Although she had been acting for more than fifteen years, Naomi Watts broke through to stardom when she was tapped by David Lynch to portray an aspiring starlet in "Mulholland Drive" (2001), his darkly nightmarish vision of Los Angeles. Originally made as a pilot for a projected television series, the film found a second life when producer Alain Sarde and StudioCanal joined forces to provide funding for Lynch to re-imagine his vision as a feature film. After its premiere at Cannes, "Mulholland Drive" went on to confound or captivate critics and audiences, but nearly all were certain that Watts emerged as an actress of force and presence.
Born in England, the leggy blonde suffered the trauma of losing her father when she was only ten years old. Four years later, she relocated to Australia with her mom and began to study acting. Eventually, she began going on auditions (at one she met her best friend Nicole Kidman) and landed her first film role in "For Love Alone" (1986).Although she had been acting for more than fifteen years, Naomi Watts broke through to stardom when she was tapped by David Lynch to portray an aspiring starlet in "Mulholland Drive" (2001), his darkly nightmarish vision of Los Angeles. Originally made as a pilot for a projected television series, the film found a second life when producer Alain Sarde and StudioCanal joined forces to provide funding for Lynch to re-imagine his vision as a feature film. After its premiere at Cannes, "Mulholland Drive" went on to confound or captivate critics and audiences, but nearly all were certain that Watts emerged as an actress of force and presence.
Born in England, the leggy blonde suffered the trauma of losing her father when she was only ten years old. Four years later, she relocated to Australia with her mom and began to study acting. Eventually, she began going on auditions (at one she met her best friend Nicole Kidman) and landed her first film role in "For Love Alone" (1986). Watts enjoyed her first substantial part alongside best pal Kidman in "Flirting" (1991), the John Duigan-directed sequel to "The Year My Voice Broke". Cast as a snobby schoolgirl, the teen actress made an impression and her career was born. Watts went on to co-star with Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker, Josephine Byrnes, Kym Wilson and a young Russell Crowe in the Australian miniseries "Brides of Christ" (1991). Duigan tapped her once again when he cast her in a supporting role in "Wide Sargasso Sea" (1992). Moving to the USA, Watts acted in her first Hollywood movie, the comedy "Matinee" (also 1992) in a bit role as an aspiring movie star. She enjoyed a cult hit as Jet Girl in the film adaptation of the comic book "Tank Girl" (1995) but box-office success and that seminal role to catapult her to stardom still eluded her.
Watts appeared in a string of TV productions of varying quality, from the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" drama "Timepiece" (CBS, 1995) to the failed 1997 NBC series "Sleepwalkers" to the above average miniseries "The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer" (CBS, 1999). Between small screen gigs, the actress was cast as the wife of a Venetian nobleman in "Dangerous Beauty/Destiny of Her Own" (1998) and as a fragile, morally upright young woman in "Strange Planet" (1999), Emma-Kate Croghan's ensemble film about a group of friends struggling to cope with modern life. Watts was then cast in what was hoped would be her breakthrough, an ABC TV series created by and directed by David Lynch. Although the network passed on the quirky drama, Lynch was able to shoot additional material and create a strange, trippy picture that painted a dark look at the dream factory of Hollywood. Indeed her dual role as perky wannabe Betty Elms and the cynical Diane Selwyn provided Watts with rich and complex material that she skillfully handled. If anyone had any doubts about her capabilities, one scene in particular clinched it: Betty auditions for a movie role and while the dialogue is trite, her reactions to her scene partner (Chad Everett) and her approach to the part allowed Watts to play many layers and moods at once. That astonishing scene alone made critics and audience take notice.
Watts displayed a similar charisma in the Sundance-screened short "Ellie Parker" (2001), about an Australian actress trying to carve a career in L.A. Having to switch gears from auditioning for the role of a Southern belle to trying out for the part of a street junkie, she displayed her amazing range and prodigious talent. Casting agents and directors began to take notice following this one-two punch and Watts found herself being offered choice roles. She starred as a frontier widow who harbors an outlaw in the Showtime original "The Outsider" (lensed 2001) and played a TV newswoman investigating a rash of elevator accidents in "Down" (2001). After the rush of attention following "Mulholland Drive," Watts effectively kept herself in the public eye thanks to two high-profile relationships: one with her longtime friend Nicole Kidman, whose constant shows of support added luster to Watts' rising star; and a romantic relationship with up-and-coming heartthrob Heath Ledger, which captivated the paparazzi. But she continued to deliver the goods on-screen as wells, delivering a strong, emotional performance in her first mainstream star vehicle, the haunted high-tech thriller "The Ring" (2002), playing an investigative journalist and single mom who discovers a cursed videotape. The film established her firmly as a bankable star, and she returned to give an equally strong central performance in the otherwise less inspired 2005 sequel "The Ring 2."
Watts was equally good in the relaxed, sophistacted Merchant-Ivory production of Diane Johnson's bestselling novel "Le Divorce" (2003), playing an aspiring American poetess in contemporary Paris who is abandoned by her husband, a French scoundrel who jilts her while she's pregnant. Once again Watts' enviable ability to conjure genuine, heart-rendering emotion served her well in the role. The actress successfully reinvented herself yet again in the brooding drama "21 Grams" (2003), playing a reformed party girl who slips back into her self-abasing ways after losing her family in a car accident. With that performance Watts found herself at the center of much critical acclaim and awards buzz, and earned her first Oscar nomination as Best Actress.
Watts' immediate post-Oscar entries included the little-seen, long-delayed Aussie crime drama about legendary bankrobber "Ned Kelly" (2004), which paired her to surprisingly little effect with Ledger; and the unremarkable indie drama "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (2004), in which she played one of two academic, suburban couples who self-destructively enter into extramarital affairs with their neighbors' spouses. She then assumed a a role that Kidman couldn't fit into her schedule (and one that Gwyneth Paltrow had already vacated) when she appeared in writer-director David O. Russell's fourth feature "I [Heart] Huckabees" (2004), an "exisitential comedy" exploring the spirtual lives of a group of people involved with a department store called Huckabees. Watts played Dawn, the store's lovely spokesmodel, who is ultimately pushed to the breaking point by the complications spinning out of her sheer physical beauty. She followed up with a brief supporting turn in "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" (2004) as the long-suffering waitress ex-wife of a man (Sean Penn) slowly descending into a madness that will lead to an attempted attack on the White House. Less satisfying was "Stay" (2005), director Marc Forster's ambitious but murky psychological thriller as the girlfriend of a shrink (Ewan McGregor) whose suicidal patient somehow begins invading his dreams and blurring the lines of their realities and individualities, including their relationship. Her next film, "Ellie Parker" (2005) was an intriguing experimental curiosity: in 2001 writer-director Steve Coffey shot Watts with a handheld digital video camera for a 16-minute short, which cast the actress as a young actress trying to protect and nurture her talent in heartless Hollywood. Over the ensuring years Watts and Coffey would reunite whenever they could find a free day together and add new sequences to Ellie's story, until he finally had a full film for release in 2005. Watts then took on a project of much bigger proportaions, cast in the Fay Raye role of Ann Darrow for director Peter Jackson's long-dreamt-of, much anticipated remake of "King Kong."
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