Because they embody characters will all sorts of talents and experiences, actors get to pick up a lot of nifty skills. Naomi Watts, for example, picked up the ukulele and video games ― sort of ― for her new movie, “The Book of Henry.”
Watts plays a single mother named Susan who cedes most adult responsibility ― you know, paying bills and cleaning and managing the family’s stock trading ― to her precocious 11-year-old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher). If she’s not scurrying to her waitressing job or schlepping her kids around in a beat-up station wagon, Susan is probably playing violent video games or imbibing with her lush co-worker (Sarah Silverman). Not that she doesn’t adore her sons (she also has Henry, an 8-year-old played by Jacob Tremblay); she just plays a little fast and loose with the whole parenting thing.
One night, while tucking Henry and Peter into bed, Susan pulls out a ukulele and serenades them with a rosy sleepy-time song. That required a double whammy for Watts, who doesn’t play the ukulele and feels “very, very uncomfortable” singing.
“As an actor, you get to learn little bits of things through these characters,” she told HuffPost last month at the movie’s New York junket. “I remember one time I had to learn to ride a unicycle. Another time I hard to learn to play an Erik Satie piece on piano. And this time, the ukulele. But I don’t even know if I can still play it.”
Watts shot “The Book of Henry” in late 2015. Opening this weekend, the film is the latest addition to the actress’ busy 2017 slate, which started with festival holdovers “Chuck” and “Three Generations,” continued with a top-secret role in the “Twin Peaks” revival, and revs up even more with the lead role on Netflix’s forthcoming “Gypsy” and as the eccentric mother in the adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memoir The Glass Castle.
Watts is well aware that not all of these projects will find an instant shelf life. “Chuck” and “Three Generations” have already failed to crack $1 million at the box office. “Twin Peaks” may not be a ratings bonanza, but it’s a conversation-starter online thanks to its rabid fan base. “The Book of Henry,” for all its tone-shifting madness, has the added credential of being the latest project from Colin Trevorrow, the director of “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Jurassic World” and next year’s “Star Wars: Episode IX.”
“You just never know if people are going to be willing to receive it at that particular time,” Watts said. “It’s always a risk and it’s very painful when things don’t work out in the way that you’d hoped because you put so much into it, you really do. I never take on a project where I just sort of phone it in — I have to bleed for it.”
At least she can cross “ukulele” off her bucket list.