Naomi Watts and John Curran Interviewed - 'The Painted Veil'
Posted by Frosty
The Painted Veil is a love story in reverse. The
film is based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham and
it’s about a young English couple, played by Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, who
move to China
in the 1920’s. The reason I said it’s a love story in reverse is the couple are
not in love when they get married. Well one of them was, but the other got
married for the wrong reason. It’s only when they move to a remote region and
discover who they really are that the love begins to grow in both of them.
If you are a fan of
Edward Norton, he’s once again great in this role. But for me to single out Mr.
Norton on his own would be a disservice to the rest of the cast. Performances
were great across the board, especially Naomi Watts. Also the film looks great
up on the big screen and it really reminded me of a classic Hollywood
Before getting to the interview I
would recommend watching the trailer
as it does a great job at showing you the lush locals in China that they
got to film in. Also the trailer doesn’t give the story away, it just provides
enough to know if you’ll be interested in this kind of movie.
So about a week ago Naomi Watts
and John Curran, her Director for The
Painted Veil, did a press conference to talk about their new movie. When it
started John was the only one there and as the interview went on Naomi showed
up and started to answer some questions. To make it as easy as possible I put
his responses in blue. Also if you missed the Edward
Norton interview you can read it here.
The Painted Veil will be
expanding in the coming weeks so look for it soon where you live.
Did you have to get permission from the Chinese Film Bureau before you started
Curran: Yeah. In
preproduction the deal came about that it was going to be a co-production
between Yari Film, Warner Independent and Warner China which is made up of
Warner China in a joint venture with China Film. That's a long way of
saying that China Film was involved in the production of the film and therefore
we had to adhere to certain kinds of restrictions I guess and satisfy their
concerns with the script, and so, look, also it's a PG-13 film and so there
were boundaries for the film that we had to adhere to for here. It all just
presented another set of concerns that we had to deal with. It's hard enough to
develop the script so that it's good and this was just more stuff that came
about that we had to deal with.
What kinds of boundaries?
Curran: You mean in
terms of them? I would say that they ranged from being like sort of travel log
concerns from presenting the country in a positive way to historical concerns,
political concerns, not wanting to talk about certain things, not wanting to
show crowds doing certain things because it might promote unhealthy crowd
behavior – stuff that we felt at times was commenting more on concerns that
were a contemporary context, their concerns anyway, and it had nothing to do historically
with what was going on in the story and whether that was correct or not. It was
simply concerns they had about how people would react to it today.
How do you get Naomi Watts and Ed Norton to come into the picture?
Curran: Well, the
script came to me already cast. I was really lucky and fortunate on this one.
I've known Naomi for a while, for a long time really and I used to live in Australia where
I met her. We did the film 'We Don't Live Here Anymore' a couple of years ago
and even at that point I knew she was considering this project. So I knew that
she had this kind of connection with this character of Kitty. It was only after
'We Don't Live Here Anymore' ended up at Warner Independent where
coincidentally this project had found a home that the studio contacted me to
read it with Naomi's blessing and then I met with Edward and we really hit it
off. So for me the hard part was already done.
This movie had a lot of strong relationships. Was that a change for you from your
Curran: Oh, yeah. I
think that cinematically there were probably similar things with like the
marital discord and a tragic romance. I mean, I guess my last couple of films,
clearly I haven't figured out love or relationships, but this one I was
attracted to as much as anything because of the dynamic of the two people. I
thought that there were a lot of sparks and fire and fun between Kitty and
Walter. Because it came to me already cast it was a movie that I wanted to see.
I wanted to Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in these roles. So that was one
particular reason that I did the film, those two people playing these two
characters. More so than anything else really.
What exactly does The Painted Veil refer to?
Curran: There is a quote,
I think, from a line of a poem in one of the editions. I did of research and
it's a Shelley poem and it's a poem called 'The Painted Veil.' What it refers
to is a guy who is brave enough to lift the veil that we call life and look
beyond that. He is inevitably broken hearted by what he finds, but he's a brave
person nonetheless for looking beyond the illusions. I think that there are
similar themes in the book. So that's the title.
Well, in France
the titles translates into 'The Veil of Illusions.'
Curran: How do you say
it though in French?
[pronounces it in French]
Curran: See, that
Watts: That sounds great [Laughs].
Curran: Might try that
There was talk about the production concerns of the movie, and then there are
also some moral and religious aspects to the movie. Can you talk about those?
Curran: Well, the moral
and religious things, that's where movies like that start to become preachy or
ponderous. What we loved about Diana Rigg was that she sort of subverted that
idea. We tried to bring a bit of her character into that role and she's a
pretty feisty and irreverent older woman. The political context, I think, was
simply just being there and absorbing through our contemporaries that we met
there a stronger feeling of what was going on in China in the '20's which was
ironically a really pivotal and important time in the Chinese Republican
history. Surprisingly, or maybe not, Somerset Maugham never touched on that at
all which shows his either lack of concern or his own arrogance, but we're
making a film that has to work on a lot more layers than the book.
Watts: The book was so interior and I think that with film you have to
layer in that external and extra thing. That's the backdrop in it and so the
political stuff in it makes it a lot more cinematic.
You changed your hair color for this movie. Was that your decision?
Watts: Yeah, it was. We fought
over it too.
Curran: We fought a lot
Watts: But actually in the end, well basically we arrived there and I
always saw Kitty as a brunette. I thought that she was somehow more exotic with
it and stronger and it felt very authentic to the period. John always saw Kitty
as a blonde and so we had two wigs made and we did camera tests.
Curran: No, we had the
one you wanted made and then we had a really bad wig made that was never going
to be the wig. I was totally conned and manipulated into it [Laughs].
Watts: [Laughs] But in the end, come on, you did go for it. I always said,
'It's up to you.' I'm always scared. I always start with a strong idea.
Curran: Then you lost
faith in it.
Watts: I always have strong ideas
and you fight for it and then suddenly everyone is going to go along with what
you've chosen and then you think, 'I hope that this is the right one.'
Curran: In my head I
had imagined this blonde standing out in the sea of dark haired Chinese. Maybe
that I had that idea in my head, but we talked about it and my feeling about
hairstyles and clothes and wigs is that if the actor has an instinct, to fight
that is sort of foolish. You kind of have to go along with it, and even though
aesthetically I had an opinion I do trust Naomi a lot. The thing is that she
was in New Zealand and she had it on and was saying that it looked fantastic
and that she felt really good in it, but I was in China and so I hadn't seen
it. So, suddenly, I got this thing in the mail, this mousy ball of hair and I'm
holding it up to like pictures of Naomi and I was like, 'I can't judge if this
any good or not.' So it was a bit of blind faith for me.
What was it like being over with the class distinction, or maybe it's not like
that over there, but you were portraying that? Was that awkward at all, having
your shoes polished for example or the rickshaw ride?
Watts: Yes, exactly. The audacity to be carried for two weeks across the
country by a team of people, and all she could think about was the fact that it
wasn't comfortable [Laughs]. It's ridiculous and that really comes across in
the film. But there were some great moments for utter frustration and then also
it's even quite comical at one point when they're sort of having that argument
when she's inside fanning herself and he's having this conversation through the
curtains. So it was a good element.
Did you feel emotionally beat up after this?
Watts: No, actually, I felt the opposite.
Curran: She arrived
emotionally beat up [Laughs].
Watts: And then I left emotionally inspired.
Curran: I think that all
of us, each in our own way, were all pretty rung out and she had just come off
of 'King Kong.'
Watts: Which was so physically draining which was eight months of fourteen
hours a day jumping and running and being punched and pushed and pulled. It
really did take its toll and I'm not a big person. So this was a luxury. So,
yeah, the emotional aspect of it was exhausting, but we had time. We actually
had quite a luxury of time and we moved from place to place.
Curran: Fortunately, we
did a lot of the heavier stuff because of the weather which required that we
shoot inside first and that meant that we did the meatier scenes in the very
first week. So, like literally the very first shot of the film that I did was
her arriving at the bungalow which is really when her character was at her
worst. It was hot and miserable at the studio. All of us were a bit freaked out
at being there, and fortunately I think that the process fed into, I think, the
film, but by the end of it was a really different experience for everyone I
What do you prefer to do, Naomi, the 'King Kong' type movies or films like
Curran: Oh, this one
definitely [Laughs]. That director was a hack.
Watts: They're so different and I probably never would've done 'King Kong'
without someone like Peter Jackson. It's just not like the stuff that I
normally gravitate towards, but it was a great experience and really just
different from what I've done. I do like the intimacy of an independent film
and the collaborative workspace. I mean, everyday we started with probably a
two hour discussion about how we felt that this scene should go. Sometimes
there would be disagreements and there were often three varying ideas to honor.
So there was something great about that that we did see when we looked at it in
different ways and sometimes the ideas we shared, and then other times not so
much. We just kind of played them all out. On a bigger movie it's a much more
controlled environment and there are so many other things going on particularly
on a film like 'King Kong' where there are FX to consider and stunts and all
kinds of other things. I'm fortunate to have been able to have done something
like that and then flip back to an independent film. Perhaps some thing that
might not have been so easy to get off the ground because the tone is too
obscure, things like 'King Kong' can help that.
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