Naomi Watts finds inspiration in 'The Impossible'

Naomi Watts and Tom Holland star in "The Impossible."

Photo by Jose Haro, © 2012 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

Naomi Watts and Tom Holland star in "The Impossible."

Maria, Henry and their three sons begin their winter vacation in Thailand, looking forward to a few days in tropical paradise. But on the morning ...

Rating: PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity

Length: 107 minutes

Released: December 21, 2012 NY/LA

Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast

Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez

More info and showtimes »

HOLLYWOOD — Naomi Watts arrives for an interview looking glamorous in a champagne colored top and matching pants, accented by a sheer jacket. It is a sharp contrast to the muddy mess she is in for most of "The Impossible," in which she plays one of the survivors of the 2004 tsunami that struck the coast of Thailand, killing thousands of residents and tourists in a matter of minutes and decimating towns and villages in its path.

The Oscar-nominated actress says she was eager to get under the skin of Maria Belon, who went on holiday to Thailand with her husband and children in 2004, and nearly lost her life and family. Watts, a mother herself with two young sons, spent some time with Belon prior to production in Thailand and came away from their meeting determined to tell the woman's remarkable story.

Q: How did you prepare to be soaked and pummeled for weeks on end?

Watts: I did train a bit in the lead up to production because I wanted to be fit. It requires stamina and cardio fitness to be in that situation. It was easy for (co-star) Tom (Holland), because he is a trained athlete, and a proper acrobat. He did that "Billy Elliot" for two years every night. ... I remember after I finished "King Kong," I made a promise to myself never to do an action movie of any kind again. Famous last words! It's like childbirth, isn't it? You forget and there you are again going through the same experience.

Q: You spent a great deal of time with woman who actually went through this. Can you talk about your time with her and how that helped you?

Watts: It helps a great deal. I've done a few movies now where I've played real life characters, and it's different every time. In this case, I didn't have to worry about the walk and talk and the look of Maria because nobody knows her so I really got to invent that part. But the power of what she went through, it was so big, and her piece of the story is just a tiny piece of this massive epic story. So it had a pressure of its own kind, which was to tell it with as much truth as possible, and there's a responsibility there for the people that suffered and lost lives. But I was very involved with her. We spoke a lot. We had one meeting at the beginning, and I wanted to ask her all kinds of questions. I just thought how do I begin? I'm just an actor. She lived through this.

Q: Did you struggle a bit with that?

Watts: I did. It felt wrong and perverse in a way. But that was just all my stuff and I think there was just such willingness on her part, because although she had reservations about telling her story for a movie, she also felt that it was right because it wasn't just her story. It was a story of so many, and people needed to understand it.

Q: Did you change your perspective about life after playing this part?

Watts: I don't like to throw around that term too easily, but there's no question that Maria has left a massive profound impact on my life and she's inspired me.

Q: Do you feel closer to your family now that you shot this movie?

Watts: I'm always close to my family, but it does have that effect on you. When I watched the movie for the first time and even when I was making it, the ideas that ran through my head were overwhelming.

Q: You wrapped "Diana." What was it like playing the princess?

Watts: It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. I strived to get the essence of her.

Q: What is your next project?

Watts: I've got a couple (films) coming out but I don't have any work coming up. My next project is to stay at home.

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