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Stars were MIA at the annual festival, which went on virtually in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Watts literally paused a home workout to grab the phone.
“I just got off a treadmill because I’m about to – wait for it – start filming next week. I’m in Canada and right now I’m in lockdown (and) in quarantine,” said a winded Watts, who hunkered down with her children before beginning her next film, “Lakewood.” “I’m on a treadmill because in the movie I do a lot of running and sprinting."
In “Penguin Bloom,” Watts stars in the true story of Sam Bloom, an Australian mother of three who leaned on a faulty railing on vacation in Thailand, breaking her back and was paralyzed from the chest down. Bedridden with depression, the film catches up with Sam as she struggles to accept her new reality as her husband (Andrew Lincoln) and children attempt to return to life as they knew it. It's in this submerged state when her son brings home an injured black-and-white stray magpie, soon dubbed Penguin. Over time, Sam finds comfort in the creature, whose recovery mirrors her own embrace of life.
The real Sam “had a pretty wonderful lovely life, (she was) a very active, sporty woman who was raising a family of three boys also very active and sporty. And in an instant, her life changed,” said Watts.
“She went from feeling completely physically and emotionally broken – like she absolutely did not want to live, she went through very dark times – and managed to put herself back together, at least in an emotional way, through this connection with this creature. She was able to get outside of her own head. It just felt like a story of hope and belief and empowerment.”
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The story also meant Watts had to act with not just one real bird, but several.
“This was the part that made me the most nervous about taking the role on," she said. "Magpies are famously known as not being particularly nice creatures, they don’t have a good rap out there. So how could we have a connection to this bird? It has to act! It’s hard enough getting children to act – and other animals, like dogs, much less wild birds."
In the end, her magpie co-star appears onscreen as a mixture of trained birds, computer graphics and some animatronics. “It really was 90%, probably more, just the real birds,” she estimated.
As “Penguin Bloom" tells its inspirational story, it also offers gorgeous vistas of the Australian coastline, conjuring a bit of travel FOMO.
Watts feels it, too, reflecting on her own stay-at-home experience.
“None of us have traveled," she said. "We’re longing and we’re pining for things we’ve seen or things we want to see.
"And we’re also reflecting on the simple things, which is how important the family unit is – and that is one of the things that means more now than ever."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Naomi Watts on 'Penguin Bloom,' taking on the true story in new film