“The mind is the most powerful thing,” says Naomi Watts, the morning of the release of her latest project, the Netflix show “Gypsy.” Watts portrays Jean Holloway, a cognitive behavioral therapist whose boredom with her own life — married to a lawyer, mother to a young daughter, dodging invites from mundane neighbors in suburban Connecticut — leads her to give in to her temptations, which quickly spirals into a double life.
The show’s writer, Lisa Rubin, consulted her sister, a cognitive behavioral therapist herself, throughout the production of the series; while the series hasn’t landed the highest reviews, Watts’ portrayal is captivating in her ability to make Jean simultaneously sympathetic and unnerving.
The show is the actress’ second television project this year, after her turn in the revival of “Twin Peaks” earlier this spring.
Watts, whose film “The Book of Henry” was released earlier in June, will next be seen in the film adaptation of Jeanette Walls’ “The Glass Castle,” in August. Having just wrapped shooting “Ophelia” in Prague, with Tom Felton, Daisy Ridley, and Clive Owen, she’s taking July and August off to enjoy the summer.
WWD: Sam Taylor-Johnson directed the first five episodes of the series; how did you two connect, and how did she convince you to join the project?
Naomi Watts: She’s the one who brought it to my attention. We met at a thing and there were lots of people around, one of these functions around town. She said “I’ve got this thing that I really want you to read,” and the way she spoke about it, it sounded fascinating. I wasn’t really actively looking for a TV show or anything. I certainly was curious; so many good things come from TV these days. But anyways, Sam got me to read it, and within the first read I just thought “This is a great character study, it’s a great exploration of one identity” and that is always interesting to me.
WWD: How did you incorporate cognitive behavior therapy into your research for Jean?
N.W.: I met with one therapist who I just went to as myself, for her to dissect my problems. And then I also spoke a lot with Lisa’s sister Rachel, who is a cognitive behavior therapist who kind of acted as a consultant all the way through.
I wanted to know how things work — I’ve done [different] kinds of therapy over the years, but I hadn’t done this kind of therapy, and learning about that made it very interesting to me. We create these thought patterns that can cause so much damage — and if we can control those thought patterns, we can actually change behavior. They give you homework and things like that, so it felt like…it was definitely a new kind of therapy for me.
WWD: Should we be rooting for Jean? Should we be judging her?
N.W.: It’s absolutely true that her intentions start from a pure place — but yes, her curiosities get the better of her and she makes some bad choices. And before you know it, she’s caught up in a horrific web of lies, and she has to keep going with it. She’s kind of hooked on it, and things get bigger and bigger. What I liked about it is it felt like a cautionary tale — we all have dark thoughts, we all live with fantasies and desires — but it’s what you actually do with them. She is someone who is caught out acting upon them and we can see she’s not going to be able to sustain this.
But as an audience member, you get to stay home in the safety and comfort of your own environment and go on that journey with her but not get into any of that trouble. I think the audience will feel like rooting for her, and also [be] judging her.