Naomi Watts has just presented the final award at the Middle East International Film Festival and now sits in the VIP room baffled by a glistening tray of untouched dates. ‘We would always serve them at Christmas time in our family,’ she recalls, ‘but I never knew why because no one would eat them.’ It’s a mother trick, I explain. You buy food that no one eats so that if someone ever comes round you’ve always got something to be hospitable even if you’re not. She laughs generously and wrinkles her nose in the sort of way that puts a nervous gent at ease.
The star is coming to the end of a rather dizzying spell in the capital and seems relaxed. She apologises for not exploring the city much, but was spotted sunning on the Emirates Palace beach earlier that day. ‘Oh, how awful. That post baby sight,’ she says mortified. Sat cross-legged in a slender gold dress, there is little sign that a few months ago she gave birth to her second child, but family is very much on her mind.
‘It’s so rare that I’m away from my children. I say rare, it’s the second time ever,’ she says, stretching catlike on the sofa. Certainly motherhood has changed the 41-year-old actress’s life. Picking out roles suddenly has an added worry. ‘I’ll always have the same tastes, but my priorities in choosing films change,’ she says. ‘Now the first thing I think is where is it filmed and for how long?’
Most recently Naomi has been in the Middle East filming in Jordan. ‘I brought my baby because I was still nursing at the time,’ she explains. The shoot is for Fair Game (out next year), one of the films recently backed by Abu Dhabi investment company Imagenation. It’s the story of Valerie Plame, the true-life American CIA agent who was outed by the Bush administration for political gain, ‘which of course is illegal,’ she adds indignantly.
Then suddenly Naomi looks up: ‘Oh my God!’ Her eye has strayed to a TV screen linked to the ceremony next door. It shows a troop of goats being led on stage to introduce the festival’s closing film Men Who Stare At Goats (get it?). You don’t get livestock at the Oscars, I say. It prompts another nose wrinkling (success!). ‘They’re so sweet,’ she coos. ‘Look, they’ve got stage fright,’ she yells to no one in particular in the curious mix of English and Australian accents that betrays her upbringing.
Watts and Plame met prior to the filming, she says. ‘It was intimidating to meet someone who’s done such incredible feats.’ Good, ‘real’ roles are hard to come by, the actress complains. Naomi is often known as the queen of the remake (King Kong, The Ring, Funny Games). ‘I think there’s just an incredible shortage of ideas,’ she bemoans. The slender blonde is due soon to reprise Tippi Hedren’s role in a remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but remains cautious. ‘There’s a number of great films that I would love to redo but shouldn’t be redone because they were great the first time around.’
The actress is in forthright and entertaining form. As to there being no good roles for actresses over 40, ‘it’s a cliché,’ she says, even if this is qualified with a knock on marble (nothing so humble as wood exists in the VIP room). The previous day’s Q&A session had revealed someone sharp-witted and genuinely grateful for their career. So can you get to know a Hollywood celeb in just six minutes? Well, no, but you can get a shrewd idea.
With nothing particular to flog, Watts is a gun for hire, happy to shoot the breeze with all comers. The other red carpet fodder took the money and ran back to Hollywood poste haste (Demi Moore, Hilary Swank please stand up). You sense she would like to get back to her kids soon, but for the time being she was content to splay happily on the VIP sofa with journalists being shepherded in like goats at a film festival. What a star!