In 2004, Maria Belon and her family flew to Thailand for a vacation. The day following Christmas a tsunami struck, killing almost 300,000 people. Her story is told in the new movie The Impossible. In the film, Maria and her husband, who are Spanish, are transformed into a British couple, Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor), who along with their three sons, are swept up in the horror and mayhem of the worst natural catastrophe of our time.
Naomi spoke with us about playing Maria, a role which many say will earn her an Oscar nomination.
Do you remember where you were when you heard about this event?
Yes, I do. I was in LA actually. I was on a break from filming King Kong, and I was at home.
I remember being shocked and horrified as I was watching the news, as the numbers just kept multiplying. George Clooney called me up, and I ended up doing a telethon [with him].
Who knew that seven or eight years later we’d be doing a film about it.
When you were sent the script, what was your reaction?
How will they do this? It’s such a big subject with so much suffering and so many lives lost. Does it become a disaster movie that becomes spectacular? I worried about that.
Having said that, Juan Antonio (Bayona) was the director, and I knew his previous film, [The Orphanage], and I thought, ‘He’s a proper filmmaker, I’m sure he will handle it well.’
Then I read the script and the first few pages just felt rooted in truth. Maria was involved in the script-writing process, and I felt like it was something I knew I wanted to do, because we’re addressing this massive thing that took place, but also inside of it was this really intimate storytelling of a family.
Thank God I knew it was real, because I don’t think I would have believed it, I don’t think I would have been able to, because knowing how many families went through this and didn’t end up with the same kind of ending, it just would seem impossible.
Can you talk about shooting the tsunami scenes, being hit by the debris under the water – was that you or a stuntwoman?
There’s one moment where they used a stunt person, but for the most part it’s all me, and then there was a dummy when crashing through the wall.
It’s always hard working in water, and that was a month of water scenes. It was definitely the most difficult thing I’ve done physically.
Has making this movie changed the way you look at the world?
Meeting Maria has made a huge impact on my life. She is an impressive woman who sees life differently. She lives on another plane of reality almost. It’s like she has a fearlessness, a positivity, she’s not going to sweat the small things. She’s intense in a really good way.
If I met her and I didn’t know that she had gone through this tsunami I might be intimidated by her, I might feel like, ‘I can’t relate, I’m full of cynicism, I’m jaded,’ and she has none of that. She’s just in the moment and incredibly present and I think we crave and strive for that.
I asked Naomi about meeting Maria for the first time – click below to see and listen to her answer
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