I have often thought of the women who play mothers in amazing movies as the true anchors of the film.  Emily Watson, who plays a wife to a struggling farmer and an endearing mother to a son who has an amazing connection with a remarkable horse in War Horse, has wisdom, strength, poise and heart… just as the film does.

And I got to sit with 19 other bloggers and talk to her about the film, her career, motherhood and the struggle to balance it all.

Emily Watson is a soft spoken, intelligent, elegant woman with a true love for her craft and her family.  She loved to write, travel and do arts with her family and –  truth be told – would love to do a comedic role, just to change things up a bit!

The other bloggers and I with Emily Watson

Below is the interview, in its entirety – because nothing could really be taken out – and I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I enjoyed hearing them.


Blogger:  What was the most memorable part of shooting the film?

Ms. Watson: 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 in the southwest, it’s in the county of Devon which is very fecund and rich and it’s a real food producing, very traditional, cream and honey and eggs. 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.  So that, that was pretty special to be there.  But getting a call from Steven Spielberg is, is not a bad day.  It’s not a bad day.

Blogger: How did you get involved with the project? 

Ms. Watson: I got the call.  My agent rang me, [he says] 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.  It was pretty exciting.

Blogger: What is your favorite scene in the movie? 

Ms. 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.  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.  

ME: How do you juggle being a mother with your film work? 

Ms. 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. And then she’ll pack a bag and come to Poland or Australia or, you know, she’s, and my husband is fantastic with the kids. And he works from home.  And you know, so we somehow always manage to make it work.  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 they fly us, well you know, it’s obviously that’s how it’s gotta be.

Blogger:  What is your greatest accomplishment as a mother? 

Ms. Watson: I think that 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? 

Blogger : Have your kids seen WARHORSE? 

Ms. Watson: They’re too young now, I think I might let them when they, they let, maybe the first 20 minutes and then enough.

Blogger : What age would you consider taking them to see it? 

Ms. Watson: I think I had my nieces there last night. And my, they’re 11 and 14.  And they, I mean, the 11-year old was, it’s a bit loud. It was a bit loud, wasn’t it?  But I think maybe eight, nine, you know, I think, I think it’s a great way to learn about was.

Me:  It was great that it was not gory. 

Ms. Watson: Yes, well he did it specifically so that, you know, children could see it.

Blogger: How did you find Steven Spielberg as a director compared to other directors you’ve worked with? 

Ms. 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 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.  Just a really fantastic thing to have had in my life. 

Lars Von Trier. 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.  Not in a dangerous way.  But, it’s just so all consuming. He allows you to go to a place that’s really very extreme.  And that’s such a stretch as an actress.   

But Steven Spielberg, very different again. There’s a huge unit, there’s massive crew. Steven [has] 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 it’s like a calling. Robert Altman was like, vacation, why’d you wanna vacation for? He’d be just on to the next, on to the next, on to the next. 

Blogger: Have your children impacted how you access emotion as an actress? 

Ms. Watson: That kind of irritation and anger that is just like there, you know, when you’re around kids or it can be, is quite easy to access. 

Blogger: But you also seemed heartbroken. 

Ms. Watson: Yeah, I think I have to be careful.  Putting your real, real feelings into that.  When I was younger, I used to do it a lot.  And I think you open neural pathways. Take for instance, you imagine that your children are in an accident. That can set you off and make you feel emotional.  Which is maybe what you need to get in the right place. 

But I have a syndrome which is called catastrophization.  And I am particularly bad after childbirth. You know, when you’re feeling a bit bluesy and, everything’s a bit weird.  Everything was like, oh my God, what if that TV falls on your head?  I’ve opened that door too many times.  It’s like a muscle that I have ‘cause I’ve done so many desperately sad movies.  Uh, so I have to be really careful to let it go.  And tell myself very clearly that it’s not real.   

But even so, you put your body through the chemical response to emotion.  And you have to really treat that with respect.  I was on a film in Mexico last month. And, in a funeral scene we were just about to start and I could feel the whole thing getting [emotional] and I thought, I’m never doing this again.  And the exposure in public of that, of hundreds of people watching you [and asking] how does she do that?  But, uh, hey, I love my job, so. 

Blogger: Were you familiar with this story prior to doing the movie? 

Ms. 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.  Yeah, it’s very emotional thing, but [despite it being] big, lush, beautiful [story about] 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 simple way, [says] war is inhumane.  And the way we treat animals reveals our humanity.  You know, it’s a very simple thing. 

Blogger: Do your kids understand what you do? 

Ms. Watson: Kind of.  I haven’t made many movies that they can see.  They’ve seen THE WATER HORSE.  But they’re not really that interested.  I mean, my daughter occasionally will say something [like, when driving in Mexico and fans were waving at Ms. Watson], “Mummy, you have to wave to them ‘cause they know you’re famous”.  But they’re not really that aware of it this world of doing all this is totally separate from my home. And, I run around in London incognito and don’t, just don’t bother. And I don’t let it be a thing.

Blogger: What is the difference in perception of you in London compared to New York? 

Ms. Watson: I think I get recognized in London but people are very British and just leave you alone. 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 you’re all got your armor on and your makeup and it’s all about that. So I feel the attention here.  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.

Blogger: Do you knit? 

Ms. Watson: You know what, I’ve tried to be a knitter. On the set of PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, a Paul Thomas Anderson film, Paul had this thing, he’s another compelled story teller.  He’s another one I’d put in that group of extraordinary guys. And he’s also a good friend and we have kids the same age.  And but anyway, on the set of PUNCH DRUNK, he wanted me not to be doing a whole lot of method acting preparation, he just wanted me to turn up and be myself and be fresh and do something totally different.  

So he said, “I need you to something to do on set, here’s some knitting”.  So he gave me some knitting.  And I really tried to make a scarf and it just went like that {indicated an upward triangle}.  I don’t have that kind of really precise, neat, methodical, I’m scatty and, you know, I’m not a neat person, I just, it’s a different gene and I don’t have it.   

Blogger: What is your favorite thing to do on your down time? 

Ms. Watson: You know what I love doing is, when I was a kid, I was really good artist. 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, with them, and I’m making taxis out of Wheat-A-Bits boxes and doing all that stuff. But I love it.  Doing all the creative stuff.  I absolutely love doing that.

ME: What advice would you give on how to balance a successful career and being a mom? 

Ms. WatsonIt’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. 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.  

Blogger: What projects do you have upcoming?

Ms. Watson: I’ve just finished doing this thing in Mexico which is called LITTLE BOY.  And it’s about a kid in 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.  So we’ve just wrapped that.  And I’m doing a few days on ANNA KARENINA.  In London.  Which could be very interesting. It’s Joe Wright [whose] directing it.  And it’s the entire piece set inside a theater.  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.  She says quite a lot about a lot of the things that I do.   

ME: Do you have any aspirations to do comedic work? 

Ms. Watson (very enthusiastically): 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 written and directed by Richard E. Grant.  Do you know who he is?  Oh, he’s just fantastic. And PUNCH DRUNK LOVE is kind of a comedy.  With Adam Sandler. That was pretty cool. I’d love to do more of that stuff. But I never get asked.

ME: We’ll get you in a comedy. 

Ms. Watson: Yes please. You’re a powerful group, you are.  Respect.

Blogger: What is the draw for a particular film for you? 

Ms. 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.  At the moment that’s what compels me. In my fantasy life I stay home and I write. But I do love, love, love acting.  And I think if I don’t do it, all my wires start going wrong. 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.

But I don’t have that, oh my God, I’ve gotta be! I don’t have that sort of really driven ambition.  That I guess you need to compel you into the [limelight]. I’s a balancing act, I think.   

Blogger: What is an average day of filming for you? 

Ms. Watson: Very early.  Often, if the location is a long way away and you know, quite often they will drive you somewhere that’s an hour away.  And then at my age it’s usually an hour and a half at least in hair and makeup.  Usually crew call is 8:00.  So you have to have traveled for an hour and a half.  So yeah, it’s an early start.  And then you can do 12-hour days.  So when you’re working, it’s incredibly intense and exhausting.  But it is a part time job.  And when you’re not working you’re home.  

Blogger: What is your favorite vacation spot? 

Ms. Watson: Ooh.  Since we’ve had the kids, we’ve been to Cornwall in England a lot, which is beautiful.  It’s very green, but it’s on the coast and there are beautiful cliff tops and sandy beaches.  But Italy.  If I was to rewind a few years.  Amalfi coast, yeah. 

Blogger: How long did it take to film WAR HORSE?

Ms. Watson: WAR HORSE? Two weeks.  Two and a half, three weeks.  Not long.  We were at the easy bit, I think, the trenches and all that was a huge, huge undertaking. And doing all that stuff with the horses dragging the 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.  And they, they did it really carefully. When I read the script, I went, “oh my God, I know it’s Spielberg, but how the – are they gonna”? 

Blogger: How many Joeys were there? 

Ms. Watson: There were actually 14 Joeys.  But they’re all superstars.  Those horses, they’re like Seabiscuit and Black Beauty and they’re really amazing.  Amazing horses.  And all the boys did 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 just the idea of it [was] completely terrifying, if anything had gone wrong, it would have been carnage.  I asked them about it and they said they just set it up in such a way that everybody was so safe, it really was safe.  But it’s incredible. I mean, it’s incredible sequence.  

Me: It’s such an intelligently shot film.

Ms. Watson: Yeah, but 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, 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.  

Blogger: Did your kids get to see the horses? 

Ms. Watson: They didn’t come on this, no, actually the first day of shooting of this coincided with Juliet’s very first day at school.  So I had to have a bit of a to and fro with Spielberg saying, “I’ll do the movie, but I have to be there on the first day. I am taking her to school.”  So no, so they stayed home and I came home on the weekends. Yeah, those are the kind of things that are tough to get around ‘cause not everybody is as nice.

Blogger: Which was more fun for you to play, this mother or the one in ANGELA’S ASHES? 

Ms. Watson: I think that in a way was more of… The kind of horrific poverty of that was just so shocking.  Also we had 27 kids on that movie.  Because there were three age group, that we had three different actors playing Frankie.  And all the brothers.  As well.  So between the three, every character had three different actors.  So there were a lot.  And that was really, it’s very difficult to shoot anything in an organic grownup way.  Everything has to be very oriented to getting the kids shot.  And you have to work around it.  So that’s quite frustrating.

Blogger: So you were actually parenting on the set.

Ms. Watson: Yeah. And you have to engage with them, you have to help them, you have to look after them.  And you have to tell them off occasionally.  It’s a big [undertaking]. Then to think about your own job at the same time is a lot.  But you guys should also see APPROPRIATE ADULT. Very different.  Not one for the children.  It’s about, do you know who Fred and Rosemarie West are?  They were the worst serial killers in British history.  And Dominic West is, plays Fred West.  And he’s brilliant.  

And it’s a sort of verbatim drama taken from the police interviews in which he was arrested and investigated and I play an appropriate adult which is someone who is like a social worker who sits in on police interviews to make sure that the person knows what’s being said to them. And it’s an minor with learning difficulties.  So this woman who’d never done it before, never had any training, finds herself in the room with this appalling monster.  And they fall in this very strange relationship, it’s all true, it’s an amazing, amazing story.  Very creepy and different.

Blogger: When does that come out?

Ms. Watson: That’s on the Sundance Channel on Saturday [December 3, 2011]. 


Talking with Emily Watson was amazing.  And it was so nice to see how down to Earth and warm she is.  Plus her eyes just lit up when she talked about her kids and her family, which made her endearing to me!

Be sure to go see her amazing performance in War Horse Christmas Day 2011! My review of War Horse will be out next week!**Some editing of the interview text was needed for the flow of the conversation.**

**I traveled with a group of bloggers as an all expense paid trip for these events.  My writings and opinions are mine.  Please see my Disclosure Page for more information.**