It’s a rainy morning in New York City (cue traffic jams and very angry locals), but inside the Baccarat Hotel, everything is coming up roses. We’re stationed in a lovely penthouse atop all the hustle and bustle, dry as the Sahara, and Naomi Watts has a closetful of gorgeous gowns that are ready to be worn. During our shoot, the actress showed off her many sides in couture and even offered to jump into the hotel’s gorgeous pool for the final shot. So it comes as no surprise that the multihyphenate excels at many things in life, given her cheery disposition and willingness to experiment. It does, however, come as a surprise to me that given her decades of experience in the industry, she still feels a little shy when it comes to being photographed. “I’m not super comfortable in front of a stills camera,” she says with a sheepish smile. “There are many things about my business where you go, ‘Wait, why haven’t I relaxed about this? At this point, surely I’ve got this!’ ”
A few days later, I meet her for brunch at Greca, a neighborhood Greek spot nestled in Tribeca. As we order up some green tea, acai bowls, and strapatsada, we chat about the many projects the English-born, Australian-bred 50-year-old actress has on the docket these next few months. It’s no short conversation—the girl’s been busy. First up is Ophelia, a film drama that in summary is a reimagining of Hamlet, told from Ophelia’s perspective. Ophelia, played by Daisy Ridley, is the lady-in-waiting to Queen Gertrude, played by Watts. “It is truly a story of female empowerment,” Watts says. The filming, which took place in Prague, appealed to Watts, who brought her kids, Sasha, 11, and Kai, 10, along for the two-month filming schedule. “It was a great experience making it,” she says. “Daisy is brilliant, and George MacKay [who plays Hamlet] is so wonderful—he’s a star in the making. And getting to work with Clive [Owen] again was so great.”
The waiter comes over and nonchalantly delivers our meal. While Watts takes a bite of eggs, she tells me about her other movie role for fall in a play turned film called Luce, a drama-slash-mystery about a liberal-minded couple who are forced to reconsider their image of their adopted son after he writes a disturbing essay for a class assignment. “I read the script, and it was such a page-turner,” she says. “Julius Onah [the film’s director] is himself black and living in America, educated in America, so he had lots to say about it,” she says. “Even though I’m slightly uncomfortable and afraid of getting involved in that level of controversy, I’m drawn to it because it invites us to open up the conversation.” She continues: “By opening it up, are we getting closer to normalizing it? We’re not trying to solve problems. We’re not trying to answer all of these questions. But if we address the fact that they’re there, and they’re awkward, hopefully we can get closer to feeling comfortable with the uncomfortableness of it.”
With those two films, you would think she’s got a full plate, but we’re not even halfway through her 2019 projects. She also stars in The Loudest Voice, a miniseries about the rise and fall of Roger Ailes, the former chairman and CEO of Fox News. “It’s such brilliant writing and feels like it’s reflecting the current times—the whole world of questioning the media and that level of narcissism and abuse of power.”
She also has a few other projects that will be coming out in the near future. “I’m excited about this little film I did with Frank Grillo, which I can’t give you a title of yet, but it’s set in Staten Island, about a family who are going to see the third part of Rocky,” she says as her face lights up. “And the island goes mad for it, and it’s just like a day in that world, and there’s a real sweetness to it.”
But the project that really has everyone abuzz is her role in the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel, which takes place “thousands of years” before the events of the original HBO series. Naturally, Watts is sworn to secrecy on all things GOT. What we do know is that she will play a “charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret,” according to HBO. “I know nothing,” she says with a smize, revealing both figuratively and literally that her lips are sealed. Then she gives me one tiny crumb: “We have not started shooting yet. I can say that much!” I start laughing, and she expands on that comment. “You know, sometimes that can be a whole paragraph,” she laughs back, quoting herself. “Just add in, ‘she answered as she twitched and looked down.’ ” I pry for more. “Have you watched the show?” I ask her. “As soon as I got asked to play the part, I binge-watched it. It was a brilliant way to do it, actually. I happened to have a lot of long international flights.” Small details aside, it’s clear that this will be a massive win for Watts and the rest of the cast, and I can tell, all smizes aside, that she is beyond excited about it.
When it comes to Watts’ career highlights, it’s hard to narrow down top contenders given her many accolades. From her role as the leading lady in King Kong to her harrowing performance in 21 Grams, she says it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite. “That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child,” she laughs. But she does credit one particular film—and director David Lynch—for helping to cast her into the limelight. “Mulholland Drive, being given the opportunity to play both those roles really changed everything… I went from really struggling as an actor to the phone ringing with all the best kind of people on the end of the line,” she says. “I’ve been really lucky to work with some really fantastic directors in the span of my career.”
Considering the star has been in the biz since the late 1980s, she shocks me yet again when she tells me she’s rarely recognized in public. “I still get surprised when I’m recognized,” she laughs. “I’m short, I don’t have any particularly striking feature that sets me apart from blending in. Sometimes people will look at me and think, Oh, it’s her? Who’s she? Sometimes I get that. I’ve even had people say, ‘Do you know who you look like…? You look like that actress Naomi Watts,’ which I think is very amusing. Sometimes I might just go, ‘Oh, really?’ or ‘Yes, I’ve heard that one before.’ Or I might say, ‘That’s me!’ It’s mood dependent.”
Perhaps the fact that she’s not as recognizable as, say, a Kardashian, leads me to inquire about the dating world for her and if she would ever consider a dating app. (Watts split from longtime boyfriend Liev Schreiber, father to her children, in September of 2016. The couple dated for 11 years.) “You know, here I am, and I’ve tried to push some of my friends who are hesitant to join dating apps, and they’re like, ‘Well, you wouldn’t do it.’ Which I won’t.” Of course, for a celebrity, joining a dating app is no easy matter. “I just don’t know if I could. But I am in a situation where I’m meeting people all the time, different people, like on a set or traveling.” And she speaks my language when she tells me it’s all about timing. “At the risk of sounding corny, [when you’re in] a place where you feel ready for it, that signal goes out there,” she says.
When it comes to her style, Watts says she’s a jeans-and-tee girl on the daily, but for the red carpet, she likes to take risks. “I like to think I have an edge,” she says. “I like to always be chic, and I don’t mind being a bit sexy, but obviously not over-the-top sexy. I’m very into a nerdy, androgynous kind of feel as well.” But one thing you won’t catch her wearing at an event? The color red. “I don’t know why. I just feel it makes me look cheap,” she laughs. “I’ve got a psychological block about it. I might wear a red pant or a red shoe, but never head-to-toe red.”
Back at the restaurant, we finished our meal quite a while ago, but our conversation still rambles on, like on one of those rare first dates during which you instantly feel a spark. I switch subjects, this time diving into another love in her life, her brand Onda Beauty, which specializes in clean beauty products and treatments. There are locations in New York City and Sag Harbor, and the brand is rapidly expanding, with a store recently launched in Sydney and another in the works in London. Watts was inspired to open the health and beauty shop after her own skincare woes. “I had really problematic skin while filming Gypsy because of hormones changing, and stress, and work, and the sheer number of hours and reapplications,” she says. “I would come home and be scratching because the chemicals in the products were basically melting into my skin under the hot lights.” When her friend Larissa Thomson came to her with the idea for the business, she knew it was the perfect fit. “I started trying the products and could see that my skin was suddenly calming down, and that got me interested really, really quickly.” As for her favorite products, she says, “Right now my number one favorite is the Marie Veronique Retinol Night Serum. I stick with that all the time. I also love Vintner’s Daughter. Saint Jane has a great CBD face oil. I love Joanna Vargas’ products, too.” As for her favorite facial at Onda, she leans toward anything with a facial massage. “I find it just puts me out,” she says. “I snore like a buffalo on the table.”
It’s clear that she stays young by taking care of her skin, but Watts is also dedicated to a consistent workout. “I like to change it up. I’m not as fanatical about exercise as I used to be because I have changes in my body as I’ve gotten older, so I have to work with what I have,” she says. “I do yoga and Pilates,” and she keeps her petite frame petite with a healthy diet. “If I’m hungry, all bets are off,” she laughs. “I’ll just eat whatever’s in front of me. But for the most part, I eat well and consistently. When I get outrageously hungry, I start to fall apart.”
Obviously, she is witty and relatable IRL, but she shares that with the world as well via Instagram. Watts will post comical pictures of herself making faces, clowning around at the gym, just being silly. “I have a little mini panic attack almost every time I post,” she says. “But I also feel like everyone’s doing it. Everyone’s being goofy. So why not?”
As for future endeavors, don’t rule out seeing even more of her. “I still am yet to tread the boards—it’s a theater term,” she says of wanting to do Broadway. “I’ve been procrastinating, and I’ve simply got to get it done. There’s some fear around that; I’m just putting that out there! But I’m not usually one to let fear stop me. If I trusted myself in my younger years, I would have been able to be the best, most authentic version of myself. I know I lost time because of not trusting myself.”