A tsunami pulls Maria (Naomi Watts) and her son (Tom Holland) from their family in "The Impossible."
Updated: January 17, 2013 6:22AM
LOS ANGELES — As a younger woman, Naomi Watts was in Bali on one of those relaxing vacations when she decided to take a dip in the water. “I got caught in one of those riptides that just drag you for what seems like miles underwater,” she recalls. “I wasn’t a good swimmer, so I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
Cut to her new movie, “The Impossible,” the true story of a mother and young son (Tom Holland) ripped from the rest of their family during the tsunami in Thailand.
“I have a fear of water,” Watts says. Nonetheless, most the filming was in a water tank re-enacting one of the worst natural disasters of our time.
“Even when I wasn’t in the water, I had to remain in this high-pitched emotional place,” says Watts. “This film was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
She laughs. “Before this film, ‘King Kong’ was the most physically and emotionally demanding role of my life. At the time, I promised myself never to do that again. I guess I broke that promise.”
Nominated last week for both a Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe award for “The Impossible” (opening Friday), Watts is an early front-runner for the best actress Oscar.
She met the real-life Belon family, including mom Maria, depicted in the film.
“I couldn’t just say, ‘Hi. I’m an actor and you’ve lived through this horrendous thing. Tell me about it,’ ” she says. “What really happened is we sat in front of each other for five minutes and she couldn’t speak. I started welling up.
“Then we said, ‘Let’s get on with this.’ She stayed with me the whole time. We were connected.”
As a mother of two young sons with actor Liev Schreiber, Watts understood the survival instinct that helped Belon survive.
“The thing she talked about the most was her instinct and her ability to trust herself even in the most horrific situation,” Watts marvels. “I think we lose that so often.”
Her next role is another tough one: The title role in “Diana,” about the last two years of the princess’ life.
“Real people are harder,” Watts says. “You have a responsibility when you’re playing real people. Obviously, Diana was the most famous woman in the world. Instantly, there was a huge pressure there.
“With Maria, it didn’t matter how I walked or talked or looked. No one knew her face. What mattered the most was telling her story in the most truthful way.”
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