When the phone rings and your agent tells you that Steven Spielberg wants you in his next blockbuster, you drop everything, have a civilized cup of tea with him and you say yes, yes, yes.
That’s just what happened when Emily Watson was called into action by the uber acclaimed director for a role in his World War I epic War Horse.
In the film Emily Watson plays the mom to a young man who has a deep, profound and moving relationship with his horse Joey. The horse may be the star of the show, but you have to give it up to Emily Watson and her lovely nuanced performance as a farmer’s wife.
We got the chance to talk to the actress and mom of two at the Disney offices in New York City, where a focused, down-to-earth and very smart Emily Watson answered our questions about War Horse, acting and motherhood.
Emily Watson was familiar with War Horse before being offered the role. She saw the stage show in London and she happened to be eight months pregnant at the time. She said that , “after about ten seconds, I turned to my husband and I said, I don’t think I’m gonna get through this. It’s very emotional thing. Although despite it being a big, lush, beautiful…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, very simple way, like…war is inhumane. And the way we treat animals reveals our humanity. You know, it’s a very simple thing.”
Emily did not take her kids to the movie saying, “they’re too young now.” But she did take her nieces to the premiere who are 11 and 14. As to how old she thinks one should be too see the film? “I think maybe eight, nine, you know, I think, I think it’s a great way to learn about war.” Thankfully the film isn’t gory saying that, (Spielberg) “did it specifically so that, you know, children could see it.
And speaking of children, as a working mom, it’s of course hard for her to juggle motherhood and her career. Especially when she has to be away from her kids.
“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 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 and she is fantastic with the kids. “
Her husband works from home which makes it easier saying, “we somehow always manage to make it work. But my, you know, it very much, it, it’s the first question I ask when a job comes up is, where, how long? You know, does it match the school holidays.”
When asked about what her, “greatest accomplishment as a mother” she didn’t name one thing but rather, a natural progression saying: “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. //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.”
As for her acting she was asked if her children have impacted how she accesses emotion in her projects. At first she joked that, “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. “ But when her more “heartbroken” roles are in need deeper emotion she stated that, “I have to be careful. Putting your real, real feelings into that. It, because, you know, when I was younger, I used to do it a lot. And I think you open neural pathways that are even if it’s for totally fictional reasons, you know, take for instance you imagine that your children are in an accident or, you know, and that can set you off and make you feel emotional. Which is maybe what you need to get in the right place.
She added that, “I have a syndrome which is called catastrophization. And I am, particularly bad after childbirth. When you know, when you’re feeling a bit bluesy and a bit, 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. 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, you know, ‘cause every time you get emotional, you have 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 a couple of, last month. And, in a funeral scene, we were just about to start and I could feel the whole thing getting (intense), and I think, I’m never doing this again. And the exposure in public of that, and hundreds of people are watching you…But, hey, I love my job, so.
As for advice for all us other busy moms? She said, “It’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. You know, it’s really, uh, 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.”
Full Disclosure: The author participated in a press junket for the above coverage and was the guest of the Walt Disney Company while attending. Any opinions presented here are purely held by its author and do not reflect those held by Pixar Animation Studios or the Walt Disney Company.