Naomi Watts has opened up about the most harrowing scene from her new film, Penguin Bloom.
The movie is based on the real-life story of Aussie woman Sam Bloom, who became paralysed from the chest down after a freak accident in 2013.
Naomi, 52, stars as mum-of-three Sam who, with the help of her family and a rescued baby magpie named Penguin, overcomes her traumatic near-death experience and eventually comes to terms with living with a disability.
Two-time Oscar nominee Naomi tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she jumped at the chance to take on both lead role and producer duties after reading Penguin Bloom: The odd little bird who saved a family, a photo book by Sam’s photographer husband, Cam Bloom.
“I was really moved by the book and found the images to be very compelling for both me and my children,” she says.
“[I was] equally blown away by the story and the suffering Sam went through and I just found her to be a really compelling character,” she adds.
Naomi’s ‘upsetting’ scene
British-born Naomi’s own experiences of motherhood — she shares sons Kai, 12, and Sasha Schreiber, 13, with ex-partner Liev Schreiber — was a valuable source of inspiration for her performance but also a source of pain.
In one particularly ‘upsetting’ scene, two of the Bloom’s three young sons come down with food poisoning in the middle of the night and, instead of calling out to their mum for help like they used to, they yell for their dad.
As Cam (played by Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln) rushes to check on the ill boys and clean up their mess, a panicked Sam remains trapped in bed, physically unable to come to her children’s aid.
“It definitely hit me in the guts when I read that scene,” Naomi admits.
“I just thought that would be the most horrible thing as a mother, to be the one [who was] called for and now [the kids] no longer do that. It just felt really upsetting to me,” she adds.
In a separate chat, Sam tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she remembers that awful night too well.
“I felt like the worst mum in the world. It should’ve been me jumping up to help them, but I couldn’t,” she says.
“Naomi just nailed [the scene]. Her expression and what she says was exactly how I was feeling,” she adds.
Both Sam and Cam were heavily involved in the filming process — they even offered up their own home for use as the main set — but having to revisit the tragic fall she had while on holiday in Thailand was “pretty emotional and quite confronting.”
In the firing line
Things slowly began to change for the better for Sam and her family when the Bloom’s eldest son rescued Penguin, an orphaned and injured magpie chick, on their local beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Sam became Penguin’s reluctant carer while her boys were at school but it wasn’t long before the pair developed a beautiful bond, helping each other to heal physically and emotionally.
Unfortunately for Naomi, who faced hours on set with multiple birds of various ages, her most memorable encounter with a magpie was quite “traumatic.”
“Before this film I’d had not a great experience with [magpies], I’d been swooped so I didn’t know them to be friendly creatures,” she reveals.
Thanks to a ‘great’ magpie trainer, however, Naomi managed to overcome her fear and eventually become a fan of the species — despite their tendency to use her as a toilet!
“There were accidents on my head and [the poo] trickled down into my mouth,” she laughs.
“They do say don’t work with animals or children and we broke all the rules but we got the best out of both situations,” she adds.
So, is she ready to take on the role of a zoologist in her next film?
“Maybe, I love nature and I’m a farm girl at heart so I’m certainly up for it!” she says.
Still call Australia home
Naomi relocated from the UK to Australia with her mother and brother at age 14, so returning down under for the homegrown project in late 2019 was a boon.
“It was summer and my kids were on break... I have a lot of nostalgia for the Northern Beaches and obviously Australia,” she explains.
On the weekends, Naomi would spend time with her Aussie family including her aunts and her grandmother who is “still going strong”.
“It was a really wonderful experience, one I’ll always remember,” she says.
Penguin Bloom hits cinemas on Thursday, January 21, 2021.
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