Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts made our 2005 Entertainers of the Year list

Acting in front of a greenscreen doesn’t sound like real work for a movie star. Isn’t feigning horror or surprise at the unseen what millions of teenagers do after school every day during warm-up exercises in drama club? ”I don’t know that I swore I’d never do greenscreen,” says Naomi Watts, ”but it certainly wasn’t interesting to me at all. I mean, as actors, we like to connect to honest things that are actually happening.” But in King Kong, as the ape’s fist accessory Ann Darrow, Watts connects in a gorilla-size way. Her strangely moving performance — largely coaxed out of her against blank backdrops by director Peter Jackson — should go down in movie history books as a touchstone work that elevated F/X acting to new emotional heights. Damned if you don’t really believe that her Ann feels true pity and hurt, and maybe even love, for that 25-foot computer-generated ape.

It was easier — and harder — than it looks. On one hand, ”I wasn’t as alone as everyone thinks I was,” Watts says, pointing out that Andy Serkis, who acted as Kong for the effects team, was always there to play off of. On the other hand, greenscreen’s rough. ”It was, without a doubt, the most physically draining thing I’ve ever done,” says the 37-year-old actress. ”I’m fairly diminutive, and I took a beating. If it wasn’t all the guys on the ship pushing and pulling me away, it was stuntmen dressed in Lycra blue suits posing as Kong’s hand or the T. rex‘s tail or some such thing. I’ve always thought of myself as fairly sporty [laughs], but I’m no Sigourney.”

Not too long ago, Watts wasn’t anybody — just a forever-struggling actress who finally broke through with a starring role in 2001’s Mulholland Drive and earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for 2003’s 21 Grams. Now, with an epic this crowd-pleasing and a love story this titanic, Watts could be in for a Leonardo DiCaprio-style blowup. ”People keep saying, ‘Get prepared,”’ she says, a week before King Kong‘s theatrical release. ”Maybe it’s all gonna change. But I don’t know how you prepare yourself.” She might have to figure something out quick.