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TAKES ON KONG
by Brad Balfour
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Australian-raised Naomi Watts, taking on the challenge of playing Ann
Darrow – the role made famous by Fay Wray in the original King Kong –
was both daunting and a career move as well. Having been known as
industrious actress willing to do anything from the sexually provocative
Mullholland Dr. to the artful 21 Grams (for which she got
an Oscar nom), she been expanding her résumé to include comedies, horror,
and now a blockbuster tentpole flick such as the Peter Jackson directed
King Kong. This may be her biggest role yet, not just in the length of
the film but in scope as well, having to make a shift from terrified
victim to horrified friend – not an easy transition when your co-star is a
25 foot computer-generated ape.
Aside from keeping your dress clean, what other challenges did you face
in making this Kong Kong?
I didn't wear the white dress in the jungle, though. I wore a slip and
that got shredded.
Did you get any injuries?
Well, not major. But it felt like every day there was a new pain or bump.
I did have a near major accident which was I fell down a hole backwards.
It was a five or six foot drop. I was a little terrified because I was in
this hole, ditch kind of thing and my legs were in the air. It was only
about this deep [raising her hand to illustrate] and I was physically
jammed. I couldn't move right away and I instantly thought, "Oh dear, I'm
paralyzed or something really bad." And all I could see is everyone
looking down at me going, "Oh my God is she okay, is she okay?" And I was
going, "Ohhh, ohhh." And the medic came over and was telling me not to
move, and all I wanted to do was move. He was being careful to make sure I
hadn't broken anything. But mostly what I could think about was my
underwear is on display and everyone up there is looking at it. So I knew
once I had that thought I must be okay. When you're doing that much
physical work it's like you're an athlete, and they have accidents, they
injure themselves. All the action stuff in the movie took about half the
time shooting in the movie. And it had to happen in the consecutive
stretch so it made it very debilitating for me. It's the hardest thing,
definitely, I've ever done in film. At times you felt really defeated by
it, because you want to be able to do everything, but your body's not up
for it. It frustrated because my will was stronger than my physical
ability. We stopped shooting for that day and then I was fine. I attribute
it to doing yoga. I'm very flexible and my body literally went up into a
very strange shape.
Did you ever have a stunt double?
I have a great stunt woman who helps me out, but I tried to do as much as
possible and they were happy for me to do a lot of jumps and the dangling
from ladders. I did a lot of those vaudevillian moves on the cliff top
too. I did a lot of throwing myself around – two days of that. That was
one of the days I had a particularly hard time – and Epson salts weren't
enough. My body was covered in bruises.
is the damsel in distress and every man wants to save you; ultimately Jack
Driscoll (Adrien Brody) gets to rescue you from the big boy Kong (played
by Andy Serkis who had sensors all over his face and body to later
digitally be used to program the Kong CGI).
Yes, Kong was my big boy. He's the ultimate man. He has everything you
need. As someone said the other day, the combination of those two men, if
they were [fused] into one, that would definitely make the perfect man.
Adrien is the wordsmith, he has all the words. And Kong has all the soul
and power as well. You just have to go with it. And the chemistry – Andy
and I tapped into each other right away and we knew what we had to do, the
work that had to be done to suspend disbelief, and we just both went
there. There were times when we'd fall down laughing, "What are we doing?"
And we'd let that run through us and get back to it. We'd have to set
ourselves up again. I gave Andy a Barbie. You know he was always up in
this big tractor thing [acting out Kong]. That was my sight line and it
created the scale. I couldn't fit in his hand when he was doing motion
capture so I gave him Barbies and he dressed them up [in my place].
How was it reacting to Kong?
I love a good old Hitchcock movie. Fear is a great emotion to play. You
can never imagine how furious these beasts are, but you don't want to rely
on a bag of tricks. I think most of my performance is to be credited to
Andy I have to say. I'm reacting to his strength. He made me go there. He
made me believe.
You broke a glass in a hotel with your scream?
That's true, but there's one part you may not have heard about. Basically,
I was asked to scream on a live TV show and we were in a hotel on the
balcony. And they had a hot light on the window that was going through to
me on the balcony. So I think the combination of my scream and the heat
from that lamp just created some weird vibration and it literally cracked
from the floor to the ceiling. I could not believe it. We were all like
"How did that happen?" I've done it many times since and it's never worked
Can you scream now?
I'm literally on voice rest. I've done it on a few TV shows this week. I
could, but I just don't want to lose my voice in the middle of a press
It must have been hard changing the dynamics from someone that was
terrified to someone who absolutely loved this beast. What was the turning
You have two desperate beings. He's desperately lonely and hasn't had
companionship for who knows how many years. And she suffers from the same
thing, only in a different way. They come together. He's a savage, evil
beast, and whatever through the experiences she's had in New York, she's
able to be tough and find a way to negotiate her way so as not to be
killed or pulled to pieces. I've loved that idea, that they introduced the
vaudevillian thing, and she finds out that all he needs is to be
entertained. And why is that? Because he's lonely. He's desperate for
connection. And so he starts pushing her around and tries to get her to do
this song and dance just to make him laugh and it becomes very humorous.
And then he just wants more and more and it's not enough and then he has
an outburst of rage, but he's not going to squash her, because he realizes
she's fun. So he has this outburst and then he's embarrassed. He goes
through this huge gamut of emotions and has to run away and hide, because
he can't face her. And she understands him in that moment, and she sees
who he is. She's been an isolate creation and maybe see just identifies
with him. There were things we did in between that moment that got lost.
Not lost, but we didn't need them. They got cut. I guess that was the
defining moment of the beginning of their relationship.
Your character Ann Darrow has a fatalistic approach to life in the
beginning of the movie. She says, "Good things in life never last." And,
"Yeah, we're doomed." Do you identify with Ann?
Yeah, I identify with her struggle. I mean, times are tough for Ann. She's
at an absolute low point. She's resorted to stealing food. She doesn't
know where her next paycheck is coming from. It's absolute rock bottom for
her. And living in the years of the Depression as well. I can identify
with her struggle, but not to that degree. Yeah, I know what it is to
struggle, but the thing I love about her is that she is a survivor. Even
though she feels love is doomed, that good things never last, she likes to
make people laugh. That's what she does and what she enjoys, she's not a
Were there times in your real life when you were rescued or felt the
need to be?
I feel I've been rescued before, but I've also been raised by a woman
that's a complete survivor. And she sort of taught us, my brother and I,
to do it ourselves. But sometimes the survival mechanism works so hard, to
let yourself out of that and just be, you just find yourself going into
that for no reason at all. There's also been times where I've gone, "Yeah,
I got people looking out for me." I've felt I landed on my feet and not
just on my own. Someone helped me out there and saved me.
King Kong is an iconic film and this is one of the most revered roles;
did that concern you at all?
It was on my mind, definitely, before I started filming. It did concern me
and I really played that out. It such an iconic part and so much to live
up to. But I felt, with any role you take on you weigh the pros and cons
and it helps you to think it all the way through. At the end of the day
after meeting with [director] Peter [Jackson], [screenwriters] Fran
[Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens] and hearing them talk about the script, how
they were going to do it, and what new ideas they were going to introduce,
I thought, 'Well, I want to do this." All that stuff kind of went pale.
It's so different from anything I've done before and that became the
biggest reason, among many others to [do this part]. But once I was on the
set, I wasn't thinking about that at all. It was my role. Except that
there were a couple of homages that went straight to Fay--the one of the
ship and another one that didn't make it into the movie.
You got to meet with Fay Wray.
Meeting Fay was wonderful. We had a fantastic night in New York. A
gentleman by the name of Rick McKay hosted a small dinner, and Peter
clearly had been in love with this woman since he had been about nine
years old, his first big crush. He talked to her and told her he was doing
this film and how much it meant to her, and it drove him to being a
filmmaker. She was very attentive and I think he was very moved by the
experience of being in the same room with her. In fact, I think I saw a
tear well up. It was a very tender moment. And then he introduced me as
being the new Ann Darrow. And she looked up at me [IN A LOUD VOICE]
"You're not Ann Darrow. I AM." I thought, "Oh great, she's 96 and she was
still right there." I had a moment of "Oh God, what if she doesn't like
me? What if she doesn't think I'm good enough?" And all that typical
stuff. We chatted, had a nice dinner and at the end of the night, we
dropped her at her house and she got out of the car. And we all kissed and
hugged and she whispered in my ear, "Ann Darrow is in good hands." That
was great and special, the parting words and the kiss. I felt like she was
giving me permission and I was given the baton.
Did you ask her about being remembered for this one role?
No. We didn't talk about that. You didn't want to overwhelm her with too
many questions. I was hoping that night would be the first of more. It was
for Peter and Fran, but sadly she passed a few months later and I wasn't
in the country to meet her again. It was bad timing, her death.
Are there any old actresses from
Hollywood's Golden Era you particularly admire?
Yeah, a bunch of them. Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, [and so on that are a
little later than from that time]. They are all legends. I loved all those
movies, but it's also fascinating how it's changed over time, the style,
but how that it still stands up and inspires me.
You had to work hard to get on the
radar. Do you remember where you thought, I can do what I want to do? What
about that moment, where you realized you were a player and on the radar?
It's great to be able to work with people you admire and that you're
inspired by. I feel so much gratitude, being given these opportunities. I
love what I do. It means something to me and brought me a great deal of
happiness. That's the thrill in it for me. It's not like I go, "Wow, I'm
on the radar, I made it." [But then] there's always another struggle.