Mind­ing Your Vul­ner­a­bil­ity

Naomi Watts on breast can­cer

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - NEWS -

I n a cul­ture that puts celebri­ties straight into the ‘charmed’ cat­e­gory of so­ci­ety, it can come as a sur­prise to hear one of them ad­mit to fears and weak­nesses that we might re­gard as ut­terly or­di­nary. When Naomi Watts talks about how a fear of aban­don­ment runs like a vein through her life, and how she takes ev­ery re­jec­tion like a body blow, ev­ery crit­i­cism like a curse, it makes you pay at­ten­tion.

“I’m a pretty fear­ful per­son,” the Os­car-nom­i­nated English-Aus­tralian ac­tress has said. “I feel much braver in my work, in that arena than my own life. I don’t like to talk about my­self. I don’t like to be judged. Those are all things that bring up a huge amount of fear. I have a fear of aban­don­ment. I have lots of dif­fer­ent fears like any­body has.”

Act­ing, Watts ad­mits, takes courage, but it brings courage, too, and so she seized upon it as a young girl who knew loss and a lot of dif­fer­ent homes, in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, grow­ing up. She knows it’s a tough business in which to be fear­ful, but she knows it’s worth mak­ing the ef­fort to fight the fear.

If life has taught Naomi Watts any­thing, it’s that noth­ing can be taken for granted, that good things go wrong and that bad for­tune can be­fall any­one. So you live your life tak­ing charge of what you can, and not just hop­ing for the best.

It’s that men­tal­ity that brought Watts to Breast Health In­ter­na­tional (BHI), their Fund for Liv­ing, and Tommy Hil­figer’s limited-edi­tion hand­bag, which will raise funds for the cam­paign. The images on th­ese pages, shot by cel­e­brated pho­tog­ra­pher Pa­trick De­marche­lier, were a joy to work on, she says.

“I’ve had the plea­sure of work­ing with Pa­trick many times,” Watts ex­plains, “so it’s a fa­mil­iar feel­ing to be on set with him again. He’s very tal­ented and a true icon; I trust him com­pletely.” Tommy Hil­figer, for his part, de­scribes Watts as an “in­spir­ing am­bas­sador”.

But of ev­ery­thing Watts ex­pe­ri­enced through her in­volve­ment with BHI, she says that the most im­por­tant thing was the re­al­i­sa­tion of “how im­por­tant it is to get reg­u­lar check-ups and stop the ‘it won’t hap­pen to me men­tal­ity’.”

There has been plenty in Naomi Watts’s life that she might have wished would hap­pen to some­one else. Th­ese days, her New York bor­der­line-hip­ster life is the stuff of yummy-mummy envy, char­ac­terised by lots of be­ing papped cy­cling around the city with her part­ner Liev Schreiber and their sons Sacha (7) and Sammy (5), but it hasn’t all been plain sail­ing to this bliss.

Born in Kent in 1968, Watts’s early child­hood was peri­patetic, thanks to her fa­ther, Peter’s, job as a roadie and sound en­gi­neer for Pink Floyd. Her fa­ther’s manic laugh, it is of­ten men­tioned, fea­tures on their sem­i­nal al­bum, Dark Side of the Moon. Peter Watts and his Welsh-born wife, My­fanwy, trav­elled a lot with Naomi and her brother, Ben when they were small. And while to adult ears, this sounds beau­ti­fully Bo­hemian, it can sound like noth­ing more than un­set­tling up­heaval to a child.

When the two chil­dren were very small, the cou­ple di­vorced, but re­united when Naomi Watts was five. A year later, her fa­ther died sud­denly, ap­par­ently of a heroin over­dose. After that, she and her mother and brother moved to Wales, where they lived with her ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents. When Watts was 12, they moved to Aus­tralia with My­fanwy’s new hus­band.

“There was quite a lot of sad­ness in my child­hood, but no lack of love,” Watts has said. She has come to terms with her up­bring­ing, she has said, and says that moth­er­hood has helped her to take the fo­cus off her­self and her fears, but her choice of life part­ner is in­ter­est­ing, given her his­tory.

Schreiber also had par­ents who were un­con­ven­tional and un­sta­ble, in many ways. His mother kid­napped him from his fa­ther as a small child, and he was partly raised in a com­mune. His mother’s en­deav­ours were de­signed to “pro­mote fear­less­ness”, the Ray Dono­van ac­tor has ex­plained since, and the older he gets and since be­com­ing a par­ent, the more he un­der­stands and ap­pre­ci­ates her.

Re­set­tled in Aus­tralia, the ado­les­cent Naomi Watts de­cided that she wanted to be an ac­tor after watch­ing the film Fame. My­fanwy had found work in the tele­vi­sion in­dus­try and her young, pho­to­genic ac­tress daugh­ter at­tended act­ing classes and be­gan mod­el­ling and ap­pear­ing in ad­ver­tise­ments. It was in the ado­les­cent-ad world that Naomi Watts first met Ni­cole Kid­man, who re­mains her close friend to this day.

Naomi Watts was a house­hold name in Aus­tralia from a young age, but she didn’t make it big in­ter­na­tion­ally un­til her early 30s. Her Aus­tralian youth was spent do­ing var­i­ous dra­mas, in­clud­ing Home and Away, and her first big film was the cult-clas­sic com­ing-of-age Aus­tralian film, Flirt­ing, in which she ap­peared with Kid­man and Thandie New­ton.

Kid­man left for the US and broke Hol­ly­wood — not to men­tion mar­ried Tom Cruise — long be­fore Watts mus­tered the courage to take her chances there, and it was her old friend who fa­cil­i­tated all her first in­tro­duc­tions to the in­dus­try.

“At first, ev­ery­thing was fan­tas­tic and doors were opened to me,” Watts has said. “But some peo­ple who I met through Ni­cole, who had been all over me, had dif­fi­culty re­mem­ber­ing my name when we next met. There were a lot of prom­ises, but noth­ing ac­tu­ally came off. I ran out of money and be­came quite lonely, but Nic gave me company and en­cour­age­ment to carry on.”

Naomi Watts has been very frank about how badly she took the early re­jec­tions ‘I feel much braver in my work than my own life. I don’t like to talk about my­self. I don’t like to be judged’ and bad reviews of her Hol­ly­wood ca­reer. She is hon­est about her thin skin and poor han­dling of crit­i­cism and it is that, per­haps, that makes her so com­pelling in roles that re­quire raw emo­tion or frailty, such as those she played in 21 Grams or

The Im­pos­si­ble. She was nom­i­nated for Os­cars in both roles, lead­ing to ru­mours of jeal­ousy on the part of her old friend, Kid­man.

David Lynch’s Mul­hol­land Drive was the film that re­ally won Watts her first in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion, as she played an

in­genue, op­ti­mistic ac­tress try­ing to make her way in Hol­ly­wood. She went on to the Ja­panese-in­spired hor­ror se­ries, The Ring, as well as Peter Jack­son’s King Kong,

21 Grams, The Im­pos­si­ble and last year’s flop film. The last, it should be said, is an un­ex­pected blot on her copy­book and a much googled abrupt de­par­ture from an in­ter­view with Si­mon Mayo on BBC ra­dio speaks, per­haps, of how on edge she was made by the ex­pe­ri­ence of a fail­ure.

In in­ter­views, al­ways, Watts is a per­son of light and shade. Be­fore she met Schreiber in 2005, her great high-pro­file love af­fair was with the late Heath Ledger, and while she ad­mits they “both knew that there wasn’t a for­ever plan”, she was gut­ted by his death in 2008.

As a re­al­ist, Watts also un­der­stands the fickle na­ture of her cho­sen business and is al­ways adamant that she wants to be a character ac­tress with longevity, rather than a lead­ing lady. Pa­parazzi snaps speak of some­one who is ded­i­cat­edly fit, but she’s hon­est about phys­i­cal in­se­cu­rity. Hers is a business that “self-con­scious­ness just per­vades,” Watts has said. “There are days when I feel vic­to­ri­ous that I have, you know, got­ten this far [with­out plas­tic surgery]. But there are a mil­lion days when I look in the mir­ror and think, ‘I’m go­ing to do it.’ ”

Work­ing with BHI’s Fund for Liv­ing, and on Hil­figer’s fund-rais­ing bag has been an eye-opener for Watts, she says. Fund for Liv­ing sup­ports breast-can­cer pa­tients with cop­ing with the de­mands of every­day life as they en­dure the ex­tra­or­di­nary de­mands of cop­ing with treat­ment. The every­day stuff can be hard enough to man­age when you’re in full health, Watts points out, never mind do­ing it all with can­cer as well.

“Be­tween bal­anc­ing my work and two chil­dren, I know how busy life can be,” she says, “but we can­not let that get in the way of tak­ing care of our­selves. We’re the guardians of our own health, and no­body else is go­ing to do it for us. A self­ex­am­i­na­tion only takes a few min­utes and it could save your life.”

Her past has made Naomi Watts the grate­ful re­al­ist she is to­day, but she is shaped by her present, too. As the only fe­male in a house of males, you can’t af­ford to be prissy or weak or too much of a princess. “I use the ex­pres­sion, ‘Mummy is a del­i­cate flower’,” she has ex­plained with a laugh, adding that she stole it from a friend who is also the mother of boys, and that it gets her out of all sorts of wrestling and rough play.

It’s not en­tirely true, Watts has ex­plained, but there are times when she needs to be the del­i­cate flower, and times when she can be tough. If life de­mands, or more ac­cu­rately, as she knows well, when life de­mands.

‘We’re the guardians of our own health’ — Naomi mod­els the Hil­figer fund-rais­ing bag

‘He’s very tal­ented and a true icon’ — Watts with BHI’s Fund for Liv­ing cam­paign pho­tog­ra­pher Pa­trick De­marche­lier

‘I know how busy life can be’ — Watts with part­ner Liev Schreiber and sons in NY last Novem­ber

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