What IS going on with Naomi Watts these days?
She’s already been in four movies this year, including this week’s The Glass Castle, but none of them have made much of a mark. Few of Watts’ roles in these movies have left much of an impression other than maybe a sentence in someone’s review, and this is from an actor who was frequently turning heads during the first ten years of the 2000s.
Don’t get us wrong. We love Naomi Watts and everything she does – well, I can only speak for myself and maybe Jeff Sneider – but it’s disappointing when she gives a great performance in a movie like 3 Generations and no one notices. She’ll steal the boxing movie Chuck from her former “life partner” Liev Schreiber, and again, a few words of praise in a review, but no one bothers to go see the movie for themselves.
3 Generations is just one of Watts’ movies that has sat on the shelf for years before getting a release. Last year’s horror movie, Shut In, almost got sidelined by the Relativity bankruptcy, but it bombed badly despite its wide release by Europacorp.
It’s not like she has completely vanished from the public eye to be a mother, as she’s regularly in two to four projects a year. She even took on a key role in The Divergent Series so she could theoretically take some time off if she chose.
For heavens sake, Watts played Princess Diana in Diana by German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) and NO ONE SAW THE MOVIE (including me). How do you play a role as complex and interesting as that one and not get even a smidgeon of attention?
It’s quite disheartening to see this happening, even when she makes a rare foray into comedy with movies like Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young or Ted Melfi’s St. Vincent. I didn’t like either movie but they both had their fans.
It’s only been about sixteen years since Naomi Watts exploded onto the Hollywood scene with her performance in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and she was in such demand by prestigious filmmakers both before and after she starred in Gore Verbinski’s horror hit, The Ring. She received her first Oscar nomination for Alejandro Iñarritu’s 21 Grams just two years after the release of Mulholland Drive, and Peter Jackson even made Watts his Fay Wray in his 2005 King Kong remake, but after that? It just feels like everything went downhill.
Okay, fine, she got a second Oscar nomination (and a well-deserved one), starring in Juan Bayona’s The Impossible, an amazing film for sure, but that was five years ago, and she had no chance of winning against the Chastain-Lawrence juggernaut. Watts probably should have received a third nomination for her reunion with Iñarritu for his Oscar-winning Birdman, but that went to the younger and hotter Emma Stone, who would win the Oscar two years later.
it’s obvious Watts has a big enough name that her signing onto a project will help get it made, but the box office showing for some of her most recent movies is bad, very bad. For most of those movies, other than The Book of Henry, which may have been unfairly grilled by critics, Watts was cast opposite a “bigger name” male star as well. They weren’t her movies.
This year is clearly a wash for Watts. Even if she enjoyed doing all the work and is proud of the work she’s done, she’s going to have to take a long and hard look at the choices she’s making if she wants to ever have a career like her good friend Nicole Kidman continues to have despite a similar number of bad movies and bombs.
Never fear. The Career Therapist is on this one.
What Watts needs to do now is find roles that challenge her. I mean, REALLY challenge herself. It’s getting obvious that Watts can literally walk onto a set and deliver a few lines like better than many other actors, but when that’s all that is required of her to earn a paycheck, there are plenty of hungry — as in ambitious, not physically starving — actors who would kill for those same roles.
Watts also has to get away from playing the mother role with kids who keep stealing her scenes. You put her in a movie with Jacob Tremblay or even someone like Jaden Lieberher from Book of Henry, and more people will be impressed these kids can hold their own against her than anything she does. Again, like her friend Nicole, if she’s going to play a mother, she should find mother roles like the one in Lion, which earned Kidman a fourth Oscar nomination.
Here’s hoping some time in the next few years, we start hearing Naomi Watts’ name in the Oscar race again or better yet, give her a role that can WIN her an Oscar.
Even if Watts isn’t aiming for Oscars, she can still make a significant comeback and one thing that might be worth exploring is a return to the genre world of The Ring, but do something scary with a good filmmaker, rather than something like Shut-In. (That movie bombed, but was it even a remotely good movie?)
A few years back, Watts was attached to be in a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds with Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes producing, but it was put into turnaround by Universal. Can you imagine an amazing filmmaker like Juan Bayona or David Cronenberg tackling that idea of a war between birds and people with an amazing actress like Watts selling it? Maybe Universal has given up on it, but it still can be done relatively cheaply and sold to another studio like Lionsgate. I have a feeling that would really connect with younger horror enthusiasts, which will help bring Watts some much-needed attention.
I’m not sure putting Watts in the planned ExpendaBelles action spin-off is such a good idea, although that’s likely to get more traction with the success of Wonder Woman, so if she has the right role, maybe she can kick-ass in it.
Doing television like her reunion with David Lynch for Showtime’s Twin Peaks and Netflix’s Gypsy seemed like a step in the right direction, at least on paper. I personally haven’t watched either of those shows yet, but neither of them are getting a second season at this point. (In fact, Netflix just cancelled Watts’ show Gypsy yesterday.) Creating a character that can maintain a series, one that allows Watts to explore all different facets of said character, certainly can be more of a challenge than what she’s been doing.
Next up for Watts, she’ll be co-starring in Claire McCarthy’s Ophelia, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the perspective of the character’s great love, Ophelia. The title character is played by Daisy Ridley of The Force Awakens, while Watts plays Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, so maybe she can do something more with that supporting role. (Hamlet is played by George MacKay, one of the young breakout stars from last year’s Captain Fantastic.)
There are certainly opportunities on the horizon for Watts, and we don’t think she’s at the point where she has to start firing anyone or doing VOD movies. That said, she’s in danger of becoming a joke if she continues to do movies like Movie 43 or continues doing comedies that takes her further out of her wheelhouse.
You’re a serious dramatic actress, Naomi. Please take yourself seriously.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor
Career Therapist is a semi-weekly column that will look at the recent work of an actor or director while offering constructive tips on how they can improve upon the way their career is heading. It’s solely the opinion of the writer and not that of the Tracking Board as a whole.