Naomi Watts talks about what it meant to be cast in the Peter Jackson epic!
Forget The Ring; everyone will know who Naomi Watts is after this film. The Aussie actress re-creates the role of Ann Darrow, held first by Fay Wray in the 1933 film.
Peter Jackson hand-picked Naomi for the role, one which she coveted as well. She spoke to MovieWeb about working on a blue screen, and thanks to the magic of the movies, how she was thrust into the 'biggest' role of her career.
Here's what we talked about:
Would you have been more reluctant to take this on without Peter Jackson? What discussions did you have with him about the character?
Naomi Watts: Absolutely, I don't think I could have just signed on to this project had it not have been someone like Peter. I would have been concerned that it would have 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 which is 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 Phillippa 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.
Your relationship with Kong is very touching. Have you ever felt like you were in love with a big dumb ape?
Naomi Watts: Yes, (laughs with a shriek) I'm just kidding. No, but there are so many things about that big dumb ape that it's just completely the same as any man. They get jealous, they get full of rage, they get protective, they get dark and then they get compassionate and caring and humorous, a lot of the emotions that match human beings as well.
What emotions are going through your head in the affectionate scenes?
Naomi Watts: It's definitely not lust like the 70s version; it's more pure and caring and paternal, in the way that they sort of see each other and identify with each other, they're two lonely beings. I think they kind of understand each other in a way and they've both struggled and been through desperate times. And the first moment I think they make their connection is, when instead of making the decision to pull her to pieces, he thinks she's kind of amusing and he pushes her around a bit and then her days of Vaudeville. She kind of comes on to what he's amused by and this is going to buy her more time basically. All the time she's thinking ‘Okay, I'll just do a couple of pratfalls and think of a way out of this.' But then she kind of sees what it is that's amusing him and finds that kind of fascinating. He becomes upset wanting more and more and more and she's beyond exhaustion and can't give anymore, he gets frustrated and starts smashing things, and then becomes completely embarrassed by his behavior and then has to run away and hide. She finds that odd but kind of understands it as well; that's the beginning of their connection.
Can you talk about the turning point from Damsel in Distress to action heroine?
Naomi Watts: I think that is one of the turning points. For instance, when you see him take her from the altar and 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 lays that have been around the other women, so clearly they have been shredded and there are their bones. She makes a great turning point there; she manages to get away and it's not beauty killed the beast so much. There is something about this woman that is so different and she kind of gives him the 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.
Are you worried about typecasting in this role like Fay Wray?
Naomi Watts: I don't know because it hasn't happened yet, but one of my fears in the beginning of taking on the part was this is such an iconic movie and iconic part. How do you survive those comparisons that are naturally going to be drawn? But then I also thoughts ‘Well, I have done quite a bit of work beforehand, 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 and yeah, I haven't thought about it very much yet.
How important was having Andy Serkis on set for you to react to?
Naomi Watts: Oh, so important; I couldn't have done it without him because truly if I had - yeah, I can't imagine.
What was the interaction like?
Naomi Watts: It's as if 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 just was reacting to him the whole time in as truthful a way as possible.
Was he in full monkey mode?
Naomi Watts: He was not in a monkey suit with fur all over it. He was in a special suit that helped him move a certain way, sit 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 Kongalizer that did something to change the vibration or frequency in his own voice. But everything that you see on the screen is Andy Serkis. Yes, there's been some magical stuff happening in the post production, special effects, but all the emotion, all the movement, 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's why it felt like a normal work space for me.
What did the ice sliding scene in Central Park mean to you?
Naomi Watts: We shot that scene in the re-shoots and it happened that I think after we finished shooting, Andy and Peter went into the ‘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; I guess he built on it from there. I think it just made so much sense to go from all that chaos and then have a moment of reprieve and then obviously going back into the chaos again, and it worked really well. They sat me in this seat with a piece of foam around me, and it's on a kind of - I don't even know these technical things. I was there seven months but they didn't stick. Anyway, they move you around slowly as you gently walk through the park and then as we're falling, the chair moves a little bit more. That same device worked for many other scenes, when he's shaking me. It changed speed but the hand always remained the same.
Why did Kong keep shaking you when he first got you?
Naomi Watts: That's Andy again doing all his time in Rwanda and 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 all it does; does it wind up, does it jump up and down? He's figuring it out, it's just odd behavior.
Did you see the ‘70s version, learn anything or avoid anything from Jessica Lange?
Naomi Watts: Yeah, they do poo poo it because 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 work. Actually, it reminded me even when the story falters, that the role is fabulous and if it's done right, if it still works, the role works. But Peter's 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 someone's dream project versus another film?
Naomi 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 just loved it for all that time and he's so invested. From that initial meeting in London when they invited me to dinner and he had images, and just could talk so wonderfully about the characters, who Kong is. I just thought ‘Yeah, I want to do this. I want to work with a man with that much passion and vision.'
Did you get caught up and fall in love with the '33 version?
Naomi 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.
Is it actually you swinging around the jungle with the T-rex?
Naomi Watts: A lot of it; that was one of the hardest scenes to do because it was truly, yeah.
No CGI Naomi Watts?
Naomi Watts: Oh no, they did a lot of scanning of me, digital scanning and I had all those things all over. I didn't do the whole motion capture; I did a tiny bit of just facial expressions because there were some shots that would be too -
Naomi Watts: No. I did do some of the dancing though.
King Kong rumbles into theaters December 14th, rated PG-13.