Watts returns to Cannes, where her star was born
Friday, 21 May 2010

Actress Naomi Watts exits after the screening of "Fair Game", at the 63rd international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 20, 2010.

Naomi Watts had been on the verge of giving up on Hollywood before she came to the Cannes Film Festival nine years ago.

Her own horror franchise, a hit "King Kong" remake and one Academy Award nomination later, Watts returned as a Cannes superstar, lighting up the festival red carpet in two films, the Valerie Plame drama "Fair Game" and Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger."

Other than a quick stop to hand out an award at Cannes a few years ago, this was Watts' first time back to the festival since it helped launch her career after years of toiling in obscure movies.

Her breakthrough came with a starring role in David Lynch's "Mulholland Dr.", which played at Cannes in 2001.

"It was my career-maker. Anything that I had done was under the radar, so I really was an actor for hire. And then the launching of that film was the launching of me," Watts, 41, said in an interview along the beach near the Palais, the headquarters of the French Riviera festival.

Watts - who was born in England and moved as a teenager with her family to Australia - had been working in obscurity through much of the 1990s in Hollywood, seeing good friend Nicole Kidman climb to stardom while she remained on the fringes.

She often considered packing it in and giving up acting.

"Several times, literally and metaphorically speaking, I packed my bags. Many, many times, and every time, there'd be some little thing that would lure me back," Watts said. "Because ultimately, my heart was set on something, on this whole thing. I mean, I love what I do. I don't always love everything about it, but I love as an actor that you're given a chance to tell stories and move people, hopefully, and help them connect with their own stories."

After "Mulholland Dr." premiered at Cannes, Watts' career finally took off. She earned the lead in the hit horror remake "The Ring" and starred in its sequel. She took on the role Fay Wray originated in the 1933 "King Kong" for director Peter Jackson's mammoth remake. She earned a best-actress Oscar nomination for "21 Grams" opposite Sean Penn, her co-star in "Fair Game."

Watts' personal life has changed dramatically since that first trip to Cannes. She and boyfriend Liev Schreiber, with whom she starred in the drama "The Painted Veil," have two young sons.

Director Doug Liman wanted Watts to star as former CIA covert operative Plame for the same reason he wanted Matt Damon for the title role of "The Bourne Identity" - to help the audience empathize with a character from the unsavory world of espionage.

"It's like a beaming light of warmth and goodness that comes from Naomi Watts, and I thought if I cast her, I could be as hard-edged as I want with Valerie Plame, and you will still root for her. You will still love her, and you will still care for her," Liman said.

"She was going to be lying to her friends, lying to her husband, lying to the people she meets in the field, who can't know that she's a CIA officer."

Plame's cover was blown when officials in President George W. Bush's administration leaked her identity to reporters after Plame's husband wrote an opinion piece questioning White House statements to justify going to war in Iraq.

"Fair Game" depicts the political firestorm that swirled around Plame and husband Joe Wilson (Penn), who carried on his own media barrage against the Bush administration while his wife initially shunned speaking out in public. Plame and Wilson joined Watts and her "Fair Game" collaborators at Cannes for the film's premiere.

Watts also came to Cannes with festival regular Allen, who cast her alongside Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas and Josh Brolin as a woman in a crumbling marriage in the ensemble comedy "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger."

Allen had sought Watts for two previous films, but her schedule had not allowed her to sign on.

"I was nervous about never being invited back," Watts said. "It's a career milestone. I'd grown up watching his films and just loved every second of it. He's one of the true greats."

"Fair Game" and "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" are due in theaters this fall.

Returning to Cannes and marching up the festival's swooping red carpet reminded Watts of her trip there nine years earlier with "Mulholland Dr.," when she was a virtual unknown.

"What a memorable experience it was for me. The first time with such a great director, such a great role, such a great film, and it really seemed to move people," Watts said. "I just remember every detail very, very vividly. I remember what song was playing when I walked up that red carpet" - Cat Stevens' "Morning Has Broken."

"I remember that song breaking out just as I was opening the door to my car, and I mean, I had to do everything I could just to stop myself from crying, running my makeup, so to speak."




Naomi Watts poses for a portrait after an interview with the Associated Press during the 63rd international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Friday, May 21, 2010.

Former CIA agent Valerie Plame, left, and actress Naomi Watts, right, arrive on the red carpet for the screening of "Fair Game", at the 63rd international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 20, 2010.


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