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15. High Wattage: Why has Naomi Watts’ appeal lasted so long?

Happy Birthday Naomi Watts. One of Hollywood’s legendary ‘It’ girls is all grown up. And let’s face it, no one is getting any younger, and it’s rarely a pretty situation. That is if you’re not one of Hollywood’s’ most talented actresses ever.

The Watcher, an exceedingly creepy Netflix series is doing well and so is Naomi Watts. So what early clues could predict her longevity? Maybe there was some depth to the eyes, a seriousness of expression, an intelligent, dignified pose that could summon attention? There was probably nothing that could predict it, and just imagine some talent agent sorting through 10,000 photos when he stumbled upon the picture below. Maybe a last name synonymous with electricity helped her, maybe not. But she definitely has a stronger than average work ethic.

What we do know is not every glamorous, blonde it girl is the same. So let’s put a small list together of the unique qualities and attributes which contribute to her legendary status.

Naomi Watts was born in Australia and making it as an actress was apparently frustrating for her. Admitting this takes character and there are not a lot of stars who will admit this. According to her own telling, there were instances she so distraught by rejection, she drove around Hollywood in tears, lost, and unable to orient herself. This experience was an inspiration for her break-out role in David Lynch’s classic schizophrenic Mulholland Drive. It may even be safe to say, behind an impossibly perky exterior, a certain darkness informed many of her performances.

She’s over 50 and crushing it.

In the midst of a Netflix show Gypsy, actress Naomi Watts had been performing for millions after a career that had spanned decades. The shows cancellation was based on its popularity, but Watts’ performance was widely lauded. In fact, like many bingeables it is still available, as well as the newly released, The Watcher (2022). There are not many performers over fifty plus who can boast that. Plus, there are so many shows to choose from, if your show stands out even a little bit these days, unless it gets yanked after episode one, you’re doing pretty well. So congrats Ms. Watts.

Her hair is always fantastic.

This isn’t really anything Ms. Watts was personally responsible for, as she was born with great hair. But to me her vibe is mix of California glamour with urban sophistication. It lends her intelligent performances a type of ageless hipness.

She looks like a model, but doesn’t misbehave like one.

In her role as UNAIDS goodwill Ambassador, Naomi Watts helped to raise awareness on issues related to AIDS and give a greater voice to the needs of people living with HIV worldwide. This is not something she had to so, as many celebrities purposefully choose pet projects which are less demanding. For example, in May 2006 she undertook a UNAIDS-led fact-finding mission to Zambia to draw attention to the socio-economic impact of HIV on women and girls. She stated that she was both humbled and inspired by the strength and courage of the women, men and
children she met, who were moving mountains to save lives During the United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS in New York in May 2006, Naomi participated in a number of AIDS awareness activities, including launching the 21st Annual AIDS Walk in New York. She also participated as a member of the international jury at the
inaugural AIDS Red Ribbon Awards. Later in 2009 together with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, she joined leaders and entertainment stars in the AIDS response at a dramatic public event commemorating World AIDS Day 2009 at New York City’s historic Washington Square Park Memorial Arch. In her address Ms. Watts highlighted the injustice of stigma in a very intelligent manor and pointed out it was unfair for HIV infection to be considered a shameful disease. Bombarded by images of dull web stars and self-absorbed celebs flirting on red carpets, drunk, and being petulant children, her actions are downright inspiring.

She can be funny.

Enough of the serious stuff. In the highbrow comedy I Heart Huckabees Ms. Watts plays a sweet but dim model/girlfriend of Jude law who leaves him for Mark Wahlberg. The synopsis, Environmentalist Albert (Jason Schwartzman) enlists the services of “existential detectives” Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin) to solve the meaning of a succession of strange coincidences. The investigators conclude that the backstabbing Brad (Jude Law) — a public relations manager at big-box retailer Huckabees — is at the root of Albert’s angst. Brad tries to turn the tables, however, by hiring the philosophic duo for his own nefarious purposes. Hard to follow and weird at times I would still watch it again. Okay, maybe just to see her.

With Mark Wahlberg looking funny covered in soot.


She doesn’t make a lot of movie flops, or at least no serious career damaging performances come to mind.

This is actually a rarity. Maybe a few films of hers were not stand outs (Adore, and Diana come to mind) But what’s the definition of a major dud? How about an insensitive shit show like Gigli (2003), with a mentally challenged plot that actually poked fun at mentally challenged people. I recall it was the subject of so much ridicule, big name actors ranging from Al Pacino to Ben Affleck ran for cover. Sure, a movie like I Heart Huckabees may not have been not a major box office hit, but it was watchable and far from a dud. I believe it reflected the trend of general ‘watchability’ you find in most of her flicks, which at last count was around 67 movies.

She can play dark roles as well.

In We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Watts plays a beautiful, vapid swinger who poses a threat to her husband and close friends.

As charming hit woman Jeanette van Nessen in Spielbergs’ Munich, Watts’ plays a smiling viper.
Feral and dangerous, Watts sports blood on her jean jacket collar after trying to murder Benecio Del Toro in 21 Grams.

I mentioned this in the beginning regarding her work in Mulholland Drive. Before I saw that movie or even knew who she was I’d seen three of her memorably gloomy, though excellent movies 21 grams, Munich, and the indie gem We Don’t Live Here Anymore. Like a juggernaut of the film industry, she whipped these three movies out in a span of four. Serious topics like marital infidelity, revenge, and nationalism were shown in all their truthful and often ugly detail. In two of the films Watt’s played believable murderers. With the possibility of being a rom-com Queen or femme fatal, instead Watt’s chose great scripts time and time again over money-making Hollywood dreck. Did she depress me at times? Yes. Did her movies take away from her sex kitten image for me? Yes. But believe it or not actors are here to do a job for us. Other than being just eye candy, their work is to shed light on some of life’s more thorny problems. Shed light on them without us needing to be injured by being in their shoes. It’s called catharsis, and one of dramas more important roles other than just taking up our precious time. So cheers Naomi Watts, and may you live fifty more years.

-The Staff at Mitten Maid

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