Naomi Watts Reveals Why She Wanted The Physical And Emotional Challenges Of The Desperate Hour – Exclusive Interview
Naomi Watts has a talent for making characters in overwhelming distress highly relatable, as she’s consistently demonstrated in roles such as a grief-stricken drug addict in 2003’s “21 Grams,” a determined tsunami survivor in 2012’s “The Impossible,” and a paralyzed mother who takes in an injured magpie in 2020’s “Penguin Bloom.” Continuing in that tradition, she gives a harrowing performance in “The Desperate Hour” as Amy Carr, a recently widowed woman frantic to reach her son after learning there’s been a shooting at his high school as she’s jogging in the woods.
For most of the film, Watts’ Amy is the only character seen on screen and her phone is her only connection to the world beyond the woods, yet the story still feels incredibly full due to Watts’ devastating turn, which deftly conveys everything a parent who’s terrified for her child would feel. Through Watts, the film puts a sympathetic human face on a tragedy that’s become all too common in America and drives home the message of the importance of preventing future school shootings.
In an exclusive conversation with Looper, Watts explained why she wanted to be part of “The Desperate Hour,” how being a parent herself impacted her understanding of the story, and the physical and emotional challenges of playing her distraught character.
A “necessary” story
What drew you to “The Desperate Hour?”
I worked with Chris Sparling before on a movie, who’s the writer, and he approached me and asked me to read it and I found the story very compelling and obviously very familiar, which is sad to say. It made it necessary for me because I wanted to know what it would be to live in that situation, in the shoes of a parent who’s going through that moment. As confronting and difficult as that may be for me to play it and for an audience to absorb it, hopefully it helps us understand how big this is and how awful and unimaginable it is, and senseless.
Now you yourself are a parent to, I believe, two teenage children. Did that impact the way you looked at this story?
There’s nothing you can do as a parent when your child is in the danger. Thankfully, I haven’t been in anything like this, but even the smallest things, you’re constantly on edge from the day they can walk and talk, or the day they come back from the hospital, I should say. Are they breathing? The stairs, the pool, whatever it is. Watch the roads, the traffic. You’re constantly dealing with those kind of challenges, and the idea that they’re not safe in their own school, an innocent place where they’re there purely to learn, is mind boggling.
A demanding performance
This performance looks really challenging. You’re on screen, alone, jogging and distressed for almost the entire film. It looks physically and emotionally draining. What was the experience of stepping into the shoes of this character day after day of filming?
It was definitely a huge undertaking for me. I knew the physical side of things and the emotional side of things from the research but, yes, as you said, day after day, your body does break down. We discovered very early on that the best way to shoot it was to do these really long takes that meant I was covering two or three miles of ground and that I was doing 12 or 15 pages of dialogue. That all added to the chaos and the drama and the tension and the unraveling of one’s emotions. It was more than I imagined, and I imagined a lot and I certainly prepared for a lot, but the body doesn’t work in the way that it used to, that’s for sure.
They had a physical therapist on the set, because suddenly my calves would lock up or I’d have a knot or something. There was this woman who was so fantastic, who would work on my body. If it wasn’t with her own hands, it was with a Theragun, one of those things that’s like a jackhammer that would beat out a knot.
This interview was edited for clarity.
The Desperate Hour is now playing in theaters, and is available digitally and on demand for rental or purchase.