The subject of Naomi Watts’ latest project as a producer had to be grounded before it could take flight.
“Producing from the ground-up, I’m definitely enjoying that side of things as I move forward and keep growing,” the 51-year-old Oscar nominee tells EW (in an interview shortly before news broke that HBO had canceled her planned Game of Thrones prequel) of taking charge on her upcoming Glendyn Ivin-directed movie Penguin Bloom, which adapts writer Bradley Trevor Greive’s 2016 book about a real-life family that underwent a miraculous shift in perspective under the injured wing of a tiny bird.
Watts leads the film (which she shot earlier this year in Thailand and Australia, and produced alongside Big Little Lies‘ Bruna Papandrea, among others) as Sam Bloom, a wife, mother, and victim of a horrific accident that leaves her lower body paralyzed. Sam’s photographer husband, Cameron (The Walking Dead‘s Andrew Lincoln), documents his wife’s ordeal, though he ends up capturing a far more profound transformation than he anticipated.
“Something came into their lives: a magpie they called Penguin, and they nursed her back to life,” Watts explains. “Sam was basically on the edge of wanting to take her own life, suffering from excruciating pain and depression, [asking herself] ‘How do I pick up my life from this point and reinvent myself?’ And this bird coming into their lives created a sense of hope.”
Watts suggests Sam saw a bit of herself in the winged beauty, and that they navigated their mutual road to recovery side by side.
“Sam understood a better way [to live] through healing this bird, to heal herself and make her life work, as difficult as it was,” she says. “It’s a really beautiful story that hopefully will touch many different kinds of people.”
Though Watts has flexed her producing muscle on past projects — including her 2017 Netflix series Gypsy and the new thriller The Wolf Hour — she developed Penguin Bloom from the start, working through the project’s script and getting it off the ground from the beginning, something she feels might not have happened as easily in the recent past.
“I think it’s changed a lot,” she says of the changing roles of powerful women behind the scenes. “I think because of people like Reese and many others — Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and plenty of male actors as well — have delivered fantastic products over and over again. It’s absolutely taken seriously [now], and it should be.”
A release date for Penguin Bloom (also starring Oscar-nominated actress Jacki Weaver) has yet to be announced.