Watts, who portrays The Rings
profoundly creeped-out reporter-protagonist
Rachel Keller, still sounds plenty sore at the
ABC execs who axed her Mulholland Dr.
didnt make any sense to me. We shot the
[Mulholland pilot] script. We didnt
create something other than what was there,
insists Watts. They went, David
Lynch. Yes. This makes sense. We did it before
[with Lynchs ABC drama Twin Peaks],
lets do it again. We believe in the material.
then when they saw it, they balked. They panicked.
irony, of course, is that had the network embraced
Lynchs 1999 pilot and greenlit a Mulholland
TV series, its far less likely that Watts would
now be one of the most sought-after movie actresses
on the planet.
transforming chain of events is well-documented. Some
time after the network passed on Mulholland,
Lynch wrote, shot and added to the pilot about 45
minutes of new footage generously peppered with R-rated
dialogue, nudity, sex, violence and general weirdness.
two young women at the center of the pilot
wide-eyed aspiring starlet Betty Elms (Watts), and
the beautiful amnesia victim she tries to help (Laura
Harring) are central to the Mulholland
movie as well, but in the feature their platonic friendship
quickly escalates into a steamy lesbian love affair.
If the films sudden embrace of graphic sapphic
interludes was not enough to disorient, Betty and
the amnesic Rita mysteriously seem to disappear into
a parallel dimension for the last half-hour of the
film, replaced by two entirely different characters
played by Watts and Harring.
hit U.S. screens on Oct. 12 of last year and ultimately
garnered a modest domestic gross of $7.2 million
but the repurposed project also met with an enormous
swell of critical acclaim. Watts, for her part, was
named the years best actress by the National
Society of Film Critics, the Online Film Critics Society,
and the Chicago Film Critics Association. The National
Board of Review hailed her work as the years
best breakthrough performance by an actress.
The San Diego Film Critics Society and the Las Vegas
Film Critics Society awarded her best supporting actress
honors. The American Film Institute named her female
actor of the year.
actress unconventional ascension came at an
Drive To Mulholland.
Born in Shoreham, England, to a showbiz family (mom
was an actress, dad was a sound engineer for Pink
Floyd), Watts moved to Australia at 14 and soon began
taking roles in locally-made commercials, movies and
TV shows. In 1994 she traveled to the American Southwest
for her first major Hollywood role, dying her blonde
locks jet black to essay Lori Pettys shy sidekick,
Jet Girl, in the sci-fi comedy Tank Girl.
was sufficiently encouraged to relocate permanently
to Los Angeles but much of the subsequent stateside
work she found was in forgettable TV-movies like A
Christmas Wish and straight-to-video fare like
Children of the Corn IV. In 1997 she landed
a starring role in Sleepwalkers, a network
sci-fi series about dream researchers, but NBC cancelled
it after airing only a handful of episodes.
TV project, the one that would change her life, came
virtually out of the blue. Writer-director Lynch,
who likes to cast from photographs, picked Watts
head-shot out of a casting stack without benefit of
having seen any of her work. She got the Mulholland
call while visiting her mother and brother in New
York. A fan of Lynchs work, she was quick to
fly home to Los Angeles, where she met with the filmmaker
in the jeans she wore on the plane.
his casting director and Watts chatted amiably, avoiding
shop-talk, and Lynch gave the actress a hug on the
way out. She was asked to meet with Lynch the next
day in glammed up mode, so she visited
her hairdresser and greeted him in a tight dress and
heels. More chitchat ensued, only this time Watts
got a script to take home. She was offered the role
of Betty two weeks later.
was the easiest role Ive ever gotten, and obviously
the best role. I didnt audition, she says.
Normally, you have to jump through hoops in
order to get these roles, and always the good roles
go to the stars. But I just sat down with David a
couple of times and just talked to him and he offered
me the role. I thought I was the luckiest girl in
Theres Going To Be Nudity!
Watts loved making the Mulholland pilot
and was disheartened when it failed to make the network
schedule. Subsequent plans to turn the pilot into
a movie seemed tentative at best.
was going to be something and then not about five
times, Harring told the Village Voice. We
were on a roller-coaster ride for years. And one day
David called us over to his house and said, Mulholland
Dr. is going to be an international feature
film. And theres gonna be nudity! So were
all shaking his hand, but were like, Theres
going to be what?
to confirm Harrings tale, Watts says her memories
may be fuzzier. I was at a meeting with the
three of us. I dont know if that was the same
meeting, but hes a bit of a jokester, David.
And we had been through so much turmoil as to what
this project would be or become and each piece of
information never coming to fruition or contradicting
the last one and it just was exhausting. It was so
exhausting. And then finally just as I was about to
completely check out from being invested in it in
any way, I got a phone call from David saying it was
gonna be a feature and I was like, Are you sure?
Please David, I cant take this anymore.
when we went up to his house we had to read the script
together you know, like turning the pages together
because he wouldnt let it out of his house
and he told us there was going to be nudity. But I
did negotiate him down from three naked scenes to
Watts aware of the enormous unspoken sexual attraction
between Betty and Rita when she shot the TV pilot?
I didnt have any idea, she admits.
But Bettys such a good girl, I knew as
I was turning the pages of the script that something
was going to happen. We didnt know that I was
going to fall in love with, or have sexual relations
with, Laura Harrings character, but I knew Betty
was going to go into some weird, dark and demented
she politely ask Lynch why she was suddenly playing
a troubled actress named Diane Selwyn as well as Betty
Elms? I would try and get bits of information
out of him, but after a few weeks of working with
David I realized it was beating a dead horse. Hes
not going to give you anything. He wants the mystery
to be there, not just for the audience members but
for the people who are there creating the story with
him. So I stopped asking questions and just trusted
she derived enormous creative satisfaction from completing
the movie version, Watts was paid only scale to star
in the new Mulholland footage and
her finances were rapidly becoming an issue.
Id lost my health insurance because I
was not earning money in this country, she says.
I was flat broke and going out auditioning for
pilots, and some pretty shocking ones. I think I auditioned
for about six or seven and they were probably the
best of that year. A lot of them are on TV right now.
Thank God I didnt get any of them!
the actress would have been grateful for a regular
TV paycheck at the time, being contractually bound
to a series today would mean turning down a lot more
of the big-deal movies shes being offered.
one was capable of casting me [at the post-Mulholland
pilot auditions] because I was horrendous! But its
just so funny, in retrospect: I was looking after
myself somehow. Because otherwise Id be stuck
in some miserable TV show, playing the same character
every day and getting phone calls from people saying
Oh you were great in that movie, could you do
this? Oh, you cant?
The Ring, her splashy new horror-suspense
epic for DreamWorks, is the first of her post-Mulholland
projects to see release and reaches American moviehouses
on Oct. 18 almost exactly one year after Mulholland
did. She marvels at how radically things have changed
for her over the past 12 months.
life has gotten really big, and I almost dont
quite know how to handle it. My phone rings now, it
never used to. It rings off the hook. I am working
non-stop and really on the best projects.
since I took The Ring, things have changed.
It keeps mutating into something bigger and better
in terms of whos approaching me now. I just
feel very, very lucky.
everything she was offered when Mulholland
finally arrived, what made her decide on The
thought, a) yes, [The Ring] was an incredibly
good idea, but b) the character is really strong in
terms of what she has to go through. In Mulholland
Dr. I was the crazy girl and the extreme opposite,
the sweetest girl on the planet, and both ending up
seeming slightly insane.
contrast, her Ring character, she says,
is just an ordinary girl in a pretty extraordinary
situation. She goes through quite a transformation
as well, which you dont always get in a horror
film. She starts out as very focused on results, you
know, work work work. And shes a mother, and
as far as she knows everything is existing perfectly
well, because her sons doing well at school;
hes not acting out in any way. Its not
till the end of the movie that you realize that maybe
she hasnt been such a good mother. Its
about asking questions and being in the journey and
not just focusing on the results and goals.