NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Naomi Watts about her role in the new movie Penguin Bloom. Watts plays a woman who gets used to life in a wheelchair after an accident.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Sam Bloom and her family were on vacation in Thailand when their whole life changed.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “PENGUIN BLOOM”)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, screaming).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sam falls and is paralyzed from the chest down. When she is struggling to adapt to life in a wheelchair, she finds an unlikely connection with a magpie named the penguin. The rescued bird helps her to accept her new condition. Naomi Watts plays Sam Bloom in the new film “Penguin Bloom”, which is based on a true story. And she’s joining me now. Welcome to the program.
NAOMI WATTS: Hello. Thanks for the invitation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You actually met the real Sam Bloom when you prepared and directed this role. Can you tell me a little bit about her personality as she is?
WATTS: She’s really just a beautiful woman who you don’t get all at once, not the easiest lecture. We had our first group meeting – just her and her husband Cam. And then we just had a nice, polite breakfast, chatted away. And we’ve just spent a lot of time on the phone, facetiming, and talking about her journey of recovery. And she couldn’t have been more generous with her time. And when she realized that I was really digging deeper and deeper, she actually said: Do you just want to read my diaries?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, wow.
WATTS: And – yes, because I think she found it difficult to express herself sometimes. And the words on the page made it really clear to me. And it was nerve wracking.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes, Naomi, that is probably a question of litigation that I’m curious about. A lot of acting depends on body language of course, you know …
GARCIA-NAVARRO: … evoke emotions, tell a story. But that’s limited here due to Sam’s paralysis. How did you deal with this limitation?
WATTS: It was the hardest part. The physicality is usually something I really enjoy. But with Sam it was so hard to really try to separate the lower half of the body from the bra strap so as not to move. You know, like when Andrew Lincoln, the cam, plays my husband, picks me up, you just instinctively help the elevator. So I found it incredibly difficult. Again, Sam was very available and generous with her time. She took a lot of footage of her doing the physical transfers and getting on set because I actually said, can you be here for that day, please? Because I have problems and we would have to do several takes. And I thought I trust your eye more than anyone else. And it just so happened that she lived around the corner because the whole movie is set in her house. And…
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It’s a beautiful house, I have to say.
WATTS: It is. I know.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think, wow, they really live there.
WATTS: Yes. But it actually became, interestingly, part of the pain for her because of those beautiful views that you see – just beaches that were all of her youth. Every imaginable water sport took place there. And it was all a terrible memory of what she could no longer exist in. It was – it was torment for her.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We need to talk about the bird.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Penguin only stayed in Bloom’s life for a short time before returning to the wild. But you worked with a real bird for this film. What challenges did that bring with it?
WATTS: Really, the challenges were in my mind and in advance. I was concerned that – how do we get this bird to really engage and communicate with me?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You had acting (ph) thoughts.
WATTS: Yes. Yes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You were wondering if your co-star would actually bring what had to be brought.
WATTS: Yes. I mean it sounded great on the side, but I thought how? How is that possible? And especially magpies. I had a terrible experience riding in the forest and being attacked by a whole herd.
WATTS: Yeah, they’re pretty aggressive birds. They are not nice and kind. But they’re smart – as trainable as it turns out. And it was very much a waiting game. Every day you wondered if you would have this lovely moment on the side. And sometimes, yes, you immediately stumbled upon it. Or at other times you would have to wait and wait. And you may not get what was needed, but you may get something just as awesome.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And when you first looked at the script in your story, what attracted you?
WATTS: Yes, the strength in her and how she was able to recover. And I also love the family spirit in this film. You know, the first time I read the book it was a Sunday morning. And I was – my kids were pretty young and we had a nice break. And they were completely drawn to these bizarre images of this bird doing these wonderful things, this baby bird. And it was just so cute. And it struck me how that experience alone looked at the book and then read the story, which was darker in tone, the unity she created with my children in that moment. That feeling persisted. When we were shooting, we had the kids on screen. My children were there. Andrew’s children were there. It was like a little summer camp. And I think somehow there is now more than ever the need for this pure and simple matter of family unity, like a family that has been – almost undone, has repaired itself.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, it was something that resonated with watching the film because of course we are all experiencing an immense amount of grief in a variety of ways right now.
WATTS: Yes. Yes we have got that. We have experienced grief and separation and that should really speak to it. And I mean, Sam’s story is pretty unique, but it definitely takes up a version of what we’ve been through.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I’m going to ask you because I’m asking everyone how are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How was that moment for you?
WATTS: It was all. Literally, I’ve got it all from moments of extreme sadness and real, oh my god, I can’t handle it anymore, real loneliness. I hate talking on the phone more than anything. I always hated that. And the constant conversations and the selling of yourself – it takes me back to the days when I auditioned like crazy. And in a room you have to be brilliant. I am like, no. I just want to be in the presence of people. I love people. I love this connectivity. And yes, I mean the kids suffered, I think. School at home was very difficult for her. I am concerned about the mental health of everyone, especially the children.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Naomi Watts stars in “Penguin Bloom” on Netflix. Many Thanks.
WATTS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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