Sunday, September 5, 2010

Day 150: Favourite Actresses #3 - Emily Watson

At the 69th Academy Awards ceremony (1996) Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) was pipped at the post for the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award by Frances McDormand (Fargo). It was a tough and highly talented field that year with Diane Keaton (Marvin’s Room), Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) and Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies).

What made the nomination for Emily Watson even more celebrated was the fact that this was her debut film role, landing in her lap when Helena Bonham Carter dropped out at the very last minute.

In Breaking the Waves, Lars Von Trier’s magnum opus, Emily Watson plays Bess McNeill, “...a young woman raised in a small, devoutly religious community in the Outer Hebrides. Her life changes when she meets Jan, an outsider who works on the North Sea oil rigs. Their love - and the physical manifestation of it - transforms Bess. But their happiness is blighted when he suffers a terrible accident, and the body she desires so passionately becomes paralysed. To keep their erotic life alive, Jan urges Bess to have sex with other men and describe her experiences to him. Her sacrifice is his salvation, but it leads to her downfall and degradation.”

I really don’t know how actresses like Emily Watson take on, and inhabit, roles like Bess? The rugged terrain of characters such as this one, is just that; a pitted, jagged and craggy performance path. I’d like to think that on any other given year, she’[d have scooped up that Academy Award, but then who’s counting and who’s looking for such outside validation or confirmation of what is so obviously a virtuoso performance?

What was also great, was that Emily Watson was as an Academy Award nominee again, in 1999 - no flash-in-the-pan -along with Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth), Meryl Streep (One True Thing) and Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station) - beaten to the finish line, famously, by Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare In Love). This time, Ms Watson had portrayed the cellist Jacqueline du Prés in the film Hilary and Jackie.

I admire the film choices that she makes, movies that are often offbeat, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love and I’m taken by the story of how Jean-Pierre Jeunet wrote the role of Amélie for her, but that she eventually turned the role down “due to difficulties speaking French and a desire not to be away from home”. Ironically, she was, apparently, director Sheka Kapur’s first choice to play the role of Elizabeth, the role that garnered Cate Blanchett her first Oscar nomination the same year that she was nominated for Hilary and Jackie.

In 2001, amongst an extraordinary cast assembled for Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, Emily Watson was wonderfully memorable as the housemaid Elsie, a character who dared to break free from the below-stairs confines of service propriety by speaking up in support of her master and lover, Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon). In the screening that I was at, in the cinema, there was indeed, an audible gasp when her servant-character did the unthinkable and raised her voice, in the dining room, before the servants those they served, with impeccable affront.

I think that Emily Watson is a singular talent.

Day #150 Tip: Treatment to Screenplay
Roughly five months into the process of writing a screenplay and today’s the day where I complete my Treatment and move forward to spend the last month and a bit, writing the actual screenplay.

Robert McKee has much to say about this transition in his book ‘Story’, in the chapter entitled ‘A Writer’s Method’, and I can concur with his opening gambit: “Writing a screenplay from a thorough treatment is a joy and often runs at a clip of five to ten pages per day.” I didn’t believe that when I first read it, but on more than one occasion now, I’ve experienced that very joy. A similar joy I experience in watching Emily Watson on trhe cinema screen.

As Lars Von Trier said, after the Breaking the Waves shoot: “We had auditions with many young actresses, but as soon as I saw Emily on tape, I knew that we had found Bess. Emily has a face that expresses an enormous range of emotion; a face that you can never tire of watching.”

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