Emily Watson, the twice Oscar-nominated actress from ”Breaking the Waves” and ”Hilary and Jackie,” takes another award-worthy turn as Irish author Frank McCourt’s mother, Angela, in ”Angela’s Ashes.” More than 10 million people have read McCourt’s memoir, and Watson says she could never live up to their standards. ”Everyone who read the book will have a different image of who Angela was, and you can’t compete with that,” Watson, 32, says. ”I couldn’t go out and try to embody everyone’s version of her, so I had to build my own thing.” ”Ashes” fans will notice, for example, that the petite actress is physically far different from McCourt’s perpetually plump mum. But Watson did manage to get her chain-smoking right, sort of: ”I could never have smoked Woodbines, or I would’ve died,” she says of the milder cigarettes she substituted for the ones Angela preferred.
Watson’s costar Robert Carlyle also chose not to obsess over McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir. Carlyle, best known for the indie hit ”The Full Monty,” focused on McCourt’s more sympathetic descriptions of his negligent, alcoholic father, Malachy, instead of the heart-breaking ones. ”I knew it was a wrong move to make the father a villain, because he did love his family,” Carlyle, 33, says. ”The man just couldn’t face his responsibilities.” Director Alan Parker (”Evita”) agrees: ”It would have been too easy to portray him as the cliche drunken father, and Robert didn’t want to be a stereotype” Besides, Carlyle says the only motivation he needed to play the father as pitiful instead of tyrannical was McCourt himself, who told the actor that he still loved his father: ”That was all I needed to hear.”