I’m so glad acting has given me the opportunity to explore the world. I don’t think I’d ever have sampled some of the intense travel experiences I have were it not for my profession. We travelled to Thailand last year to film The Impossible. Because I was going to be filming there for so long, we brought the children with us and let them envelop in the sights and the sounds — riding on elephants, seeing things like leopards in the wild, watching spinner dolphins in the water. The nature of Thailand was a mystery to me but, like so many other things connected with Asia, a delight to discover.
We always try to involve our children in travel. I think it’s fantastic for young people to understand the complexities of the world from a young age. And I think you must accept that what they see won’t all be tourist friendly. It’s about growing an appreciation of different cultures, which you’ll never really get from a textbook.
I recently shot the movie Two Mothers in Australia and took my children there too. I was brought up in the UK but moved to Oz when I was 14. Going back to a place never quite feels as you expect it — I guess the same could be said of exploring a new place you’ve heard so much about.
When we went to China to film The Painted Veil, the filming location — a place called Huang Yao — had to be found. It was the most untouched place I think I’ve ever been to — wild, beautiful, intensely pretty, and like going back in time. I like to close my eyes and wonder what a place would look like one, two, even three centuries beforehand. I think all of us felt a sense of duty in respecting Huang Yao when we were there.
I loved Paris, as well — for the filming of Le Divorce. We were there for two months and I really began to invest in the city. It was a film and a location that was genuinely difficult to leave behind. It was the culture that grabbed me — the way people behave. And with Paris, the architecture, the little streets and stairways — they’re so inspiring. It’s the kind of place you feel implored to explore.
Liev [her partner] and I both want to keep travelling with our children from time to time, especially when it’s an interesting location and while the kids are still fairly young. At some point we’ll need to stay in one place for longer stretches, but for the time being we can be more mobile.
I’ve travelled around many parts of the US while filming. I sometimes don’t think it gets the credit it deserves, in terms of its diversity. Some places are so unspoilt and untouched, yet the immediacy we associate with America doesn’t reflect in its beauty — be that the might of the Grand Canyon or the sparseness of the Arizona Desert.
British-Australian actress Naomi Watts, 44, was voted one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the world by People magazine in 2002.
Born in Kent, her family moved to Wales, then emigrated to Australia when she was 14. After modelling, Naomi broke into films with For Love Alone in 1986. Major roles followed in movies like Mulholland Drive, 21 Grams, The Painted Veil and, more recently, The Impossible.
An ambassador for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Naomi has also raised money for victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. She lives in New York with partner Liev Schreiber and sons Alexander and Samuel.
Published in the May/Jun 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)