There are many words I could use to describe Naomi Watts, but the one that feels most apt and less obvious is “unflappable.”
The summer morning of our interview is a testament to her tranquility. Not even Mercury in retrograde could take the blame for all of the smoke alarms in her Tribeca home simultaneously deciding to go off at once (nor the workers stomping in and out trying to remedy the situation).
Meanwhile, her rescue dog, Izzy, is zooming around, chewing things, getting into trouble. Trying to find a quiet place to think — never mind to talk — seems virtually impossible. Yet here she is, calm and quietly elegant, flawless in a simple black jumper, all casually tousled flaxen locks, minimal makeup (lipstick, blush and eyebrow pencil) and glowing, radiant skin.
Damn Watts and her perfection. Sigh.
I kid. But hey, this very imperturbability is partially why the two-time Oscar nominee is so successful. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and whatever she does, she does with conviction. Which is, essentially, the reason we’re Zooming in the midst of her current state of chaos: devotion and dedication to her non-movie-related role as acting cofounder of clean beauty retailer ONDA.
ONDA Beauty was first conceived in 2016 by her friends and business partners Larissa Thomson, a former fashion editor, and Sarah Bryden-Brown, a journalist, author and start-up founder. They began doing pop-ups in private homes, educating beauty enthusiasts on the efficacy of nontoxic ingredients, before launching their online collective of cult products, which has gained slow and steady traction. A brick-and-mortar boutique on West Broadway (albeit with a totally Tulum feel, in line with the translation of the brand’s name, Spanish for “wave”) soon followed, as did a second location in Hamptons hot spot Sag Harbor and a third in Sydney, Australia. By then, their small but mighty collective had blossomed into the go-to digital space for natural beauty needs, with an ever-evolving rotation of hot new (and sometimes completely unheard-of) products.
Watts became a convert during ONDA’s early days, after having forgotten her toiletry bag at home during a weekend at Thomson’s home in upstate New York. Rummaging around her friend’s medicine cabinet introduced her (organically) to a new world of green and clean.
Turning to nontoxic products was an evolution her routine would have likely undergone regardless, given that she’s always been into natural and unprocessed things. “I’m a child of the ’70s, and I was raised by a woman [British antiques dealer and costumer/set designer Myfanwy Edwards] who was burning her bra, baking her own bread, making her own clothes and only eating whole foods — brown bread, brown rice, brown flour. Everything was health-conscious. So this became my natural comfort zone,” she says, adding, “I was raised on those things, so even when I crave foods, what I want is mostly healthy.” (She says mostly because she was raised in the United Kingdom and has an affinity for distinctly unhealthy British crisps, known elsewhere as potato chips. “I have my guilty pleasures as well!” she declares.)
And while the partners are still plotting to expand both nationally and globally, the pandemic temporarily thwarted their plans for a more consistent rollout. “We had literally just opened the doors in [London’s Notting Hill neighborhood] — it was still in its infancy — and unfortunately, because [the city went into quarantine three times because of Covid], it was more than our little baby could handle at that point in time. Sadly, we had to close the doors, which was heartbreaking. It was possibly our most beautiful store.”
Which isn’t to say that the other locations aren’t stunning. The busy Sag Harbor location in particular has a darling “great village” vibe, full of driftwood touches and with white walls. In addition to its slew of skincare and haircare products, the boutique also focuses on superfoods, pet products and sexual-health items. Each destination has a different in-store treatment menu, as well. What sets Sag Harbor apart is its intuitive readings with psychic Christina McMahon; cool and unusual treatments like energy healing, a CBD wellness massage and wood therapy are available at both New York locations.
And so, despite the British boutique’s closure, ONDA isn’t going anywhere (though Watts does say another international location isn’t in the cards for the time being; instead, an American opening in a smaller city will likely be the next move). And Watts is choosing to look at the big picture in relation to her business. “If there is any silver lining of what happened in the last year, it’s that people are now thinking more consciously,” she says. “They had that moment of pausing, and in that moment reflected on what they’re putting into their system. The consumer is examining the label and saying, ‘What’s the whole story? Not just the ingredients, but who are the founders? How was the product made?’”
She adds, “There was a period in time where people were feeling, ‘It’s all about digital only,’ and there’s a lot of truth to that. People do want to get their hands on things in the easiest, fastest way. But at the same time — and again, from Covid — I think people are looking for that experiential vibe: to be able to get into a space, feel the charm and connect with people. I think the beauty of a small boutique experience is really valuable right now. It’s special, and we’re proud of that. We also have an educated staff who take their time explaining why each product is the right fit for each person’s unique needs.”
Like all of us, the 52-year-old actress has her perceived imperfections, as well as things she’d prefer to focus on enhancing over others. “I’m big on eyebrows,” she notes. “That’s my one thing, because I’m quite fair, and sometimes I’ll even color them.”
She’s a makeup girl in general, which is a good thing, given the nature of her day job. Beauty has always been a big part of her life. Getting glam for red carpets and putting on pancake set makeup comes with the territory, although because this is her reality, she chooses to streamline and simplify her typical daily routine. “I am into makeup, but I like to give myself a break when I’m not working, because obviously it’s nice when your skin can breathe,” she admits. This is why her ride-or-die ONDA products tend to be lighter and fresher, like Beauty Counter’s Dew Skin tinted moisturizer and pal Monika Blunder’s Blunder Cover all-in-one foundation/concealer.
Constantly trying out new products has its benefits, clearly, yet Watts is pragmatic about her choices. “During Covid, there was definitely a drop in makeup sales, with everyone staying home or being under a mask and not being able to try things on when you did go into a store. But now we’re seeing it come back. Everybody’s ready to put the lipstick back on and put some color in their cheeks.”
She includes herself here, but she also confides that her personal beauty journey begins within. “Feeling truly connected to my center is always going to make me feel like the best version of myself,” she says. “Yes, having great hair and makeup is going to make you feel better, but truthfully, beauty starts from the inside. Being comfortable in your own skin is always the best way to feel your most beautiful, I think.”
It isn’t always easy to get to that comfort level. She says she does so by “just having my head right, which, obviously, is a day-by-day thing. It’s not like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m in a great space, and this is how it’s going to be every day.’ There’s always going to be a new set of challenges thrown at you, and it’s how you deal with them that creates a ripple effect.”
If her home situation seems temporarily chaotic, it’s not even remotely close to Naomi Watts’s past year — or the one that’s coming, for that matter. Like all of us, she’s been enduring some pandemic-related life changes. (However, like hardly any of us, she seems to be shooting more films than ever, too. Covid-compliantly, natch.)
“I mean, there were ups and downs. And obviously, I’m a whole lot more fortunate than lots of people, but of course I still struggled,” she says. “There was just that feeling of being disconnected from your loved ones, the not knowing, the anxiety — how long is this going to last, when am I going to get to see my family and friends, the stuff that everyone went through. I had many days where I was feeling the weight of things.
Because I share custody with my ex [actor Liev Schreiber], not being with my children [sons Sasha, 13, and Kai, 12] at times was difficult. We tried to keep it so that we could share things equally, which is what we always do, and be close to each other in proximity, so that if the kids did need to come and go, they could. We set it up like that, but it was definitely hard, especially in the beginning.”
There was more. “Trying to operate websites for school Zooms was next-level. I’m in my 50s and I’m not super tech-savvy, so I was definitely struggling in the beginning. But then you understand it better, and it is amazing — the human resilience and how we can adapt. But you do fear that there are long-lasting effects, especially for middle schoolers. This should be the time where they start spreading their wings and moving away from their parents, and they literally got their wings clipped. So there was some anxiety. But the way through it was baby steps, putting one foot in front of the other. Asking myself, ‘How are we going to get through this day?’ The answer was, ‘Don’t go too far ahead, because that’s when the problems can seem insurmountable.’”
But work, well, she has no complaints there. Nor has she ever, really. She made her acting debut at 18 in the Australian film For Love Alone before pursuing a career as a model and fashion editor. But it wasn’t until she moved to America and scored the lead in David Lynch’s 2001 neo-noir Mulholland Drive that she made her Hollywood breakthrough. Other massive roles in films like 2002 horror movie The Ring and 2005’s King Kong remake, as well as the stunning Alejandro González Iñárritu–directed 21 Grams and 2012’s The Impossible, both of which earned her Oscar nominations, soon followed.
And now she has not one, not two, but three projects in the pipeline, all of which are slated for release within the next year. There’s the thriller Lakewood, which follows a mother, played by Watts, who desperately races against time to save her child from an active shooter as authorities place her small fictional American town on lockdown; Infinite Storm, which takes on the true story — its basis is Ty Gagne’s article “High Places: Footprints in the Snow Lead to an Emotional Rescue” — of a mother, nurse and mountain guide whose solitary trek up Mount Washington led her to the daring rescue of a stranger; and Goodnight Mommy, a remake of a 2014 Austrian horror film about two brothers who suspect something is horribly wrong with their mother.
And while all of the films had strict Covid protocols and small casts, that she could do choose to do them in the first place felt essential. “I feel like I was definitely at the point where I was wanting to get back into the game and let those creative juices flow again, and I was super grateful to be able to,” she says.
Watts is more than grateful for her upcoming project, Ryan Murphy’s no doubt terrifying series The Watcher, which is based in, as with most things Murphy, a tweaked version of reality. Watts and her Once Upon a Time in Staten Island costar Bobby Cannavale play Derek and Maria Broaddus, a married couple who move into their dream home only to be threatened by terrifying letters from a stalker signed “The Watcher.” Chillingly, said stalker was never caught. Watts will begin preproduction on the project this fall.
However, the series, like its subject, is totally hush-hush. “I can’t tell you anything other than I’m super excited to work with Ryan Murphy. That part I can say with full gusto. I’m excited to be in his hands,” she says with a laugh.
Right now, when it comes to both her career and her personal life, Watts is embracing the things that truly make her happy. In addition to her kids and her friends, she vows, “I’m really focused on making time for myself, definitely. I haven’t always been very good at that. I am a person who seems to have always thrived in chaos, which maybe has something to do with how I was raised. I don’t know.” Her parents divorced when she was 4 years old, and she moved with her mother and older brother, Ben (now a photographer, who actually shot her for our photo shoot), around southeast England and Wales before heading to Australia at age 14 when her mother remarried.
While she’s aware of the value of focusing on serenity, it isn’t always easy. “I’ve always been someone who’s like, ‘Oh, god, it’s a bit too quiet around here,’” she admits. “I have a grandmother who’s still with us — she’s 96 years old — and she was always like, ‘Come on, let’s get up, get up and do something, get off your butt.’ So to this day, it takes a lot for me to be still and relax. I do now know that there’s great value in staying still and being quiet and letting things come to you.”
Or going to them, as it were. “Travel is just the greatest luxury,” she sighs. “I just want to get on a plane and go to places. Thank god for science, because after being vaccinated, I felt safe about getting on a plane, but I’m going to go slowly. I don’t have to go to incredibly faraway places for really long periods of time just yet. I’ll go and I’ll take my time, but I definitely cannot wait to be immersing myself in different cultures and seeing new wonderful parts of the world again. I love the beauty and magic and discovery of new places.”
Just before the 4th of July, she saw her window of opportunity to make some magic, and she jumped. After two years of home, work, repeat, she (and, seemingly, from her Instagram, her partner of four years, Billy Crudup) headed to Turks & Caicos for a vacation. It was her first time there, and it was glorious. “I was on holiday for the first time in a couple of years, and I do feel really centered again, having just stopped the world for six days and making some time for myself to listen to the ocean, snorkeling, letting go of all those daily stresses and thinking about just pure and simple things; that has been really helpful. It’s also something I don’t create for myself, because there’s so much on my plate oftentimes. It’s not a complaint — I feel very fortunate — but it was a great reminder, even if it’s just 10 minutes in the morning, to make sure to take time for myself.”
At this moment in time, she’s doing just that, making no big plans for the summer other than just being with family and friends, splitting time between her Manhattan home and the Hamptons — she sold her house in Sag Harbor during the pandemic and is putting the finishing touches on her new one in the boho community of Montauk, where her brother, Ben, also lives — just being.
“I’m excited about it, my summer ahead,” she says, adding, “You know, happiness is something that I love, and I consider myself a reasonably happy person, but you do have to work at it. It has to be earned. It isn’t always given. You have to make sure things are set up right in your life, and I’m okay with that. I like how things are going today.”
In fact, she’s never felt better. “I’m in the middle of my life, and I feel good. I feel strong. Exercise keeps me feeling strong, and it also keeps my head right by fending off any kind of depression. I feel more like myself in my 50s, having accumulated a number of experiences, ups and downs, and gotten through them. And that’s a good feeling.”
One might even say it’s beautiful.