Naomi Watts as an outed CIA agent in 'Fair Game'
When Naomi Watts agreed to take on the role of ousted CIA agent Valerie Plame in the based-on-fact thriller “Fair Game,” she knew she had to get it right.
Opening Friday, Plame, a super-secret NOC (non-official cover) within the CIA, was exposed as a spy by the American government after her husband, Joe Wilson, publicly criticized the war in Iraq.
Watts had read all about the story when it unfolded in 2003 and considered it a case of government betrayal.
“So it was deeply important for me to serve her story in the best possible way,” Watts said.
Then there was the fact that Plame was closely involved with the making of the film.
“She was acting as one of our CIA consultants,” said Watts. “She was very hands-on, frequently being our B.S. barometer.”
But most important to Watts was her belief that “everyone in America is familiar with this story. So I felt an extra amount of pressure to tell it as truthfully as I could.”
At first, Watts wasn’t interested in playing the part. She was busy at home with a new baby, her second with actor Liev Schreiber.
She got an e-mail from screenwriter and longtime friend Jez Butterworth, who had just finished co-writing the script.
“I said, ‘Listen, I just had a baby. I don’t think I’m going to read a script for a while,’” Watts said. “But he said, ‘Just read the first 10 pages.’ But of course, I couldn’t read just 10 pages. It all came back to me, but there was obviously a lot more information that I discovered. Then I read her book, which the script is based on. I went into more research and then met her.”
Watts’ decision to play the part was sealed well before meeting Plame.
“I had a baby on Dec. 13, I read the script on Dec. 28, and we were filming by the end of February,” she recalled. “Obviously, we knew the story, but it was told through the media in a fragmented way.
“So it was about piecemealing it together, and then sort of letting go of the facts and concentrating on the character and really learning the story: Who was this woman and how did she deal with this betrayal? How did her marriage and family function? How did her lifestyle change? Who did she become?”
Director Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity” and “Swingers”) thought Watts was a little too soft and maternal to be playing a spy, so he enrolled her in a few days of paramilitary training at a CIA facility.
“That was intense,” said Watts, wincing at the memory. “After Doug left, I was alone. I was allowed to have my baby every few hours, to feed him. But as Doug walked out, they sort of threw me to the ground and kicked me in the shins and I went, ‘Owww!’ and (the trainer) said, ‘OK, don’t say ow again, unless you need to go to the hospital.’
“I did incredible things that I’ll never again get to do, or wish to do. Like setting off explosives, ramming cars without a seatbelt or a helmet.”
Watts stopped for a moment, then quietly said, “There’s one thing I did that I’m not even allowed to talk about.”
In the end, after peeking into and briefly living the life of Plame, Watts identified with her, just a bit, because they’re both working mothers.
“I had the utmost respect for her because of how she managed with twins and traveling to all kinds of places all over the world, and outrageous hours week in and week out,” Watts said. “My job can be like that, but I also get incredible breaks from it. So I talked to her a lot about that, how she managed to be a professional and a mother and be really good at it. That balance was definitely something I could relate to.”
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.