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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
January 29, 2009

In the corporate crime thriller The International, persistent Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) fight to uncover the insidious misdeeds of the International Bank of Business and Credit, a financial powerhouse involved in a laundry list of illegal activities meant to further its stranglehold over world affairs. Following a series of leads that takes them around the globe, the duo unearth the disturbing realization that the IBBC's influence is seemingly omnipresent and undeniable.

The International features a myriad of visually charged scenes, from stunning architecture in Berlin to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. But amidst the film's international locales and its depiction of an amoral underworld of business, there is a single sequence that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the shootout at the Guggenheim. Set in the famous Manhattan art museum, this surprisingly action-packed climax boasts an epic amount of crossfire carnage, with Clive Owen's character improvising alliances and tactics on the fly as assassins assail him from all corners.

The International was the first movie that Naomi Watts shot since becoming a mother. In this interview, she explains how director Tom Tykwer and the film's hectic schedule accommodated her return to acting, and also talks about Blackberry addiction, financial pitfalls, and brain freezes induced by motherhood.

MEDIA: What elements attracted you to this project?

NAOMI: Well, [there were] many. Starting with Clive and Tom, I would say. Always been a fan of Clive's work, and was pretty familiar with Tom's work, too. So that was what led me to reading the script. And then I read the script, and it's a good, fast page-turner and a thinking man's thriller, and good characters within a heavy plot. And I met with Tom, and I was thinking, "This is a huge film, I don't know if I can do this." I was told about the dates, and I thought, "There's just no way." I had a baby due around the time. And so Tom and I sat down and he said, "Look, I can make this do-able for you, I can condense your dates." And he went away and came back, he said, "We can actually do it in five weeks." And despite all the travel and everything.

So the schedule was especially tailored to your particular needs?

Yes. By the time I got to Berlin, they had been shooting for about eight weeks, already doing all the end of the film, basically, and the Guggenheim and all that. So I shot three weeks in Berlin and then two weeks in Milan. But it was definitely still a struggle. [laughs] I had a three month old baby.

Was all of this exhausting, having just had a baby?

At about the six week point, I started exercising again and got strong again. But I'm always a pretty physical person, so it didn't feel too bad. Certainly not when you compare it to other things that I've done, like King Kong, you know?

Was it difficult for you to do stunts, like the scene in which Whitman is hit by a car?

I didn't do the stunt. And I have no interest in doing that. [laughs] It was hard enough lying on the piece of cold road that they had me lie on for a couple of hours. Wet, cold road. [laughs] No, it wasn't that bad. But yeah, that was a good scene. I think the stunt worked really well...I watched the stuntgirl do it. It's very informative, because then you have to work out what you've been through and how you play the next moment.

Did you do any kind of research into Whitman's position as an assistant district attorney? And how would you characterize her and her relationship with Salinger?

Well, she's operating very much in a man's world, and she has to be strong. And I met with an ADA in New York before I started filming, and she said there's no time for girliness--there's no time for sort of running around in little cute suits and high heels. It's like, "We're on the job, we're dealing with this, and if you want to be taken seriously, particularly by the cops and all the other men around you, there's no frills." And yeah, they have a great working relationship. They're bouncing off each other all the time and they rely on one another and trust each other. And she operates very much from an above board background, she doesn't want to get too crazy and go off course--she is the law, so she's keeping him focused.

One scene actually uses a back-and-forth series of text messages to stir up some tension. How did you approach that as a performer, when all you're doing is...texting?

I mean, that's where we are in the world. Everything is like this... [indicates texting] So you can tap into that quite easily. And thankfully, I have my own Blackberry that I'm completely addicted to, and could type very fast. So I could keep the tension as well as type.

So those weren't "stunt hands"...

No. They were my own. [laughs]

What do you think of this film avoiding certain genre conventions, like the traditional car chase?

I think that it's just as exciting without, and there's no lack of momentum or speed in this film. It moves very, very fast. And the tension is never lost. You know, that finale scene in the Guggenheim is its own kind of chase scene. [laughs]

And what about the missing genre convention of a forced romance between the leads?

Well, there was an "almost romantic" scene that Tom decided at the last minute to edit out. I think the great thing about Tom is he's so focused on authenticity that he probably just didn't feel it rang true and was awkward, and so he decided to get rid of it. But it was even so slight. It was like one of those moments where they're caught up in tension and emotion, and they almost kiss...They were in a hotel room, and it was placed very early on in the film, after their colleague was killed--you know, one of those kind of emotional moments, leaning on the shoulder and suddenly, "Oh dear, are they about to kiss?"

And she pulls back?

[coyly] Not necessarily! [laughs]

With deleted scenes being a common feature on DVDs, do you feel it is less painful to have scenes that get cut? Does that make any difference?

[laughs] Not really. No...I mean, it's nice if you were attached to them. It's always painful seeing the movie for the first time as an actor, because you think, "Oh, but that moment! I put so much into it, it meant so much, and it was explaining this moment and that moment, and suddenly it's gone, and how will people get it?" But you realize you're so attached, and maybe other people aren't feeling the loss like you are. [laughs] So if it comes back on a DVD later on, that can be kind of cool.

Do you have a favorite scene from this movie?

Well, I have to say that the Guggenheim scene is pretty amazing. And I'm not one to like a lot of gunfire. But it's just spectacular, though, just the set and the tension.

Do you have any personal paranoia regarding financial institutions, especially with a faltering world economy and corruption seemingly running rampant?

It's very scary, isn't it? You know, with what's going on right now, I've made several calls to my business manager and said, "What do we need to do here? Shall I bring around a few briefcases?" [laughs]

Do you think this movie can urge people to be more conscious of what's being done with their money?

Yeah. I mean, you just have no idea. Banks are very powerful things, and they talk you into doing all kinds of things with your money despite what you're really capable of doing, and what you should be [doing]. And that's how people get so hideously in debt. And this particular bank, it's so ugly and grim, and they're so many people involved, it just doesn't stop, and it's impossible to expose them. And that's what I loved about the film, is that these two characters are standing up and going against them despite their odds. The very people that should be policing them are fueling the whole system.

Ever tangle with credit card debt in your younger days?

No. I think coming from a family where we didn't really have money, I never overspent beyond my means. I was always very careful. In fact, I think I've borrowed money once in my life.

So even as a struggling young actor, you were careful to not put yourself in a position where you would have to get an odd job to pay a debt?

Yes. I mean, I have worked in many jobs. But pretty much since I came to America, I've not needed to, and that's been since my early 20s.

The film doesn't explore Whitman's past very much. Did you have to create your own internal backstory for her?

I would have loved to have done a whole lot more scenes and developed more, but the focus of the story is really told more through Clive's [character]. He's the protagonist and I'm supporting him. So if they dwelled on that, then perhaps it would slow the story down. But yeah, I think the conflict for her of balancing being a good mom and being good at her work and being very connected to this case for such a long time...That was an appealing character for me--someone who struggles with that conflict, because I'm about to start doing that myself.

Have you encountered any particularly stunning firsthand revelations about motherhood?

Well, I knew that everyone goes through a monumental sleep deprivation. You can never prepare for that. It's brutal.

...Do you have to drink more coffee now?

Well, not right now because I'm breastfeeding. But the biggest surprise is I cannot remember anything. I cannot. I call it "lactose lobotomy." I literally lost half my brain, I don't know when it's coming back. Actually, it was halved, and then halved again. [laughs] I go back to work on a film next week--I'm just doing ten days on a little film called Mother and Child--and I'm just trying to work out how I'm going to remember my dialogue. [laughs]

Related Material

The International: Interview with Clive Owen
The International: Interview with director Tom Tykwer
The International: Interview with producers Charles Roven and Richard Suckle
Movie Coverage: The International


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