I thought, ‘This is such an original idea.’ There are very few tales of women’s desire, and this one was peculiar. I went from this place of being quite shocked and almost judgmental to a very quick shift of feeling forgiveness for these women and actually wanting to have them to have this experience.
What attracted you to Lil? Did you feel a kinship with her?
I did. I think Lil was more fragile, more sensitive. In the beginning, she really wrestled with the concept of what she was doing while for Roz it was almost mindless, gung ho, ‘I gotta have it’ type thing. Then they switch, and I love how Lil became kind of stuck on [the relationship] while Roz remained really pragmatic and almost detached. Lil felt a little more complicated to me and not as strong. Obviously I would never run into this situation in my own life, but at the same time I care for them and empathize with them. You do face that point, thinking, ‘What’s my focus now? What am I doing? Who am I?’ The [affairs] happened to these women for a reason to put that pain or that fear of the unknown off for a little while. That sort of made sense to me.
Were you a bit squeamish about the subject matter?
Sort of. It’s that mentality of, ‘Since I can’t have my best friend, I can have a tiny bit of you’. And I can’t have my son, so I’ll have his best friend. The enmeshment among all four of them is powerful. It’s obviously awkward and very unusual, but it’s not incest and there’s nothing illegal. They’re of age, they’re not children.
Let’s talk about how good you look in this movie.
I am 100 percent someone who has to work. I don’t have one of those blessed bodies like Robin. But I also eat what I want so I have to spend a bit more time on the treadmill or whatever it is I’m doing. I’m not fanatical. I take periods of time when I do it my way. When I’m in preparation for a role such as this, I work extra hard. The director did tell us to look our best. She made no pains about telling me, ‘Don’t eat that!’ when she saw me getting my dessert plate ready [laughs].
You filmed in your native Australia and used your own accent for a change. Was it freeing for you?
Yes, very liberating. It helps with improvising too. You’re just out of your head. When you’re working with a dialect you tend to go into a rhythm of how the line is meant to be said or how you think it’s meant to be said. The sound is playing such an important part. We filmed in Seal Rocks in New South Wales and Sydney. My family came and visited. Being there and having my kids right there with me was really great for me. Australia is very far away from New York and with small children, I don’t really go back often.
You have exciting projects coming up.
I’ve got Diana (hitting U.S. theaters in November). Playing Princess Diana was another controversial role. That was part of the lure: to take on the transformation. And I am excited about doing lighter fare after, you know, The Impossible, like Noah Baumbach’s While We Were Young. It’s another midlife crisis movie. But that’s where I’m at, right?
Adore opens nationwide Friday and in South Florida Sept. 20.