Emma Watts Biography

Emma Watts

A tall, Grace Kelly blond, Emma Watts says she comes to work every day with a sense of appreciation. “I drive onto the lot and say, ‘How did this happen?’ I actually get to make movies it’s absurd.” We beg to differ. Since joining Twentieth Century Fox four years ago, the 32-year-old Watts has emerged as one of the most respected creative executives around, a favorite among filmmakers for her discerning judgment and skill at managing a movie production. She spent six weeks on the Slovakian set of Behind Enemy Lines, overseeing John Moore’s directorial debut on the modestly budgeted and profitable action picture. When the movie was finished, Moore signed a one-sheet for Watts with an inscription she cherishes: “With all my love and all my hate.” She seems to have been born to mediate the conflict-ridden process of movie making. “I love getting into the muck,” she says. “As long as you tell the truth, it works. My job is to facilitate, to translate, to balance all the agendas.”

Born in England, she grew up in Vancouver as a jock, biking and wind-surfing, and swimming competitively. She landed a swimming scholarship at Simon Fraser University, where she studied kinesiology for a year, then bailed and headed to Europe for four years of modeling.

For a guy whose favorite movie of all time is Singin in the Rain, making a movie musical would fulfill a dream. He’s grateful that his countryman Baz Luhrmann has helped rein-vigorate the genre with Moulin Rouge. “When musicals work, they are great entertainment,” Jackman says. “But they have to be thought out cleverly you can’t just whack them up onto the screen.” What about a musical by Spielberg? “Yeah, he should do it, absolutely,” Jackman agrees. “If you speak to him, will you put in a word for me ?”

I was an atro cious model,” she says, but she loved bouncing from Paris to London to Milan. “I’m Canadian,” she explains. “I saw it as a chance to see the world.” She saved enough money to return to school at UCLA, from which she graduated with a degree in English literature.

After stints working for photographer Herb Ritts and Def Pictures’ Russell Simmons, Watts landed a job as director of development for Oliver Stone, with whom she toiled “ad nau-seum” on the scripts for Any Given Sunday and an unmade pro-ject about Martin Luther King Jr. She was infected by his tenacity for getting it right. “Oliver is never easy,” Watts says.

“But the good ones never are. And I love characters.”

“Regardless of the implied power or potency of a piece of talent, Emma is not intimidated,” says Fox president of production Hutch Parker. Her confidence in speaking her mind to heavy-hitters helped her earn her next assignment: Solaris, Fox’s adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s classic sci-fi novel, starring George Clooney and written and directed by Steven Soderbergh. “I like big, difficult sci-fi pieces,” Watts says. “Clooney says, ‘Solaris is 2015 meets Last Tango in Paris.’ Steven is bringing out all the humanity in the story. It’s all of those things you hope movies can be.” N.G.

Like the music executive who famously turned down the Beatles, those distributors (and they know who they are) who passed on last spring’s sleeper hit Memento must now be feeling a tad foolish. Not only did that ingeniously twisted little thriller garner more than $25 million, it scored four Independent Spirit awards and two Oscar nominations, including one for best original screenplay for its 31-year-old British-American director, Christopher Nolan. With its revelatory reverse story line and dazzling execution, Memento heralded the arrival of a prodigious filmmaking talent. Steven Soderbergh saw the movie early on and tried to convince several distributors to pick it up.

“They all said it was too smart,” recalls the Ocean’s Eleven director, who nevertheless went to bat for Nolan around town. “He told a lot of people, ‘This guy will be able to do a studio film, and you won’t be making a mistake,’ ” says Nolan, whose only other feature had been the low-budget black-and-white thriller Following. By the time Memento was released in theaters (by its financier, Newmarket Film Group), the suddenly hot filmmaker was in Canada directing three Oscar winners Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank in the psychological detective story Insomnia, for Warner Bros, and executive producer Soderbergh.

“He’s almost frighteningly smart,” Swank says, “the kind of director actors ache to work with.” Nolan was so busy with Insomnia (and with becoming a first-time father) that he was “pretty nicely insulated” from the hubbub surrounding his breakthrough film, he says. “But when I came back to L.A. to edit, people stopped me in restaurants and told me how much they liked it. And I look at the Insomnia trailer, and [before it mentions the cast] it says ‘From the director of Memento,’ so that’s a huge difference.”

Making a movie on that scale, with those sorts of elements, is like standing in the exhaust of a jet engine for a year,” Soderbergh says of Insomnia. “If you can do it and not get killed, then you can make your own way.” Although Nolan, who’s now writing a Howard Hughes biopic for Jim Carrey and Castle Rock, is taking it all in stride, he confesses to the odd moment of reality-pinching, especially where Pacino is concerned. “The one thing I never quite got over,” he says, laughing, “is I would go into his trailer in the morning and he’d be on the phone, and he’d say, ‘I’ve got to go, my director’s here.’ That would freak me out a little, to think, Oh, yeah, that’s me!

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