Doug Liman Blog: Sean Penn Has the Movie Star Role But Naomi Watts’ Steely Performance May Be Her Finest Yet

Posted on: May 19th, 2010 by Doug Liman 4 Comments

I’ve just seen Naomi for the first time since my arrival at Cannes. I’ve been quoted talking about Naomi, saying that I think this may be her finest performance yet. I think the reason I feel that way is because her role in this film as Valerie Plame is a truly challenging role because NOCs (Non-official cover – government intelligence operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without official ties to their government) are wallflowers by nature and are usually understated and quiet. They want be the least interesting person in the room and want to learn about you without you learning about them. Traditionally, this is not the type character that audiences fall in love with, or want to follow. Audiences want emotive characters, who are interesting to watch. This was a bit of an issue with the characters (Naomi’s in particular) in Fair Game, especially with the producers who were more hell-bent on me doing more traditional emotion with her. I felt very strongly that I wanted her to keep the steel exterior that is so honest to that type of person in real life and the fact that I didn’t have to relent is exactly why I think Naomi’s performance is so extraordinary. I was able to be totally true to that steel façade and still create a character that is completely compelling, that you empathize with and you root for. And at the same time, you’re infuriated by her because she just has this steely exterior and won’t let you through it. We’ll see from this point forward whether my choice to insist on this detail was it was the right call.

It would have been easy to create a fiction that Naomi’s Valerie is an emotional NOC. That she has this steely exterior but when she comes home and she’s something else. In fiction you can make up anything, but I actually spent time around the real Val and found her completely compelling as a person and she kept that façade no matter what she was doing and I wanted Naomi Watts’ character to follow suit. In Fair Game though, it’s the Joe Wilson character that is the more movie star role, because he is loud, colorful, charismatic and opinionated. It’s no wonder why Sean Penn, after winning an academy award, picked this character over the hundreds of others he was offered, because Joe Wilson is an amazing character with the kinds of traits that are appealing to a masculine movie star. And Valerie is a little bit of a cipher and to make matters worse, Naomi Watts has to be on the screen with Sean Penn, while he’s getting to play this incredibly colorful, charismatic character and she has to play the cipher and somehow still steel the movie because it is her movie, it’s the Valerie Plame story. The movie starts with her, the movie ends with her but in between she shares the screen with Sean Penn, who is delivering an amazing performance as an incredibly colorful character, and she succeeds.

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4 Responses

  1. [...] for Watts’ remote interpretation, presenting a very convincing case on his blog at 30 Ninjas. The director’s rationale for Watts’ demeanor is so well-argued, I think it deserves a [...]

  2. richardM says:

    Thank you very much for a wonderful movie and a great role for Naomi Watts whom I hope will get what she deserves at this forth-coming awards season. Very good work indeed.

  3. NYC Flux says:

    ” It’s no wonder why Sean Penn, after winning an academy award, picked this character over the hundreds of others he was offered, because Joe Wilson is an amazing character with the kinds of traits that are appealing to a masculine movie star.”

    …and you might want to add Sean’s penchant for political theatrics (as part of his motivation).

    Looking forward to seeing the movie in NYC.

  4. Cool topic. I generally want to read as much about this as I can.

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