Cameron Bloom / Netflix
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Naomi Watts has flapped her Oscar-worthy wings next to giant gorillas and well-dwelling ghosts on the big screen, but her tiny, feathered costar in the upcoming Netflix drama Penguin Bloom proved to be a monumental challenge to wrangle, and EW has a first-look preview of their chemistry in the exclusive trailer below.
The Academy Award-nominated actress leads the new movie (which premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival to positive reviews) as Sam Bloom, a dedicated wife and mother of three whose idyllic home on the Australian shore becomes a self-made prison as she struggles to cope with paralysis in the wake of a freak accident.
After a fall from a balcony in Thailand, Sam's family — including her photographer husband, Cameron (The Walking Dead's Andrew Lincoln) — attempts to nurse her back to physical and emotional health upon their return to Australia, but the ordeal is too much for her to bear until her reclusive lifestyle is interrupted when her children take in an injured magpie. Slowly, Sam bonds with the bird, a process that sets her on her own path to a soulful recovery.
Joel Pratley / Netflix
Despite the seriousness surrounding the film's real-life subjects (Watts previously told EW she felt an "instant connection" meeting with the Bloom family for research, including leafing through Sam's personal journals from the time), the performer had a wild time shooting with actual birds during production — which proved to be particularly difficult scene partners.
"I didn't expect to be s--- on the face!" Watts remembered, laughing. "That didn't end up in the movie, but it was early on in the film, on the first day, the bird was on my head and I felt a warm feeling and my mouth was [open], like 'Ahh!' and it literally went into my mouth."
Director Glendyn Ivin also had the cast shoot the movie inside the real Bloom household, which Watts said added further authenticity to an already emotionally raw script. She also spent time training herself to not use her lower body, which made otherwise simple tasks — like transferring herself from a wheelchair to a bed — difficult, but gave her a greater appreciation for Sam's resilience despite the odds.
"We’ve all had to rethink our lives in isolation and in deep ways. There’s a grief to feeling disconnected to other human beings and dealing with loss, and that’s exactly what Sam went through, suddenly feeling physically and emotionally different because of a lack of physical movement and connection, and feeling ashamed of herself and not being able to maintain friendships," Watts explained. "We had a little version of that experience.... there's something there that makes it feel more relevant, how life — when you strip it back — makes you think of the simpler things and how meaningful they are."
Penguin Bloom (also starring Jacki Weaver) soars to Netflix on Jan. 27. Watch EW's exclusive trailer for the film above.
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Cameron Bloom / Netflix