British-born Australian resident NAOMI WATTS takes the lead in Mulholland Drive, playing wannabe film star Betty Elms and emerging a real-life star in the making. So what’s it like to work with David Lynch? Words: Miles Fielder
You were involved in Mulholland Drive from the outset, when it was a television pilot, and again when Lynch reshot half the film for the big screen.
It was a year and a half between both shooting times. It was a horrible j0urney. being so emotionally invested in this thing that didn't come to fruition. You feel a sense of failure when you go off the path. but we came back on it and it was a whole other path and feels like the right one. We did additional shooting that made the character more three dimensional. which was the best thing that could have happened for me in retrospect.
What was junked from the pilot and what was reshot?
David doesn't much like us to delineate which piece was coming from where. which was the TV and which was the film. I respect that because it takes away from the actual experience.
Many people find Lynch and his films infuriatingly obscure. What was your expeﬂence?
The script came in pieces. It feels scary. but he handles yOu with kid gloves. He encomages you that the place you're in. unknown as it is. is a good place and that we'll find our way together. But he really doesn't tell you what he's looking for.
Confusion is too per orative. like you're on your own. and it was never that way. Searching. perhaps. I trusted him impIiCitIy. He gently coerces you in a direction until yOu understand. YOu have a lot of questions. but you learn to stop asking them because he answers With a whole lot of other information that makes you ask more questions. He
Drive, . she said
wants you to think. to bring something to the creative pot. He works with intuition and he believes we have absolute understanding and truth within us all about everything. but it's up to us to accessit
Your character starts out as something of an anachronism. Were you encouraged to play the part in a dated style?
Not encouraged. but I could tell in the writing — her name is Betty Elms. she wants to be a movie star — and you can tell from meeting David what influences him. You're in his world. so youve got to learn abOut it. He's a guy who grew up in the 503. knows about the mythology of Hollywood in the 40s. So you know what he's go:ng for without specific instruction. Also. the wardrobe and the way he lights the set put yOu in the place.
So, how did you develop the character? Well. for example. David said. 'Don't worry abOut dOing an accent. just do it in yOur own voice.” But the writing is very Americana. so I wasn't gomg to do my own v0ice. I did what I always do when I spoke to him and neutralised my accent. He loved that. He said: 'You sound like youre in the old mOVIes. Naomi.' And on the day. just five minutes before we rolled. he said: ‘You're from Deep River, Ontario.‘ So that’s where Betty's from. Fine.
Though you’ve had a number of notable parts, in Flirting, Tank Girl, BBC’s The Wyvern Mysteries, you’ve yet to experience breakthrough success. Do you imagine Mulholland Drive opening doors for you?
It has already. Though you get that a few times in yOur career before yOu actually get it. They say: ‘This is going to be the one." So I'm cynical. but I'm also now seeing it for the first time. Right now. I‘ve got four things to consider. I can't do all of them. but SIX months ago I would have begged to do all of them. It is quite an overwl'ielming thing. My problem used to be when am I gomg to get another job? The angst that goes with that is torture. Now. it's torturous deciding which is the right project: do I go for a mOVie that's going to give me viSibility or do I go for a small thing that's gOing to creatively satisfy me?
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Choice chunks of David Lynch philosophy.
! ‘I sort of go by a duck when | work on a film because if you study a duck, you’ll see certain things. You’ll see a bill, and the bill is a certain texture and a certain length. Then you’ll see a head. and the features on the head are a certain texture and it’s a certain shape and it goes into the neck . . . And the key to the whole duck is the eye and where the eye is placed. And it has to be placed in the head and it’s the most detailed, and it’s like a little jewel. And if it was fixed, sitting on the bill, it would be two things that were too busy, battling: they would not do so well. And if it was sitting in the middle of the body, it would get lost. But it’s so perfectly placed to show off a jewel right in the middle of the head . . . so when you’re working on a film, a lot of times you can get the bill and the legs and the body and everything, but this eye of the duck is a certain scene, this jewel, that if it’s there, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s just fantastic.’
ta ‘Film exists because we can go and have experiences that would be pretty dangerous or strange for us in real life . . . if we didn’t want to upset anyone, we would make films about sewing, but even that could be dangerous.’
‘Somewhere we’re all connected off in some very abstract land. But somewhere between there and here ideas exist. And I think the mind isn’t conscious enough to go all the way to where we’re connected, but it’s conscious of a certain amount of that territory. And when these ideas fly into the conscious part, then you can capture them. Sometimes an idea will strike you when you’re sitting in a quiet chair. But sometimes an idea will strike you when you’re standing. Sometimes music will also help you . . . there’s no rhyme or reason to it.’
‘In Hollywood more often than not, they’re making more kind of traditional films, stories that are understood by people . . . but what’s so fantastic is to get down into areas where things are abstract and where things are felt, or understood in an intuitive way that you can’t, you know, put a microphone to somebody at the theatre and say: “Did you understand that?”’
lat ‘I don’t think that people accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense. It seems like religion and myth were invented against that, trying to make sense out of it.’
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