Compiled by: Jack Foley
Excerpts from a syndicated interview with Emily Watson, as
conducted by Tom Dawson
Q. How did you get involved with Punch-Drunk Love?
A. I was in LA promoting another film in the summer of 2000.
Paul Thomas Anderson had been thinking about using me for a while,
although I didn't know that. He'd seen The Cradle Will Rock, which
came out in 1998, and so he had had me in mind for a while. We
met and had lunch and he said, 'I'm doing this film with Adam
Sandler and I'm writing a part for you' , and I said , 'Fine'.
He asked me what I wanted to do next, and I said I'm not interested
in weeping and wailing and crying and dying. He was in a similar
frame of mind, because he had made Magnolia.
Q. Does having a part written specifically written for you
increase the pressure on you?
A. I don't think you think like that really. I always think I
am going to do my best. I don't think I will be less good because
there's less pressure on me. I was a huge fan of Paul's work and
I was pretty excited when I got the call. What was interesting
was getting to know him.
He's an amazing person. When there's really interesting work going
on, there's a really interesting human being in the middle of
it, and he is that. He's really trying to find something and do
something in his work.
Q. What was you initial feelings towards your character Lena
A. I was baffled in a way. In a funny way there's not much there.
I am so used to really challenging 'acting' roles, whilst with
Lena everything is veiled and very subtle for lots of different
reasons. In a way she's somebody's dream, she's not really a real
The film, Punch-Drunk Love, is how you see the world when you're
in love. You don't see somebody's psychological baggage necessarily,
you see the person walking out of the light.
Also, her language is oblique and strange and subtle and sideways
and often unspoken - take the scene where he beats up the bathroom
and they walk out of the restaurant and she doesn't say anything.
They then have a strange conversation about a harmonium: to me
that conversation is about what an amazing special day it was
in Barry's life when both that harmonium landed and when Lena
landed in his life.
For Lena, you have to act a very simple love and an acceptance
of somebody. It's not soppy and doey-eyed - it's quite centred
and sensible. It's an unusual place for an actress like me, who
has always been climbing the walls in her parts.
Q. Is it difficult to build a character, when there isn't
much research to do?
A. Paul and I learnt a lot from Adam - he just opens the door
and sees what falls through. He's very instinctive. We had a certain
type of chemistry together, where we both felt to each other that
we were kind of exotic creatures from another planet.
To me, he's a very, very American comedian, who speaks a language
that I understand not. I am sort of a serious European actress,
with no sense of humour and all that!
We already had a kind of respect, and fascination and nervousness
and curiosity around each other, which already creates an interesting
space between you - we weren't acting that.
Adam is very in the moment, he is just there. My character, Lena,
is somebody who responds to people in a very simple way. I didn't
have to take myself off to a darkened room to concentrate, I just
had to try and be open.
It's an interesting, subtle relationship. A lot of Barry is Paul,
he is a man riddled with doubt and insecurity about his own humanity,
and he puts it up on screen for all to see. Paul was unsure at
the beginning about the tone and where we were going to be, and
quite how he would express what he was going to do.
There was lot of unsureness and experimentation at the beginning,
which was quite tense. In a sense, I had to be like Lena and say,
'That's fine, don't worry, I understand what you are going to
do'. And it's because of that experience that we've become good
Q. Why is Paul Thomas Anderson such a good director of actors?
A. He doesn't tell you what he wants. He lets you battle yourself
into doing something. We struggled to communicate at first, I
wanted him to direct me, to be an actors' director, and he would
just say things like these are not the drawings you are looking
for. I understood him in a subtle way.
You have to give yourself up to this. You have to let yourself
be quite stupid, and chuck everything out. You have to be able
to let go and see what happens - if you practise that it gets
Acting is a very Zen discipline - you have to empty your head
of all those critical voices, which is great if you can do it.
You have to give yourself a bit of freedom.
Q. Lena seems to be both a fairy-tale character and yet a
very down-to-earth figure. Was it hard to strike a balance between
A. She's devoted, but in a really sensible way. I didn't really
plan it to be honest. It's the way it came out, which is the thing
about Paul. I can put my hand on my heart and say, I didn't know
where I was going to put myself for this when I started doing
this, and I certainly didn't know where it was going to end up.
It's as interesting to me as to anybody else.
Q. How would you compare Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson
A. They are completely different in the way they make a film,
although they are both swimming upstream as hard as they can,
against the tide. They are friends, and I remember the two of
them hugging each other and jumping up and down at Altman's house
in LA when we found out that we had been accepted for Cannes.
It was such a lovely moment.
Paul is, in a sense, a complete control freak, every little tiny
detail of what you see has to be finessed and finessed, in terms
of the construction of the shots and the lighting.
Robert Altman likes to point a camera at chaos, it's much looser.
He's opportunistic, he knows how to push peoples' buttons in an
amazing way. I left Punch-Drunk Love to shoot Gosford
Park - Paul does 30 takes sometimes, it's really, really precise
Robert is interested in you before you've worked everything out,
and when you do something accidental and human and odd and puts
that in the movie. It's the time before you've smoothed off the
edges out of the character.