Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Breaking into the Big Time Emily Watson Was Virtually Unknown before a Risky Film Called "Breaking the Waves" Won Her a Stack of Awards and an Oscar Nomination

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Breaking into the Big Time Emily Watson Was Virtually Unknown before a Risky Film Called "Breaking the Waves" Won Her a Stack of Awards and an Oscar Nomination

Article excerpt

It's not long ago, Emily Watson recalls with a shy smile, that automated tellers would eat her bank card on those days when she wasn't living off baked potatoes.

No longer.

Now gifts and flowers from importuning producers and dress designers appear regularly at the actress' south London home, alongside what she calls "a wall of scripts" that she has yet to get through. The reason for this attention? Watson's brave and startling performance as Bess in "Breaking the Waves," for which the previously unknown 30-year-old is up for an Academy Award for Best Actress. "It's every actor's dream, a kind of silly dream; it is quite bizarre," the soft-spoken, large-eyed Watson said one recent afternoon. She was referring to the nomination she received in a highly competitive year for women when such critically acclaimed contenders as Debbie Reynolds ("Mother") and Meryl Streep ("Marvin's Room") were overlooked. "Everyone kept saying, `You know, you may not be nominated; don't get too excited,' and when I did, I just kept thinking, I've been nominated for an Oscar? Don't be stupid." Watson was talking over tea in a Soho media club called Blacks, which offered membership to the actress following the success of "Breaking the Waves." Such perks have been regularly coming her way of late, though Watson seems determined to keep her feet on the ground. "The whole recognition thing is very much to do with hype and the press and people's perception," she said, having been on the interview circuit more or less nonstop since "Breaking the Waves" premiered at Cannes last May. "It's not necessarily to do with the actual work." Referring to her husband, actor Jack Waters, who is appearing in a production in Wales of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie," Watson said: "To me, Jack's work in that is fantastic and exciting; it's every bit as thrilling." It is nonetheless difficult to imagine many roles as grueling as Bess, the innocent Scottish bride of Lars von Trier's film. So fervent -- some would say fanatical -- is her devotion to her suddenly disabled husband Jan (played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard) that she embraces prostitution and degradation in the cause of self-ennoblement and spiritual sacrifice. "What Bess does is appalling and yet it's wonderful; that's one of the great things about the film," said Watson, whose only prior screen work had been a TV version, with John Gielgud, of a little-known J.B. Priestley play. "The character is total love, really; that is what she is, and at the same time she's a disaster," Watson said. "Politically, she's as incorrect as you can possibly get. Ethically, intellectually, psychologically, she doesn't stand up to analysis in any way whatsoever." And yet, the actress argued, "she's adorable. I absolutely adore her. …

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