What would you do if you started receiving eerie, anonymous letters in yourdream home?
“I don’t think I’d just suddenly leave,” Naomi Watts tells ELLE.com,empathizing with her character Nora Brannock in Netflix’s The Watcher. Inthe thriller series, Nora and her family move into a stunning new house onlyto be sent threatening letters from a mysterious author who knows them by nameand refers to the kids as “young blood.”
Watts’ co-star Jennifer Coolidge, however, would opt for a more defensiveapproach—one that includes “a bunch of rottweilers and pit bulls and germanshepherds to surround the house.” The Emmy winner portrays Karen Calhoun, arealtor and old friend of Nora’s who seems to be hiding a secret. Though she’sable to sell the Brannocks the house in the show, in real life, Coolidgethinks the family should’ve had some serious protection.
“I feel that’s what’s missing, is just some really vicious dogs that couldreally save your life when someone is being so awful,” she says. “And then youthink of what an awful thing that is to do to a family, and you should have nomercy for someone like that.”
This twisted saga is based on the haunting true experiences of the Broaddusfamily, who received similar letters from someone called The Watcher afterthey bought a house in Westfield, New Jersey, according to a New YorkMagazine story published in 2018. While multiple neighbors were deemedsuspects, ultimately, after years of police probes and private investigations,Reddit theories and neighborhood gossip, the real Watcher was neveridentified. And the Broadduses found a new home.
“I think what makes this story so relatable is you can imagine this familywho’s dreamed about this place, and they’ve had all kinds of plans in place,and even though there’s risk involved, they’ve done it anyway,” Watts says .“And they finally got their dream. And to have these bizarre letters and thenbizarre people swirling their dream, they’re not gonna let go easily. You canrelate to that kind of story.”
Soon, Watts, who just starred in the horror movie Goodnight Mommy , willportray Babe Paley in Feud: Capote ‘s Women_also from _The Watcher producerRyan Murphy . And Coolidge, who recently won an Emmy for her performance in_The White Lotus,_ will return to the cult HBO series later this month. At 54and 61 respectively, both booked-and-busy stars (and countless others acrossthe industry) debunk the ageist comment Watts heard earlier in her career thatit’s over for women in Hollywood once they turn 40. parts recently,” Coolidgesays, “and I’m not 30 anymore.”
Here, the co-stars talk brass around on the set of The Watcher Coolidge’sbig Emmys night, and roles for older women in Hollywood.
the watcher saga has so many twists and turns. What was your initialreaction to hearing that this was a true story? Did you hear about it beforethe project?
Naomi Watts: I hadn’t, and I don’t know what was happening with me at thatpoint in time, ’cause I know that most of the East Coast was following it withgreat veracity. But I didn’t know about it. But when I knew that Ryan wasgonna be calling, I was told a little bit about the story and of course I wentand read the article right away and got very swept up in it, devoured it. Itfelt super juicy and super intriguing. And I just imagined myself in thatsituation how hard it would be. So it was an instant yes.
Jennifer Coolidge: I just remember that I knew the story and I remember atthe time it was sort of one of those stories you couldn’t really forget. Itwas disturbing and it was very easy to picture yourself in that situation. Igrew up in suburbia outside of Boston and it’s the eeriest kind of story’cause you realize how vulnerable you can be in an instant. All it takes isone creepy person.
Did either of you try to get in touch with the real people you portray? Iknow Jennifer, your Karen is a little more fictionalized, but Naomi, did youtry to get in touch with Maria Broaddus?
Watts: No, no. We really just stuck with the text. Yeah, it’s based on atrue story, but creative license was taken. These people could be anyone,really. And I’ve definitely played true stories before and found myselfwanting to have a conversation or have some kind of connection with thatperson. It can be incredibly helpful, but it’s not always entirely necessary.And particularly when that person’s not known to the world, it isn’tabsolutely vital. In fact, we didn’t know how the story was going to play out.We had some material, but we didn’t have all of the scripts. So discovering itin real time actually became quite helpful with the whole mystery of it all.
Both of your characters starting off as longtime friends is a new additionto the story. I’m guessing you’ve met before joining this project? What wasyour first day on set together like, and what was it like building thatrapport for the show?
Watts: We didn’t know each other.
coolidge: No, but I was a huge fan of Naomi’s for a very long time. She issort of like an icon in our field and has done this incredible body of workand everything is so different. And I never forget anything you’d ever do,Naomi. Like, you’re just etched in my brain and you’re surprisingly this veryhumble person. What a great combo to be at the top of your game and sort ofunaware of all the admiration somehow. Or maybe you know and you’re justpretending you don’t know. I don’t know.
Watts: I was super thrilled knowing that Jen was joining the cast. I’djust literally finished watching The W hot lotus. I mean, I’d known herwork from previous pieces, but this was a moment to really watch her shine. Ijust was blown away by her performance in that, as was the rest of the world.And so to get on set with her, it was just fantastic. And yes, we had thisfriendship that was there on the page and it was important to me that we werecomfortable with each other and everything and we just kind of got to knoweach other on and off the set. [We] had a moment to hang out a bit. She’ssolid gold. She just brought so much.
coolidge: And we did mess around too. We did have a couple days where wereally kind of joked around.
Watts: yeah. We definitely went off the page and did some of our ownstuff. Trying to keep up with Jen and then also hold a straight face is notthe easiest, but it was fun [ l aughs ]. She makes you raise your game.
Photo credit: Netflix
Speaking of, Jennifer, congratulations on your Emmy, by the way. How didyou celebrate?
coolidge: Well, I still have yet to celebrate. I had a bunch of stuffgoing on at the time and I haven’t really blown the doors off yet. I can’twait. I mean, maybe I’ll do it on Halloween night or something. There weresome afterparties after the Emmys, but I couldn’t go to them because I’d beencarrying this heavy beaded dress and it kind of sucked the life out of me. Icouldn’t go out and party afterwards. So, you know, I may have to flysomewhere.
Do you think Karen could sell Tanya McQuoid, your character on The WhiteLotus a home?
coolidge: Oh, that’s such a good question. I think Tanya can be verydisappointing and make you think she’s going to buy a house from you, but Ifeel like Tanya at the very last minute might let you down. And that wouldmake Karen go nuts.
Watts: I feel like I’d buy anything from Karen.
coolidge: Really? Nora’s smarter than that.
Watts: Naomi though.
coolidge: Oh, Naomi! Oh, I see. You’re right.
You’re both thriving in your careers now, and you have huge resumes behindyou. Naomi, you recently talked about how someone earlier in your careertold you that women wouldn’t be able to be cast after they turn 40 becausethey become “unf—able.” I can’t believe somebody said that to you. But yearslater, how do you feel looking back at that? Do you think Hollywood’sperception of older women has changed?
Watts: I think it’s definitely changed. And by the way, that comment wasmade as like, “This is ridiculous, but this is the theory,” and it was said tome because I came in quite late. Not to say that I wasn’t trying; I had beentrying to break through for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until I was inmy early thirties that I actually managed to get a job where people wereactually gonna see this film, and that was Mulholland Drive. And so, thetheory was that you gotta get cracking now, pedal to the metal, and work likecrazy, because it’s probably gonna be all over. And yes, that horrifying termwas used and I was like, “Wait, what? What does that mean exactly? I see otherwomen on screen that are older.”
And then I thought, oh, right, you mean like not playing the leading lady, orwhat, the reproductive organs aren ‘t working anymore, so now we have to playthe crazy ladies? Like, this is some bullshit. But by the way, we’re actors,and we don’t mind playing the crazy ladies. I’m good with that; those partsget super interesting actually [ l aughs ]. I’ve always preferred the morecharacter-y kind of type of work. And I don’t like to be boxed in. I don’tlike to be told “these are the rules” too much.
Hollywood has certainly changed. I mean, look, there’s so many wonderfulactresses out there who are well into their fifties, making great strides intheir career, and not going anywhere anytime soon.
Jennifer, is this something you experienced as well? Have you noticed achange too?
coolidge: I think you just have to not listen to it [the criticism] andplow ahead. I’ve been at dinner parties where the whole night is about, youknow, “There are no parts for women anymore,” and I feel like if you reallysit down and make that subconsciously a reality, somehow your mind hears thatand you can get depressed. But, I don’t know, I’ve gotten some great partsrecently, and I’m not 30 anymore. And like I say, some of the greatest partsI’ve ever played, I got in the last two years.
Watts: It’s changed. It’s definitely changed.
coolidge: It’s definitely changed and some very exciting things arehappening, I think. And Naomi and I had an amazing female director for TheWatcher.
I also noticed most of the women are over 50 in the cast [including MiaFarrow, Margo Martindale, and Noma Dumezweni]which is really great.
Watts: All of them!
coolidge: yeah. And Jen Lynch, what a brilliant director [of The Watcher]. I guess it’s just up to us to make sure that if these parts aren’t beingoffered to us, we make them happen.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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