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Naomi Watts can trace her interest in 'Gypsy's' exploration of identity to her childhood

Naomi Watts can trace her interest in 'Gypsy's' exploration of identity to her childhood
Naomi Watts stars as a therapist who gets a little too involved with her patients in the Netflix series "Gypsy." (Alison Cohen Rosa / Netflix)

In “Gypsy,” coming to Netflix on June 30, Naomi Watts plays Jean Halloway, a New York City therapist with a cute daughter (Maren Heary), a dashing husband (Billy Crudup), a picturesque home in the suburbs — and some serious middle-age angst. When she decides to track down Sidney (Sophie Cookson), a patient's manipulative ex-girlfriend, things get, well, a little complicated. Created by Lisa Rubin and with select episodes directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, the psychological thriller is Watts’ first regular series role in two decades.


Were you looking to get into TV?

I really wasn’t. I saw Sam Taylor-Johnson out and about and she said, “I’m doing this thing. I’d love for you to read it.” Both my agents and managers read it and went, “You probably won’t want to do it.” But it’s a really fascinating pilot and I got really pulled into the story, the idea that you have this whole other life. What I love about it is it’s kind of a cautionary tale. This woman is living out the fantasies that we’re all capable of having.

What interested you in playing Jean?

If you’re saying yes to a TV show, you want it to be interesting and complicated and have somewhere to go. I think she’s at a point in her life where she’s feeling like she’s lost herself a bit, her true identity, and closed the door, perhaps, on an old side of herself that she didn’t really want to. Perhaps at a point in her life she needed saving and that’s when she moved to the suburbs and married well to a hot lawyer. And now she’s got a kid. Everything on paper looks great, but she needs and desires more.

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Jean crosses a professional line pretty early on by tracking down Sidney. What is she thinking?

It starts out with pure intentions. She really does want to help her patient. Then she connects with this woman in a way that reminds her of a lost part of herself. The exploration of one’s identity and the reshaping of it is an endlessly fascinating topic for me. I grew up like that, someone who went to many different schools and moved around within England and then to Australia. I felt like I was having to reinvent myself often just to fit in at school.

It’s interesting because this is the kind of midlife crisis story we usually see about men.

Yeah, that's absolutely right. Women still have desires and women still seek power. Unfortunately, when those stories are told, the women are always crazy or ugly for seeking power. She’s definitely struggling with her sanity at times, but she’s not crazy. She’s a flawed and complex character. It’s great that those kind of roles are available now.

Sophie Cookson, left, and Naomi Watts in "Gypsy."
Sophie Cookson, left, and Naomi Watts in "Gypsy." (Alison Cohen Rosa / Netflix)

This is your first regular series role in nearly 20 years, and you’re in nearly every scene. I imagine it was grueling.

It kicked my ass. I’m used to working on a movie where you often have six weeks’ preparation with all the material, and in this case I didn’t have all the material. But as actors, so much of the way we work is sitting around waiting, and you can lose energy in that regard. Also, I’m working with a dialect, which is a whole other thing. I don’t think people realize how much work goes into that.

You do a very convincing American accent, though.

I feel robotic. I don’t feel free, which is really hard. You rehearse it so much in your head, it sort of becomes programmed in the right way to make it sound. So then if you want to play things differently, it’s very difficult.

Speaking of TV, you're also in “Twin Peaks.” You knew I was going to ask, didn’t you?

Yes, of course, everyone’s asking. I love being on yet another set with David Lynch, who’s just such an incredible person, so unique, and I feel very connected to him. You just learn so much and it’s such a happy, memorable experience. But I’ve been sworn to absolute secrecy. And it’s not even like I can tell you many secrets because a lot of the time I didn’t know. I never read the whole script. In fact, there were certain scenes that I was in that lines said by other people were scrubbed out.

There are themes in “Gypsy: that are reminiscent of “Mullholland Drive.”

Yes — the duality. We all have things in our lives that we’re interested in. Identity is definitely one for me and it makes sense, because as I said, I grew up moving a lot as a kid. I kept thinking, “Oh, who should I be? Who do they want me to be? I wish I was her.” Those things occurred to me at a very young age, and they didn't go away, as hard as that is to admit. It’s still in me.

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meredith.blake@latimes.com

Follow me @MeredithBlake

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