Actress Naomi Watts had just given birth to her second child with Liev Schreiber and was in no mood to read Hollywood e-mails. But then the Valerie Plame Wilson treatment landed in her in-box and she couldn’t stop scrolling. Three weeks later, Watts was on the phone with the former CIA agent—outed by the Bush White House after her husband, Joseph Wilson IV, questioned its rationale for invading Iraq—digging for intimate details of her marriage. Fair Game, the resulting film, co-starring Sean Penn as Wilson, opens November 5. Watts and Plame Wilson are an unlikely pair—it’s hard to tell who’s the blonde starlet and who’s the steely covert operative, but hey, that’s Hollywood—yet they have become e-mail friends. Plame Wilson now lives far from Washington, in Santa Fe, with Wilson and their two children; Watts and her family have settled in New York. But the two met up to talk with New York. Not surprisingly, the career spook asked more questions than she answered.
Naomi, how did you prepare to play Valerie?
Naomi Watts: I really wanted to get into the marriage. I wanted to know the story of how Valerie dealt with this in the privacy of her own home.
Valerie Plame Wilson: How we dealt with conflict. Who was the stronger character.
NW: Who wears the pants! Who were you before this and how did you change after and during this?
VPW: They were really thought-provoking questions.
NW: I had to get you liquored up. [Both laugh.]
Valerie, you were living a double life. There were things you couldn’t even share with your husband.
VPW: Maybe because I had lived that life for some time, I didn’t find that odd. And fortunately, because Joe had served in government and had interaction with the CIA, he understood that and he never … But overnight, when all that shifted, it just became much more difficult to sustain. The fact that I couldn’t tell him things all of a sudden, that became an issue. There is that scene in the park where Joe says, “Well, if you were lying, could I tell?” It hadn’t bothered him before, because he understood what the job entailed. Then all of a sudden it became, “Huh, what am I doing with her?” As deeply as I loved him, it looked desperate at times. We were both just trying to deal with it.
NW: I think we all know that the construct of a marriage is a difficult thing. You lost everything in a day—your career, Joe’s reputation. You almost lost each other in the process of trying to understand it all. What I loved about this story is that they got through it.
Did you find similarities to your careers and marriages?
NW: Yeah, this whole hiding behind characters, and when you go out there, Valerie, and you are trying to recruit an asset, you have to be another persona. It’s sort of the same thing, but you know, the difference is, if I do badly, I might get a bad review, but she might end up with a bullet in her head. [Both laugh.]
VPW: Totally different worlds, but we are both working mothers. I saw you on the set nursing and then leaving your trailer to do a scene. And then it’s, “I’ve got to get home because Liev is filming, too, and he has to be up at four.” It’s classic chaos. Just trying to keep it all together.
NW: And I remember being completely fascinated with how you dealt with getting on a flight to Jordan to meet an asset. Do you do it with ease, with guilt?
VPW: It’s never easy.
NW: I feel like there are days where I go, “Oh, I can do this. I’ve got it covered.”
VPW: Yeah, and then the nanny calls and says, “I’m not coming in today.”
NW: Or your child misbehaves badly in front of people and you’re like, “Ooohh.”
VPW: Like it’s a reflection on you.
NW: And you go, “What have I done?”
You guys e-mailed a lot while Naomi was in Spain shooting the tsunami film The Impossible—in a pair of giant water tanks, right?
VPW: You were waterlogged. How many hours a day were you in the water?
NW: At least six. And I’m looking at the camera guys in the head-to-toe wetsuits, and I’m in my little beach outfit.
VPW: Did they heat the water?
NW: No. They do the half-in and half-out shots. And then there is the underwater one where we were thrown under the water and moving through hotel lobbies and things like that.
VPW: Wow, that would be really cool.
NW: There were rooms and furniture and things coming at you.
VPW: And they had to film all that? And you had furniture floating at you?
NW: Furniture, wires wrapped around your neck.
VPW: And you can only do like twenty seconds for a take, right?
NW: Exactly. The scuba equipment is underneath. You get in place, and they put you in this chair which is going to spin around, and then the camera is down there, too, and just before “Action,” you push away. But you still have to hold your breath for twenty seconds. It’s very scary.
How do you each deal with the media?
VPW: I’m in such awe. I don’t know how Naomi does this for a job. I find it extremely difficult. And she is always professional and gracious and has a thoughtful answer and it’s fresh every time. You know, I do this and I can go back to Santa Fe and do my thing.
NW: But so do Liev and I, by the way. This is not a natural state for us. We go back to normalcy in the privacy of our own home. But it’s never comfortable doing this side of things. Selling something doesn’t feel like a natural state for an actor. Although some are really good at it.
VPW: Do you think some people like it?
NW: Some do. I don’t know if they are the good ones.
VPW: What is it about that personality that can absorb and carry that?
NW: It’s a whole other art form. They are not connected, really. In fact, most actors are incredibly shy people, and they like to hide. It seems like a contradiction, but it’s true.
VPW: Do you think most actors are shy? And is it to overcompensate?
NW: Yeah, you know, and I’m exposing myself deeply here, but it is a need for validation. Definitely. Like, you know, in the sense of creating that family vibe on the film set.
VPW: It’s very much its own little world. Do you feel that with each film you have, that it creates its own little universe?
NW: Yeah, absolutely. It is. Every time you go and you’re as thick as thieves, and you are like, “I love you” and “We’ve got to stay in touch.” You know, all that eye contact and “This is a serious commitment!”
VPW: And do you?
NW: Rarely. [Laughs.] Sorry to say. But sometimes.
VPW: And the media, how do you deal with it with your children? My rage knew no limits.
NW: Liev knows how to deal with them better than me. We try to negotiate with them. He’ll say, “Okay, little bit of eye contact, we will give you a picture. Hang with us a few blocks, but then you must disappear.”
VPW: And they listen?
NW: Most of the time they will. Anyway, look, it’s not nearly as scary as what your life was out there in the field.
VPW: That all depends on your perspective. [Both laugh.]