Naomi Watts on menopause and rejecting Hollywood's 'unf---able after 40' rule

When Naomi Watts landed her breakthrough role in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive in 2001, she was 33 years old — which, she soon learned, was practically ancient in Hollywood years.

"I was told [taps an imaginary watch], 'You better get a lot done because it's all over at 40 when you become unf---able.' And I'm like, 'What? What does that mean exactly?' Then you think about it, and you go, 'Oh, right. When you are no longer reproductive, when those organs are no longer functioning, you are not sexy, so, therefore, you are not hirable.' That just made me so mad."

Twenty-one years, two Oscar nominations, and dozens of acting awards later, Watts has proved the "it's over at 40" crowd wrong, but she continues to fight back against the stigmas women face due to aging. Her latest goal: Breaking the taboos around menopause. The actress (and co-founder of ONDA Beauty) has partnered with Em & Friends for a line of humorous menopause greeting cards — yes, you read that right — which will help raise money for the Alliance For Period Supplies. Watts is also launching a menopause wellness brand, Stripes, on Oct. 18 — just in time for World Menopause Day.

The star of Netflix's upcoming stalker thriller The Watcher took a pause for the cause to tell EW why it's time to change the way we talk about "The Change."

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You started going through perimenopause earlier than your peers. At the time, what did you think was going on, and how did you figure out what was happening?

NAOMI WATTS: Yeah, I was really flailing around. Actually, I heard the word menopause mentioned to me right at the precipice of when I wanted to start creating a family, so you can imagine the panic. I certainly never heard the term perimenopause. I did have in the back of my mind that my mom had gone [into menopause] early; she said [it happened] at 45 but gave me no details surrounding it. So, when I got to this point, I was like, "Why didn't you tell me more?" And she said, "Well, these are the conversations I didn't have with my mother because she didn't have them with hers."

Anyhow, I got through the fertility scramble. I felt a lot of secrecy and shame around that time. When I got to the other side of that, after having two babies, I started swiftly going into a real version of menopause. I did feel very private about it. I didn't speak to too many people. I tried to open the conversation with a few people around me, and it was sort of met with, "Oh, right," or nervous laughter or something. It just didn't feel like the door was open at all. I was having night sweats, so the sleeplessness and with two small babies — was not an easy time.

Health and wellness have always been something I'm very drawn to. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was like, "I've gotta do something." I was pretty sure there was a space for something to happen in a different way, where [women could talk about menopause] and not have this same retelling of it as a spooky, scary, painful time. Like, "It's all downhill from here!" [laughs] I wanted it to be fun.

The greeting cards in the Naomi Watts Menopause Collection are quite funny. I especially like the one that says menopause gives you "the breathtaking power of truly not giving a s--- what anyone thinks anymore." What was your role in the creation of the collection?

Well, the artist has been around for a while, and so we joined forces with her. We thought it was a great way to get the community going. If you open that door just a little bit, you'll be surprised by how many people are really ready to talk about [menopause]. Humor diffuses awkwardness and pain — we know that to be true already. And certainly, that was how I saw the vision of the brand. It had to have humor. We want it to be a place that people come and bitch and moan and have real feelings but also laugh at ourselves and make it somehow more bearable.

Naomi Watts Launches Menopause Greeting Card Partnership
Naomi Watts Launches Menopause Greeting Card Partnership

Noam Galai/Getty Images for STRIPES Naomi Watts

Okay, so what's the etiquette for sending a menopause greeting card? My fear is I'll send one to a friend, and then she'll be offended because she's not experiencing symptoms yet.

Just say, "Well, soon you will!" [Laughs] Half the population will be going through menopause [at some point]. The mission of the brand is to end the stigma, and get rid of the confusion and the mystery, and to debunk myths. We want to get it as normalized as we possibly can because we're living longer. We live decades after menopause, which is not the case of how it used to be. It really has to become an open conversation.

Have you sent any cards out to any of your friends?

I did. I sent a good handful. They might be surprised, but it's all in good fun. [Laughs]

Given how obsessed Hollywood is with youth, did anyone on your team have an issue with your mission? Like, "Um, Naomi, are you sure you want to become the spokesperson for menopause?"

No. I've definitely had my own little voices at times. Like, oh my God, are you sure you want to do it? Because once you do it, you can't unring that bell. [Laughs] Anyone on my team feels like it's a good conversation to have because where stigma lies, work needs to be done. It might put off some people, but not enough to make me think that I shouldn't have done this.

What do you think Hollywood could do better when it comes to allowing women to age like human beings?

It's such an awkward conversation because, from day one, we begin our aging process. It's something we just all have to get comfortable with and women are asked to do it more than men. We don't talk about a man aging hardly ever. We don't talk about his gray hair. In fact, if we do, it's like, "Oh, he gets more handsome, more desirable, more powerful." And why is he powerful? Because he's accumulated experiences. Well, it should be the same for women. We've got important and powerful experiences as well at this age that we should feel proud of.

If you're in production on something and you start experiencing menopause symptoms on the set, is that something you feel comfortable talking about?

Now it is, yeah. I was having a terrible skin issue on a show [I was working on]. I just thought I was allergic to the makeup or something. I kept changing products and removing things. I got into a conversation with my makeup artist, and we finally figured out that this is what it must be, that the change of hormones [was affecting my skin]. Luckily, she was the same age as me, so we could discuss it. But if she was in her twenties or something, it might have made me uncomfortable. It might have made her uncomfortable.

So that was the biggest thing that affected me in the workplace. Also, brain fog is a big thing. You have to have a really sharp memory when you're being given pages of dialogue every day, sometimes only the night before. And that can be a scary thing because it's like, "Wait, I always used to have a handle on this, and now suddenly it's a whole lot harder."

Your new Netflix horror series The Watcher looks really freaking scary. What are you most excited for people to see?

It's got a fantastic cast and wall-to-wall great characters. It's based on a true story, and who doesn't love a whodunnit? Working with Ryan Murphy was fantastic, so I was really glad to get in a room with him. I'm also going on to another thing that he's producing, Capote's Women, with Gus van Sant and Jon Robin Baitz who's writing it. It's a great cast and a great story.

Yes, the long-awaited Feud season 2! You're playing socialite Babe Paley. Tell us about her.

She's a magnificent woman. Not a hair out of the place, not a word wrong. Truman Capote said it himself: Her only flaw was how perfect she was. [It's about] her relationship with her husband as well as her relationship with Capote and all of these fantastic women. It's good and juicy. We'll start shooting in late fall. And I can guarantee none of those ladies were speaking about menopause.

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