Naomi Watts Interview, Funny Games

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down recently with Naomi Watts at the Los Angeles press day for her new movie, “Funny Games,” a provocative and brutal thriller about a vacationing family that gets an unexpected visit from two deeply disturbed young men. Their idyllic holiday turns nightmarish as they are subjected to unimaginable terrors and struggle to stay alive.

Remade from his own acclaimed 1997 film, “Funny Games” is written and directed by Michael Haneke and also stars Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet and Devon Gearhart. Haneke began to explore his favorite subject, violence and the media, with the original 1997 film, “Funny Games,” and revisits it here with the same eye.

“Funny Games” subverts the genre to allow audiences to observe that violence, and makes them complicit by forcing them to see their own role through a series of emotional and analytical episodes. In the belief that explanation would be reassuring, Haneke deliberately refuses to provide any.

The director explains, “I’m trying to find ways to show violence as it really is:  it is not something that you can swallow. I want to show the reality of violence, the pain, the wounding of another human being.”

Sporting a short black blazer over a hot pink & magenta print top and black cigarette leg jeans with matching flats, here’s what the lovely Naomi Watts had to tell us about her latest film:

MoviesOnline: Michael Haneke said he wouldn’t remake this film without your involvement. What was your reaction to that? And, would you have done this film without Michael Haneke?

Naomi: Definitely not, in answer to your second one, which I will elaborate on. It was put to me that he only wanted me and, while that felt like a huge amount of pressure, it was also very flattering and slightly seductive, in a way, because he’s someone whose work I admire greatly. And, he’s worked with fantastic actresses before, like Juliette Binoche and Isabelle Hubert, and I’m major fans of them. But, it was not an easy decision to make. I wouldn’t make this film with just anyone. It’s, by no means, a no-brainer. And, yes, I have seen the original, only after.  The way this came about originally was a phone call from Joanna Ray, who is a casting director that was instrumental in casting me in ‘Mulholland Drive.’ They had come to her saying they wanted her to get a hold of me, and asked her to cast the rest of the film. She called me and, the minute she said Michael Haneke, I was very excited. I feel blessed to have worked with some of these great directors. The minute his name was mentioned, I got excited. Then, I saw the movie and I was very excited, angered, and I felt so messed with.
MoviesOnline: Were you repulsed?

Naomi: I was repulsed and terrified. Apart from my obvious reactions to the movie itself, to do this film was terrifying. And, it always intrigues me when I’m afraid of something.
MoviesOnline: Why is that?

Naomi: Because it’s nice to be able to think you can combat your fears, I think.
MoviesOnline: Did the challenges, as an actress, help you overcome your problems with the material?

Naomi: It’s a different set of challenges. Working in the style that Michael likes to work is going to be challenging for any actor. The fact that this was a remake . . . It’s always hard to do a remake because you fear that you’re going to be compared to the original actors. The fact that he was designing each shot the exact same way as the original meant you had to do the same blocking, tread the same steps as those actors and, suddenly, you feel like, “Wow, how can I invent this character? How can I find the scene in my own organic way.” So, I mapped it out. I would go to the sink, go to the fridge, then go back to the sink. It became such a heady thing, and it’s so not the way I work. I like to feel it and surprise myself, so it was a great challenge.

MoviesOnline: You’ve said that you don’t find a lot of scripts that really speak to you. So, what was it about this story, and the character, that really spoke to you?

Naomi: It screamed at me. Like I said, it wasn’t an easy decision to make, and I feared that it’s such a beast of a film and so powerful in its effect that you fear it’s not going to land well with everyone. Some people are just going to be repulsed and not enjoy the ride because it’s so disturbing. I don’t think it’s supposed to be enjoyed. I think that ride is supposed to be work for you, and you’re supposed to participate and be a part of the film, and walk away feeling richer for the experience, for knowing and understanding your place, as an audience member, better. And so, therefore, the next violent film you see, perhaps you’ll be more conscious and mindful of those moments where, ordinarily, you sit and go, “Yeah! There’s brains splattering everywhere!!”  It definitely makes you more conscious. And, to me, that is its success because it’s provocative and it’s worthy of discussion.          
MoviesOnline: What are your feelings on traditional horror? Do you enjoy the blood-splattering kind?

Naomi: I’ve never been a fan of gore. Even though I’ve done quite a few films of this genre, there has never really been much of blood and guts in the films I’ve done. It’s been more psychological. I’m not here to say that, just because I’m tapped into Michael’s mind-set and what he’s trying to say, shame on you for all those other films being made. I’m not on a soapbox here.  I understand every film has its value, in its different way, and what works for some people, doesn’t work for others. I’m an actor. I enjoy playing fear and, if I’m in another thriller of that type then . . . But, I’m not ever really interested in the gory stuff.
MoviesOnline: Do you think this is the most challenging role you’ve ever done?

Naomi: Yeah. 
MoviesOnline: Why do you think this remake was made?

Naomi: Because Haneke made this film to speak to American audiences, originally. And, the fact that it didn’t reach here was a shame to him. He feels that we’re the biggest consumers of violence. It’s also about numbers. There’s a huge market for film here, as well. When Hollywood called and said, “Here’s a bunch of money, remake this film,” it wasn’t like he said, “Oh, okay, now I can change it, and I can correct this bit and that bit,” and glorify it in ways that he didn’t with the original. His intention and message remained pure and, therefore, it is a very similar film.
MoviesOnline: The film was so tense. Were you able to switch that on and off, during filming?

Naomi: It was quite hard to turn off, at the end of the day. In fact, it didn’t happen that often. Most of the time, when working on a film, people say, “It’s scary to watch, but was it scary to make?” And, usually, the answer is no because what becomes scary in a film is a succession of moments that build up to a scary pay-off, and you shoot out of sequence, everything’s fragmented. That’s not the case with this film. The way we shot it was very much in chronological order, it pretty much all takes place on the one set, and Michael doesn’t cut a lot. One shot is held for endless minutes. So, it was hard. The set was, at times, a very tense place. But then, you also go, “Okay, I’ve just got to break this,” and Tim [Roth] would crack a very crass and base joke.
MoviesOnline: Was it physically demanding?

Naomi: Yes. The way Michael likes to work is from a very authentic point of view. The first time I was bound and gagged, he came up and went, “That looks like shit! No way! I don’t believe that. Let me do it.” And, he bound me up, and it was all around my neck and my feet, so if you fell or tried to walk, you could be strangled.
MoviesOnline: Did you do this film before or after you were pregnant?

Naomi: It was before. But, I have to say that I conceived during this film. I think I was creatively fulfilled.
MoviesOnline: ‘Funny Games’ seems to pass judgment on the people who see films like ‘Hostel’ and ‘Saw.’ When those same people go to see this film, do you think they’ll be turned off by it, or at least question their perverse taste in cinema?

Naomi: Yes, I do. I haven’t seen those films, but I know about them. I think, yeah, Michael is trying to invite that audience in and say, “Come, come, come, I’m talking to you.” And, he tricks them. ‘Funny Games’ is the irony of it all. That audience is such a mass audience, and I suppose he does feel that they are culpable and is trying to build awareness of what he feels violence is. By depicting it in a very authentic way, it becomes very grotesque and brutal, even though he never actually gives it to you, except in that one isolated moment, where he then says, “No, you can’t have it. I know you want it.” So, yeah, those people may feel very angry, but I think that’s the point of the film.
MoviesOnline: Does being a parent now change your perspective on the movie at all, particularly the scenes where the young boy is terrorized for quite a while?

Naomi: Yeah. I had a very adverse feeling, at the time, before I was a parent. Being a mom changes you, in every possible way. I certainly don’t want my son to see this film, for a very long time. When he’s an adult, he’s going to make his own decisions about what he sees, and hopefully he’ll understand my reasoning behind it.
MoviesOnline: Will you continue to produce? And, if so, will you produce films that you don’t appear in?

Naomi: Yeah, I would be interested in that. I do like putting people together, and finding good material. It’s a lot of work, though, particularly when you start doing things on the side that you’re not appearing in. There was a time when I got approached by a studio and they said, “Do you want to do a deal with us?,” and it all sounded very exciting and seductive, but I was also terrified by the workload. Particularly now that I’m a mom, I feel like everything’s too much. I can’t even get to read scripts.
MoviesOnline: As an executive producer on this, what other duties did you have?

Naomi: Often, when you’re invited to be involved as a producer, it’s one way to spice up the deal and be involved in all the creative decisions. Michael and I talked about casting, and some of the crew members. But then, once we were on the set, it became very clear, very quickly, that he was attached to every detail and knew exactly what he wanted. I just said, “This is your beast. I trust you.”

MoviesOnline: Did you still find a way to use your own method of acting, even though Michael’s style was a little restrictive for you, or did you just go with his flow?

Naomi: I really just went with his flow. Even though I struggled with it, at times, I liked that he had such a defined and clear vision of my character, of the story, and everything. When someone is so sure, you trust it. It’s actually a much more fun way to work than with a director that says, “Well, let’s try this. Okay, let’s try it like this.” You think, “Oh, God, what’s going to happen in the editing room. I’ve done it 75 different ways. How’s my character going to turn out?” So, he’s very deliberate and precise. Sometimes it was hard to get there and get out of your head.
MoviesOnline: How was he, compared to working with David Lynch?

Naomi: Very different. Lynch won’t tell you anything. He won’t tell you what’s going on, and really doesn’t give you that much direction. He encourages you to intuit it, whereas Haneke tells you everything. He’s very specific and very by-the-numbers.
MoviesOnline: Since he tells you everything, is there any back story that you know that’s not revealed in the film?

Naomi: Well, we talked about the what ifs a lot, and who this family was. You do create that stuff on your own, and with them, as a group.
MoviesOnline: When you first read the script and found out that you’d be spending a lot of time in your underwear, was that terrifying and intimidating, or did you just embrace it?

Naomi: It is terrifying, but that was adding to it all. In the original, she strips down and then she puts her slip back on. To be honest with you, when I saw the original, that was one of the only false moments, to me. It felt a little bit like the wonderful actress (Susanne Lothar) was being slightly modest, and I completely understand that. Michael asked me, “How do you feel about this scene?,” and I could tell that he was asking if I felt right about doing it in my underwear versus in a slip. Right away, I said, “Let’s do it in the underwear. It feels less self-conscious.” I don’t know how many people wear slips, these days. So, it was frightening. It’s such a large portion of the movie, but it added to it. I felt so vulnerable, at that place in the story, and the fact that I didn’t have any clothes on, added to that vulnerability.
MoviesOnline: Did you think it was odd that this character wore such a dowdy dress?

Naomi: He wanted it dowdy. Michael is someone who pretty much doesn’t believe anything. He wants the real thing. This lovely wardrobe designer went out to Barney’s, and went to every designer on Rodeo Drive and 5th Avenue and brought back a million dresses, and Michael didn’t believe any of them. What you and I would think would be right for a rich woman who lived in that part of America, [didn’t work for him]. He made me bring my own dresses. And, because I don’t have 12 copies of that dress -- I’m afraid to say that dowdy dress came from my wardrobe  -- they found some fabric, which was an older fabric, and they copied the dress 12 times.

MoviesOnline: Can you talk about working with Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet?

Naomi: They both had such difficult parts. Michael Pitt, particularly, had just endless amounts of dialogue, and Haneke wanted to shoot long takes. He doesn’t do a huge amount of angles, which means more of the long takes. So, they had to be very much on their game. I was so impressed with both of them. They’re very, very fine actors. Although they struggled with playing these awful, hideous, psychotic people, I think there was some fun in it, too. I know Michael Pitt struggled. I can tell he’s someone who works from a very organic place, and Haneke had a lot of instruction for him, so you feel very trapped and very confined. So, occasionally, they had their moments. Clearly, this material is so heavy, and it makes you tense.
MoviesOnline: How did you prepare for the role?

Naomi: The preparation is endless discussion and imagining the scenarios -- the what ifs, and how you’d deal with that. I’ve known people that have had situations, not the same, but similar, where they’ve been held hostage in their homes. To know even two people is pretty scary. This sort of thing can take place. There was one, not so long ago, when a person was followed to the bank.
MoviesOnline: Do you think that not showing the violence was more effective?

Naomi: Yeah. It ends up being a much more powerful effect. You hear it, and then you see the aftermath. You don’t see the actual thing, except for that one moment that he almost gives you. But, it becomes much more authentic. You’re not numbed by the violence. You don’t think it’s cool, you don’t think it’s hip, you don’t think it’s sexy or funny. You feel it, in its most brutal way, which is Michael saying, “Violence is hideous and inexcusable, no matter what.” We’re so used to sitting in films and excusing violence because it’s a bad guy and it’s revenge, so you’re cheering it on.
MoviesOnline: Was conceiving your child during this film a life-affirming act, during all this darkness?

Naomi: Yes. I didn’t find out until later, though.
MoviesOnline: Were you trying to shake off the psychological effects of this movie?

Naomi: Something like that.
MoviesOnline: Can you talk about getting bruised and injured during the filming of ‘Funny Games’, and about having to cry so much?

Naomi: It’s draining, and you don’t turn off, at the end of the night. You take that home with you. I’ve done quite a few films that require physical and emotional commitment, and I’m used to that. But, this was probably the most challenging because it was impossible to turn off because of Michael’s process and the way he likes to do it. Michael really likes to go for authenticity, all the time. A lot of the time, I wouldn’t even take the [binding] off, in between a take, because it would take too long to reset. And, with the crying stuff, you just have to go there. Michael is not one for cheating. And, sometimes, your eyes would almost pop out of your head because you’d been crying for three hours. He was just always going for that authenticity. You would often hear him laugh, off camera, in his little tent with his monitor, but it was a nervous laughter. It’s all too creepy and too freaky, and it brings up an awkward emotion.
MoviesOnline: How does that actually affect you when you’re at home? And, does it help, being in a relationship with another actor?

Naomi: Yeah, it does, actually. You can talk about it, and they understand it. Liev [Schreiber] came to the set a few times, and he liked the way Michael worked, too. I don’t think every actor could deal with it, but he’s an actor that likes to take risks. In my mind, there isn’t a director that I respect that wouldn’t appreciate Michael Haneke and his work. In fact, as I was wrestling with making the decision of whether to do this, I called a couple of directors that I’ve worked with and bounced the idea off them, and unanimously, they all said, “You must work with him.”
MoviesOnline: Would you work with Michael again?

Naomi: Yes, absolutely. I loved it, as much as there was a struggle, along the way. He makes you realize your potential, and he makes you realize your inhibitions. You’re willing to go there, and then you feel better for it.

MoviesOnline: Will you talk about your upcoming role in ‘The Birds’?

Naomi: It’s a work in progress, at this point. I think it’s a wonderful film. There’s great things in it that interest me. The script isn’t completely there yet. It probably won’t happen until next year.
MoviesOnline: Are you talking with producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form on a more creative level, in terms of the formation of the script?

Naomi: Not yet. I’m sure they’ll come to me with the next draft, and then, yeah. I’ve seen one draft. It’s good, but there’s more to develop.

MoviesOnline: Regarding ‘The Birds,’ have you met with, or are you going to meet with, Tippi Hedren?

Naomi: I have met with her because she was in that film I did, ‘I Heart Huckabees.’ She had a little part in it, and David Russell introduced us. I was pretty fascinated by her then because people have often said we’re alike.
MoviesOnline: What’s been the most surprising thing about being a mom?

Naomi: The equipment. You just can’t believe the amount of things you have to travel with. I thought I was bad with excess baggage before, and now it’s out of control. There are endless surprises every day, though.

”Funny Games” opens in theaters on March 14th.


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