Naomi Watts has netted Oscar nominations for her roles as mothers in the grip of unbearable tragedy - in 21 Grams, and in tsumani-themed The Impossible. In her latest turn as an onscreen mum (to be), she leaves the tragedy behind, to play Daka, a feisty pregnant Russian stripper and prostitute who services Murray’s Vincent in St Vincent. Her gait and wild Russian pronunciation is nothing like we’ve seen the demure actress (let’s forget Diana shall we?) do before.
Yes, Watts is funny.
The 46 year old also shows off her comedic chops in the dark comedy Birdman, directed by her 21 Grams director Alejandro González Iñárritu, which will be out here in early 2015. She also stars as Ben Stiller’s wife in Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, where she likewise riffs off one of the world’s best comedians--and holds her own.
St Vincent follows Murray’s curmudgeon as he reluctantly accepts the offer of his neighbour Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) to be paid for the after-school care of her 11 year-old young son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Naturally Vincent has to explain the presence of Daka and sets about teaching Oliver the ways of the world and he comes to love the kid in the process. The kid in turn writes a composition about Vincent for his homework—he has to bestow a sainthood on someone in his life—and he warms to Daka as well. Together with his single mum they become a kind of dysfunctional family.
Why did you want to do this role and how did you create Daka?
I really wanted to do the film because I loved the script and I wanted to work with Bill. At first I thought they were asking me about Melissa’s role, it didn’t really feel like Daka was the obvious choice for me. But I loved the idea of doing something different.
Did you improvise?
I knew if you go to work with people like Bill or Melissa you’ve got to be free enough in the accent and the character so you can go off the page. There was definitely some of that going on. I worked with a dialect coach, I pulled all sorts of videos from the internet of girls speaking to the camera about their hobbies and looking for a better life. I spent time in a spa where these Russian ladies worked and recorded them on a regular basis.
Daka is pregnant and is so outrageous.
I don’t think I am very recognisable in the film. People hardly ever recognise me. It was fun. It was a real different turn for me. There was a lot of the physical stuff going on and the accent and the clothing, those are all great tools to help you get to closer to inventing something, transformational. I don’t think like that character particularly at all.
You really seemed to be enjoying yourself doing comedy.
Yeah, definitely and hopefully that’s going to open some doors for me because I was at the point where I’ve done enough of the dark twisted stuff and was starting to feel a bit set in that mould and I was actively trying to find something that was lighter. These kinds of roles stop coming to you after a while. People just think the darker stuff is all you want to do, that it’s all you can do and you have to chase other roles. I have a great appreciation and love for comedy, but I am not well versed in it and I think those romantic comedies are hard to get right. I just hadn’t found anything that was really funny.
You definitely are suited to physical comedy.
I like physical. I feel safer there than joke telling.
Did you watch Bill and Melissa closely for comedic inspiration?
Yeah, we worked pretty closely together. Bill told me to “Rein it in a little”. Daka was an outrageous character and that was the fun and with these videos I was looking at the people always had these very serious faces even though they were talking about how happy they were (adopts dry Russian accent): “I like to dance, I like to cook, I like to party and I like to have fun.” There was a lot of seriousness going on in the face, so I really chose that as being how I wanted to build the character. But you can’t just make it all one colour can you? I think there was a briskness about her, moving quickly and taking care of business and that could get bigger and bigger the more takes you do. So Bill gave me some good notes here and there.
What was it like to play a hooker who hasn’t got a heart of gold... or has she?
I thought she did in there somewhere.
She did in the end.
In the end yeah. She was just busy being tough and taking care of business.
How did your family and friends react when you came home with an accent and a look like that?
You don’t tend to go home like that when you have small children. (Laughs) I ran the accent by Liev (Schreiber) because he has played a Russian a few times.