Naomi Watts found huge success on the big screen but is now among the female A-listers who are discovering better roles on TV, writes Laura Harding.
There is a mass exodus going on in Hollywood right now — a flood of top-flight female actresses are turning their backs on the big screen in hot pursuit of the better writing and more interesting characters in television.
Oscar nominee Naomi Watts is the latest to join the ranks, which includes her friend Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley, who headlined the recent Sky Atlantic hit Big Little Lies, and Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, who play Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette And Joan, which will air on BBC Two later this year.
Watts found her break-out role in David Lynch’s acclaimed Mulholland Drive, earned a best actress nod from the Academy for 21 Grams, and hit box-office success in 2005’s King Kong, but discovered Hollywood’s recent appetite for superheroes and reboots were not providing her with the complex and thoughtful roles she was interested in.
Instead she found what she was looking for in the new Netflix psychological thriller Gypsy, in which she plays Jean Holloway, a successful but duplicitous psychotherapist who is a married professional by day but a completely different person by night, carrying on an affair with a younger woman and meddling in the lives of her patients.
Watts, 48, says she was not actively looking to move into television, but had to go where the best parts were.
“I definitely noticed that a lot of great writing was taking place in the TV format now, probably because of the sad state of the film industry and how all the films getting made are mostly in the franchise world, or superheroes or big comedy blockbuster-y type movies, and I really tend to enjoy working in the drama genre.
“Since the film industry was bottoming out, all the writers moved over to TV and we have to follow those stories, those writers,” she says.
“Certainly I thought this character was straddling both worlds of both good and bad and that is a great part to play. Men get to play those parts normally and it wasn’t a stereotypical role and I like the idea that if I’m going to commit to a long-term project that it would never be boring.”
She continues: “It felt like a choice, it wasn’t like I’ve got to hang it up and go to the other place, there is no real change to be honest.
“What happened with the industry is films were making less and less money and were harder and harder to get made so most of the money that was being spent was on films that are not really my passion so the female-driven drama writers moved to TV and that is where a lot of us have ended up going, to get the storytelling.”
The series was partially directed by Fifty Shades Of Grey film-maker Sam Taylor-Johnson.
Of the five directors who worked on the show, five — including Taylor-Johnson — were women, and many other key behind-the-scenes roles were filled by women too.
This is something Watts sees as a significant statement, saying: “It did seem important because this is a female-driven story and so the collective group of women made it feel like we would get the most authentic version of her story.
“There is a call for action and it is taking place and not just in our industry and not just in front but behind the camera, across the board and in other industries too.”
It also helped her that the raunchier sex scenes are filmed with another woman, British actress Sophie Cookson. Watts reveals: “You feel safer, you are able to say ‘I’ve got cellulite please don’t grab it’ or ‘keep your head buried here, I don’t want my nipple showing’, things like that are much easier to communicate to another woman.”
Gypsy is streaming on Netflix now.
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