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December 2005
King Kong: An Interview with Naomi Watts

King Kong: An Interview with Naomi Watts

By Wilson Morales

Within the last ten years or so, the film industry has been populated with Australian actors from Nicole Kidman to Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and many more. Naomi Watts is another Aussie who has been rising up the charts with impressive roles one after the other starting with "Mulholland Drive". Since then, Watts has had box-office hits with The Ring, and the sequel, The Ring Two, and received an Oscar nomination for her performance opposite Sean Penn in "21 Grams". In what appears to be a casting decision, physically and acting wise, Peter Jackson has chosen Watts to play the part of actress Ann Darrow in his next film, a remake of ŒKing Kong". In speaking with blackfilm.com, amongst other journalists, Watts talks about her part on the film and comparing herself to the previous version with Fay Wray.

Would you have been more reluctant to take this on, had it not been for the fact that Peter Jackson was on board? What kinds of discussions did you have with him?

Naomi Watts: Absolutely, I don't think I could've just signed on to this project, had it not been someone like Peter [Jackson]. I would've been concerned that it would've just been too much of an action movie and a damsel in distress, but when I first heard about it, and I heard that Peter was doing it, I thought wow that's interesting. The guy who is pretty much the front runner in terms of the effects world, as well as the man who made 'Heavenly Creatures.' A beautifully complicated movie about very emotional stuff. So it seemed like a great idea, so then I went and met with him and his partner Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, their writing partner, and I heard them speak about it, that it was the legendary 'King Kong,' but with a number of great new ideas and how they definitely wanted to change the female role into something much more than just a screaming beauty. [laughs]

Have you ever felt in love with a big dumb ape?

Watts: [laughs] Yes. [laughs]

Could you draw on that?

Watts: No. I'm just kidding. No, but there's so many things about that big dumb ape, that it's just completely, you know, the same as any man, you know, they get jealous they get full of rage, they get protective, they get dark, and then they get compassionate and caring and humorous, you know. There's a lot of the emotions that match human beings as well.

What emotion is running through your head when Ann shows love for Kong?

Watts: It's not really - it's definitely not lust and like the '70s version, it's more pure and caring and paternal. I mean, in the way that they sort of see each other, and identify with each other, they're two lonely beings, and I think they kind of understand each other in a way, and they both struggled and had been through desperate times. And you know, like for instance, the first moment I think they make their connection is when, you know, instead of making the decision to pull her to pieces, he thinks she's kind of amusing, and he pushes her around a bit, you know, because of her days of Vaudeville, she kind of cottons on to what he's amused by, and this is gonna buy her more time, basically, and all the time she's thinking okay, I'll just do a couple of pratfalls, and think of a way out of this, you know. But then she kind of sees what it is that's amusing him, and finds that kind of fascinating, and he becomes like obsessed with it, wanting more and more and more, and she's beyond exhaustion and can't give any more, and then he gets frustrated and starts smashing things and then becomes completely embarrassed by his behavior, and then has to run away and hide. And she finds that odd. But kind of understands it as well. And that's sort of the beginning of their connection.

What was the turning point of being a damsel in distress?

Watts: Well I think that is one of the turning points. For instance, when you see him take her from the altar, and then he's throwing her around and trying to find a place probably to pull her to pieces, and you see all those other things, the legs, that have been around her, the other women. And so clearly they have been shredded, and there are their bones as evidence, and she makes a great turning point there, she manages to get away. And it's not beauty killed the beast. It's something about this woman that is so different, and she kind of gives him a heart in a way. It's not her beauty, it's her heart. And their connection and his ability to love, which he probably never knew he had. So that's another turning point for him.

How do you handle the comparisons to Fay Wray, the pressure?

Watts: I don't know. Because it hasn't happened yet, but you know, one of my fears in the beginning of taking on the part was that, oh this is such an iconic movie and iconic part, and how do you survive those comparisons that are naturally gonna be drawn? But then I thought, well I have done quite a bit of work before hand, maybe it won't be just this one role that people will think of me as. I'll continue to do lots of other diverse work as well, but this was different for me and it was fun, it's an adventurous film with all kinds of other elements, love story, there's great humor, yeah. I mean, I hadn't thought about it so much.

So Andy Serkis was quite often on set, how important was that to your performance?

Watts: Oh, so important! I couldn't have done it without him. Because truly, if I'd - I can't imagine, really can't imagine.

What was the interaction like?

Watts: Well he was a character, like playing opposite any other man. He didn't have any words, but he had a huge amount of expression, be it physical or emotional. So I was just reacting to him the whole time. And in as truthful a way as possible.

He had a monkey suit?

Watts: He was in a - not in a monkey suit, with fur all over it, he was in a special suit that helped him move a certain way. Like this, it was more about giving him the structure and the posture that a primate has. He had teeth in, because that helped him, and then he also had a microphone and this thing they called the Congo-lizer. That did something to change the vibration or the frequency in his own voice. But every thing that you see on the screen, is Andy Serkis. I mean, yes there's been some magical stuff happened in the post production, special effects, but all the emotion all the movement, you know, how you see that ferocious face turn from that to sort of a smile come over him and a light in his eye, that's all Andy. And that's what I was reacting to, so that was - that's why it felt like a normal work space for me [laughs].

What did that central park scene mean to you?

Watts: We shot that scene in the re-shoots, and it happened that I think after we finished shooting, Andy and Peter went into mo-cap, motion capture stuff, and I think Andy had the idea that wouldn't it be great to see them have their last loving moment? And Peter loved the idea, and I guess he built on it from there. And I think it just makes so much sense to go from, you know, all that chaos, and then have a moment of reprieve, and then obviously going back into the chaos again. And yeah, it worked really well, I mean, they sat me in this kind of piece of - I mean, it's basically a seat with a piece of foam around me. And it's on a kind of - I don't even know these technical names! [laughs] I was there for seven months, but they didn't stick. Anyway, they move you around slowly, you know, as you gently walk through the park, and then as we're falling, the chair moves a little bit more, and that same device worked for many other scenes, you know, when he's shaking me and it changed speeds. The hand always remained the same, but the speed would change.

Why does he keep doing this to you?

Watts: It's like, you know, that's Andy again, all his time in Rwanda and in the London Zoo, studying the apes. They do this, it's just working it out, how does this work? Just like when you get a new toy, you want to work out all its bits and pieces and what it does, and does it wind up, does it jump up and down? [laughs] Figuring it out. It's just odd behavior. [laughs]

Have you seen the '70s version? Was there anything there for you to use or avoid? People tend to pooh pooh it.

Watts: Yeah. I mean, they do pooh pooh it, I think because of the sexual undertones. But I saw that a long time ago, and I was still very moved by her performance. I've always loved Jessica's [Lange] work, and actually it reminded me even when the story falters, that the role is fabulous, and if it's done right, then if the movie - if it still works, if the role works. And yeah, but Peter, his passion was for the original, and that's what he fell in love with at nine years old, and that's what made him want to be a filmmaker.

What's the difference between working on a regular film, and working on someone's dream project, like this?

Watts: Yeah, well that was another thing that just got me going. When someone has that much passion for a project, it's great, it's just wonderful to be part of the excitement. And you know he's loved it for all that time, and he's so invested. I just - yeah, I mean, from that initial meeting in London when they invited me to dinner, and he had images and could just talk so wonderfully about the characters, and you know, who Kong is, and I just thought yes, I want to do this, I want to work with a man with that much passion and vision.

Did you fall in love with the '30s version, too?

Watts: Yeah I did, but I also knew that; although he wanted to honor that version, he had so many great new ideas that would make it modern and its own thing.

So that was actually you swinging around?

Watts: A lot of it. Yeah. That was one of the hardest things to do, because it was truly - yeah.

But you did some CG too?

Watts: Yeah. They did a lot of digital scanning of me, and I had all those things all over me.

You did motion capture?

Watts: No, no, I didn't do the whole motion capture, I did a tiny bit, just facial expressions.


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