Soft spoken and unassuming, Emily Watson a consummate actor’s actor sat down with our group of 20 bloggers in New York the day after we attended the premiere of War Horse for an interview. Sitting around a board room table in the Disney New York offices, Watson was poised and without pretense as she sat down to answer our questions. From her role as mother to her two children, to her work with various directors, we asked questions that YOU, our readers would want to know.
Q : What was the most memorable part of shooting the film?
Emily Watson: Uh, I don’t know if any of you know Dartmore, have you ever been to England, been, no? OK, it’s the most beautiful part of the country. It’s, uh, in the southwest, it’s in the county of Devon which is very fecund and rich and it’s a real, you know, food producing, very traditional, cream and honey and eggs and, you know, it’s really, uh, but in the middle of it is, is this moorland called Dartmore which there are, you can stand on it and not be able to see any sign of human habitation whatsoever. With these ancient outcrops of rock. Uh, so that, that was pretty special to be there. Uh, but getting a call from Steven Spielberg is, is not a bad day. It’s not a bad day.
Q : How did you get involved with the project?
Emily Watson : I got the call. Uh, I, my agent rang me, he’s, uh, Steven Spielberg’s doing WARHORSE and I’d seen the play in London at the National. And I went and had tea with him. At Claridge’s. And he said, I’d like you to do this. And I was, ooh. Uh, it was pretty exciting.
Q : What is your favorite scene in the movie?
Emily Watson : I think the no-man’s land sequence. Where, when those young boys are running through the, you know, they go over the top and they’re running through and then there’s the gas and then the horses, all that sequence is so powerful. I, it, you know, it’s the film to me then suddenly elevates into something else. It’s like, that war is kind of, people are forgetting about it. And it, it’s the worst episode in human history in terms of loss of life. I think. I mean, don’t quote me on that, but I mean, it is, it is so horrific and so pointless, that war. And the real film really gets that I think.
Q : How do you juggle being a mother with your film work?
Emily Watson : Well, the longest I’ve ever been away was three weeks. And that was a disaster. It was really, really horrible. And before that it’s only ever been a week. Uh, so we, it’s really a logistical nightmare. We, it was much easier before Juliet my daughter was in school and I used to just take them with me everywhere and, which was great. And I have the best nanny in the universe, she’s absolutely brilliant. She’s very flexible, she’ll, she lives in while I’m away, she doesn’t live in when I’m there. But, and then she’ll pack a bag and come to Poland or Australia or, you know, she’s, and my husband, uh, is fantastic with the kids. And he works from home. And you know, so we somehow always manage to make it work. But my, you know, it very much, it, it’s the first question I ask when a job comes up is, where, how long? You know, does it match the school holidays, can we, you know, can they fly us, well you know, it’s obviously that’s how it’s gotta be.
Q : What is your greatest accomplishment as a mother?
Emily W : Uh, I think that, well you, you, your children kind of learn things from you by osmosis, don’t they, there are things that you don’t realize that you’re doing that are good. And I went in to school a few weeks ago and had a meeting with the teacher, you know, one of those, you know. And she said, you have a lot of books in your house, don’t you? And I was like, yeah, how’d you, she said, Juliet is just absorbing stories and literature from you having a lot of books and reading a lot in the house. And I, it had never really occurred to me that that was in any way unusual or, you know, but she said it’s really, really a thing. So. I, I guess that’s something we’re doing right. It’s hard, though, isn’t it?
Q : Have your kids seen WAR HORSE?
Emily Watson : They’re too young now, I think I might let them when they, they let, maybe the first 20 minutes and then enough.
Q : You’ve worked with everyone from Robert Altman to Lars von Trier and now Steven Spielberg. How did you find Steven Spielberg as a director compared to other directors you’ve worked with?
Emily Watson : It’s totally different every time you do it, just have to say Robert Altman, what an amazing man. What an amazing, privileged to have known him let alone have worked with him. He was, he was, uh, so young at heart. Right until the end of his life. He was 78 when we did GOSFORD PARK. And he kind of, you know, he adopts people, me and my husband he just kind of went, hey guys, come on in, be part of my life, be part of my family. And he, he was sort of just wicked and naughty and funny and, uh, very democratic. Very irreverent. Uh. Just a really fantastic thing to have had in my life.
Uh, Lars Von Trier, [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]. I mean, as an actress that was the most incredible experience and I didn’t really know what acting was before I did that. And he kind of, the way that he works, he allows you to go to extremes. Uh, not in a dangerous way. But, but it, it’s just so all consuming. And, excuse me, all this horrible toddler, uh, just endless coughs and colds in my house. Uh. Yeah, he allows you to go to a place that’s really, uh, very extreme. And that’s such a stretch as an actress.
Uh, but, but Steven Spielberg, very different again, you know, [COUGHS] there’s a huge unit, there’s massive crew, but [COUGHS] I’m so sorry. I’ve just been talking about myself endlessly for days. Uh, no, Steven is, you know, it’s a, you know, he’s obviously done a lot of incredible technical feats and he’s a great action director, but he’s still very focused on performance. But I’d say the thing that those three very, very different people have in common is that they are all completely compelled to tell stories.
And would probably die if they didn’t. I think, you know, that it’s, you know, it’s like a calling. Uh. You know, Robert Altman was like, vacation, why’d you wanna vacation for, you know, it’s like, he’d be just on to the next, on to the next, on to the next.
Q : Were you familiar with this story prior to doing the movie?
Emily Watson : I saw the stage show in London. And I was eight months pregnant. And you know what that’s like. So after, after about ten seconds, I turned to my husband and I said, I don’t think I’m gonna get through this. Uh. Yeah, it’s very emotional thing, but it’s, I kind of think he’s, although despite it being a big, lush, beautiful, a kid’s, you know, a boy in love with a horse and their great adventure. It’s kind of an anti-war film for kids as well, I think. It’s, in a very, very simple way, like, you know, war is inhumane. And the way we treat animals reveals our humanity. You know, it’s a very simple thing.
Q : Do your kids understand what you do?
Emily Watson : Kind of. They, I haven’t made many movies that they can see. Uh, they, they’ve seen THE WATER HORSE. Uh, but they’re kind of just, they’re not really that interested. I mean, my, my daughter occasionally will say something, really like, you know, we were in Mexico, the kids came out to Mexico with me and we were driving along and there were some people waving from the side of the road, and she said, Mummy, you have to wave to them ‘cause they know you’re famous. No, no. But they’re not, she’s, they’re not really that aware of it, and I, I, this world of doing all this is totally separate from my home. And, uh, I, I run around in London incognito and don’t, just don’t bother. And I don’t let it be a thing.
Q : What is the difference in perception of you in London compared to New York?
Emily Watson : Uh, I think I get recognized in London but people are very British and just leave you alone. You know. Uh, but also when I come here, it’s because I’m here to do a whole press thing and people know that you’re coming and it’s just, you know, you’re all got your armor on and your makeup and it’s all about that. So it feels, it feels, I feel very, you know, I feel the attention here. Uh, I guess if you want attention you get it. And if you don’t, you don’t. So I’m very lucky that I’m in a kind of zone where I can dip in and out. Very fortunate, yeah.
Q : What is your favorite thing to do on your down time?
Emily Watson : You know what I love doing is, when I was a kid, I was really good artist, I was, I painted. And I actually won the school art competition and my teacher wanted me to go to art school and I just kind of fell out of it. And it just sort of went away. And you know, and I ended up doing this. And now I’ve got kids. I am painting, you know, with them, and I’m making taxis out of Wheat-A-Bits boxes and, you know, doing all that stuff. But I love it. You know. Doing all the creative stuff. I absolutely love doing that.
Q : What advice would you give on how to balance a successful career and being a mom?
Emily Watson : It’s so hard. I just say, give yourself a break ‘cause it’s really hard. And don’t believe it when you think other people are making a success of it and it’s all smooth and easy ‘cause it isn’t. You know, it’s really, uh, it just feels like there’s never enough of you to go around. And sleep? But hey, I am having my cake and eating it, so. I’m very lucky.
Q : What projects do you have upcoming?
Emily Watson : Uh, I’ve just finished doing this thing in Mexico. Uh, which is called LITTLE BOY. And it’s about a kid in, uh, California in the Second World War. Whose father is in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. And he thinks that he has magic powers. And can bring him home. Through his magic powers. It’s, I don’t know if anybody saw a film called BELLA, did you see BELLA? It’s that director. And, uh, it’s very different from BELLA. Uh, very interesting. Uh, so we’ve just wrapped that. And I’m doing a few days on ANNA KARENINA. In London. Yeah, which could be very interesting, it’s, uh, Joe Wright. Is directing it. And it’s the entire piece set inside a theatre. So all the scenes take place in a theater and it’s got lots of dancing in it, so as my mother-in-law would say, that’s different. [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] She says quite a lot about a lot of the things that I do.
Q : Do you have any aspirations to do comedic work?
Emily Watson : I do, I’d love to. Nobody ever asks me. I have no sense of humor whatsoever. I’m a very serious European actress. No, I have done little bits and pieces. I did a film called WA-WA. Uh, written and directed by Richard E. Grant. Do you know who he is? Oh, he’s just fantastic. Uh. And I did a film, and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE is kind of a comedy. You know, and with Adam, Adam Sandler, you know, it’s, uh, that was pretty cool. I’d love to do more of that stuff. But I never get asked.
Q : What is the draw for a particular film for you?
Emily Watson : I guess I’m sort of at the stage in my life where it’s what I do, and it’s how I feed my family. You know, that’s, at the moment that’s what compels me is like, ok, so if, if in my fantasy life I stay home and I write, uh, but I do love, love, love acting. And I think if I don’t do it, I get kind of, all my wires start going wrong, you know, I, I need it now, I need it, it’s like a, it’s like an athlete. Who needs to train. Otherwise you kind of feel wrong. Uh.
But I don’t have that, oh my God, I’ve gotta be, you know, I’ve gotta be, I don’t have that sort of really driven ambition. That I guess you need to compel you into the, uh, it’s a balancing act, I think.
Q : How long did it take to film WAR HORSE?
Emily Watson : WAR HORSE? Two weeks. Two and a half, three weeks. Three weeks, no, three weeks, not long. Yeah, no, uh, we were at the easy bit, I think, the trenches and all that was a huge, huge undertaking and that, that stuff, doing all that stuff with the horses dragging the, uh, machine guns up the hill, and no-man’s land with all that wire and everything. Without harming a single horse. Was an incredibly complex operation. Uh, and they, you know, they did it really carefully but it was, you know, I read, when I read the script, I went, oh my God, I know it’s Spielberg, but how the – are they gonna?
Q : How many Joeys were there?
Emily Watson : There were actually 14 Joeys. But they’re all [OVERLAPS]. But they’re all superstars. Those horses, they’re like, you know, Seabiscuit and Black Beauty and, you know, they’re really amazing. Amazing horses. And all the boys did, uh, you know, two months training. I mean, they had to learn to, some of them to ride in the first place. But to do a full cavalry charge. Galloping. With a saber. Like that. I mean, that is, I, I found that, just the idea of it completely terrifying, if anything had gone wrong, it would have been carnage. But I guess they just, the way, I asked them about it and they said they just set it up in such a way that they, everybody was so safe, it really was safe. But it’s incredible. I mean, it’s incredible sequence.
Q : It’s such an intelligently shot film.
Emily Watson : Yeah, but also that, that’s like a moment in, that’s a turning point in history. When the, when the cavalry faced machine guns for the first time, that was like, the world will never be the same again. You know, you know, the officer who has qualms about attacking them if they don’t know we’re coming. You know, this sort of chivalry of war. Gone. Yeah.
My take: The first thing that I notice about people are their hands and the way that they use them. Although the subject never came up, her hand motions were expressive and fluid, like those of a dancer (making me wish that I had asked her if she had dance training). Her quiet, reserved manner is quintessentially British, yet she is very approachable. While interviews are not usually my favorite part of events like this, I thoroughly enjoyed this interaction between this group of bloggers and one of the finest character actors working in film today.
Mark your calendars NOW, as War Horse comes to theaters on Christmas Day.
Thank you to Disney, Ms. Watson, Marshall W. and Mr. Spielberg for an enchanting weekend.
Photo credit: Louise Bishop from MomStart and DreamWorks