| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Dec 18 Days after the devastating
2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, actress Naomi Watts took part in a
fundraising telethon spearheaded by George Clooney to help the
millions of people from Indonesia to the east coast of Africa
whose lives were shattered.
Little did Watts know that eight years later she would be
starring in "The Impossible," out in the U.S. movie theaters on
Friday, about a real family's experience in Thailand. The
earthquake and tsunami killed more than 5,000 people, left more
than 2,800 missing and displacing 7,000 more in Thailand alone.
She hesitated to star in the film when she was first
approached by Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona.
"I thought, how do you make a movie about a tsunami without
it becoming some sort of spectacular disaster movie?" Watts, 44,
told Reuters. "That would be so wrong."
But once Watts read the script, she said was moved by the
story based on the real-life Spanish family of Maria Belon, her
husband, Enrique Alvarez, portrayed by Ewan McGregor, and their
Belon's family was spending their Christmas holiday in
Thailand when the tsunami hit. Injured and separated, the film
follows their struggle to survive in the aftermath and their
perseverance in finding each other amidst the chaos.
"I felt a huge amount of pressure because of the
responsibility to Maria's story," said Watts. "And on her back,
she carries the stories of everybody else, because hers is
connected to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I
felt a sense of responsibility."
PLAUDITS FOR WATTS' PERFORMANCE
The British-born, Australian actress delivered, despite her
fears. So far, her performance has earned Watts best actress
nominations from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and
the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
The weekly newspaper, The New York Observer, wrote in its
review that "Watts seems almost spiritually committed to her
role" while The Hollywood Reporter trade paper said she "packs a
huge charge of emotion as the battered, ever-weakening Maria
whose tears of pain and fear never appear fake or idealized."
Watts credits the real Maria Belon, a doctor, for being "an
open book" when it came to recalling the experience.
The two met before shooting began, and Belon was on the film
set. Belonr also wrote detailed letters chronicling her
experience, including taking refuge in a tree and and being
found by Thai villagers.
One of the more challenging aspects of the shoot was
recreating the tsunami, a 10-minute sequence in the film that
Watts said took six weeks to shoot on location in Spain. Rather
than creating the tidal wave digitally, actors were anchored in
water tanks with the current pushing at them and "debris being
chucked at you."
Though incomparable to the suffering of those who went
through the ordeal in 2004, Watts said shooting the sequence was
"physically the most demanding thing I've ever done."
There was much more dialogue scripted during that sequence
but "you were struggling to breathe and we quickly learned that
once you open your mouth, water is going in and nothing is
"Though it was difficult, I'm grateful we got that kind of
level of fear and intensity," she added.
What offset the intensity during the shoot was having her
sons Sasha, 5, and Sammy, 4, visiting Watts on the set. "We had
them paint stuff on themselves like scars and wounds, then rub
them off so they could see it wasn't real," recalled Watts.
It's a far cry from the way she used to approach her work
before having kids, such as her Oscar-nominated performance as a
grief-stricken mother the 2003 film "21 Grams."
"I was taking everything home with me, staying up all hours,
writing, thinking, researching ... just living with torment,"
Watts recalled of that time. "I can't live like that at this
point in my life with little ones. I am a mom of two small kids
and once I put the key in the door, it's my duty to be totally