Everest focuses on the summit and survival attempts of two expedition groups – one led by Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal) and the other by Rob Hall (Clarke). Watson plays a pivotal role as New Zealander Helen Wilton, a base camp supervisor who witnesses the harrowing events and manages to patch through the last call between Rob Hall and his pregnant wife (Knightley).
Watson, who was the first choice to play Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth 1 (which earned Cate Blanchett an Oscar nomination) and who is regularly mistaken for Emma Watson (Harry Potter) which she has joked is ‘flattered that people think I’m 21,’ is one of the great British actresses known for such difficult roles as Breaking the Waves (1996), Hilary and Jackie (1998), Angela’s Ashes (1999), Gosford Park (2001), and Punch-Drunk Love (2002). She is equally known in the theatre world for her roles in productions such as Twelfth Night, Uncle Vanya, and Much Ado About Nothing.
In Los Angeles, she looks unrecognisable today from her role in the movie as he down-to-earth Kiwi and looks chic in a Stella McCartney top, Amanda Wakeley skirt and Hobbs pumps. She has been married to fellow actor Jack Waters since 1995 and they are raising their two children: Juliet, 9, and Dylan, 6, in London. Today she chats about her new movie, being a mum, and being mistaken for Emma Watson.
WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FEAR?
Oh, I am very fearful. I am scared of wild animals and I can tell you that I would never in a million years climb Everest. We have millions of years of evolution that says ‘Don’t do it!’ We protect ourselves in danger and we run from it, and that’s how the human race has survived. And I think you have to be of a different evolutionary species to want to do that. I can understand it and I admire it. I respect it, to want to stand on top of the world and look down upon your planet and the idea that you got there on your own two feet, it’s quite an extraordinary feat. But I have children and I just wouldn’t do it.
IT MUST HAVE BEEN HEARTBREAKING FOR YOU TO PLAY THIS ROLE – IF NOT FOR HELEN, ROB HALL AND HIS WIFE WOULDN’T HAVE SPOKEN AGAIN
Yes and she said to me that was the most important thing she has ever done in her life, to patch through that phone call. And I think her job description was providing logistical, making sure there was food and toilet rolls and that was her job at base camp, coordinating everything. And she ended up being I guess emotional support in that extreme situation. But she wasn’t a climber. Unlike the rest of them, she had a completely different route; she won a competition to go on a trek to base camp with adventure consultants. And in New Zealand, where she is from, they were huge, they were heroes. It’s a very small nation with a very proud mountaineering history, and with Sir Edmund Hillary they were well beating world class climbers in their field. So, to her, she was just an ordinary housewife and with four kids transported into this extraordinary situation with people that she really hero worshipped. So then she was transported beyond that into this tragedy.
IS SHE GOING TO BE AT THE PREMIERE?
She is. Yes, Helen is coming. She emailed me this morning and said that she had seen the movie and she was really pleased. She said I will be the one who looks like they are more comfortable in gumboots (laughs).
DO YOU REMEMBER THIS TRAGIC EVENT IN 1996?
I will tell you, by strange coincidence, the day this all went down on the mountain was the day that Breaking the Waves premiered in Cannes. So I remember sort of picking up a newspaper and trying to take some refuge from the craziness that was going on and reading this extraordinary story. I seemed to remember that as the news reports came through, Rob Hall was still alive. Then the news came through that he had died. So it was very much a news event and it was a horrible news event that was happening.
DO YOU SKI?
No. I have a recurring dream about skiing and I don’t do it. I think I have a syndrome called catastrophisation, (laughter) and it works very well for being an actress, but it’s not very helpful in life.
WOULD YOU ASK YOUR CHILDREN TO WATCH THIS MOVIE?
They are a little young and they would be very upset by it I think, but yeah later. I think most of my work is on the top shelf of when I am dead. (laughs) But as they get older they will watch some stuff.
AS YOU SAID, BEING A MOTHER, YOU WOULD NOT TAKE CERTAIN RISKS LIKE CLIMBING MT. EVEREST. HOW DOES YOUR HUSBAND FILL YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU’RE AWAY FROM YOUR KIDS ON FILM LOCATIONS?
Completely brilliantly. He’s been an amazing part of my career in that sense in that we have managed to keep our family in one piece and I have managed to maintain a career with his immense support which has been amazing. I think having children changes the way you look at everything. Early on in my career I would be adventurous and take risks, we’d pack a suitcase and go anywhere, off we’d go. My choices are very much now about, ‘Well is it during the holidays, is it term time, is it half term and how far is it, can I come home on the weekend?’ That sort of thing and just running a family and keeping everything afloat, it changes everything really.
AND DO YOU TAKE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE LEARNED FROM YOUR PARENTS’ ROUTINES OR DISCIPLINES AND PASS ON TO YOUR OWN KIDS?
Yes, I think so. I think it’s just in your DNA, isn’t it? My parents, I think, both lent me qualities that made me an actor; my mother had a great love of literature and she was an English teacher. My father had a real wholeheartedness about him which I think were qualities that I try and embark on my children and give to my children. There are a lot of stories in our house.
VERY OFTEN WE SEE YOU IN ROLES IN WHICH YOU DON’T WEAR MAKEUP. USUALLY ACTRESSES HAVE A CERTAIN PROBLEM WITH VANITY, BUT YOU DON’T SEEM TO HAVE THIS ISSUE?
Well I am like everybody else. I do have my fears and worries about that stuff but I find it immensely liberating not to be worrying about stuff. The rules of engagement are these and you don’t need to be worrying about all that stuff because the story you are telling is much more important. It’s such a relief, like, just get on with it. And I always talk to my sister when she sees the movie and she says, ‘You were very brave.’ I know that means she thinks I looked like shit. (laughter) But it kind of goes with the territory and it’s like wearing a mask, and it’s very liberating. It lets you go further when you’re not worrying about it.
WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FASHION?
I am afraid that I have to be dragged screaming into a relationship with fashion. Everything I am wearing today was chosen by somebody else and at home I wear a pair of jeans and a baggy T-shirt, and that’s about it I am afraid. And I have an iron but I don’t really use it. I have young kids, so what is the point and when they are a bit older, maybe I will dress up a bit more. But at the moment it’s just keeping it simple. I love fashion and I love dressing up and I occasionally love the whole glamorous thing and it’s really fun, but it’s not something that I have in my own life.
CONGRATULATIONS ON BECOMING AN OBE.
Oh yes, Order of the British Empire.
DOES IT GIVE YOU A REASON TO LOOK BACK ON THE LAST 20 YEARS OF YOUR CAREER AND REMEMBER WHERE YOU THOUGHT YOU WOULD GO WHEN YOU BEGAN?
It was great. It was just a thrilling thing to have that happen, strange as it seems, it has a kind of currency in the British actor world. It was just really fun and I got to dress up with my family and my husband wore a suit and my kids wore suits and we all dressed up and we went to the palace for the day. It was really good fun. And it was nice to celebrate sometimes, it’s like a ritual to celebrate and it’s important to do those things sometimes I think.
I KNOW YOU’RE MISTAKEN FOR EMMA WATSON. HAVE YOU EVER MET HER?
I have never met her. And, I came first! (laughs) But I think she’s great, she’s a great actress and she has really kind of grown up on film which is an amazing thing to do and to survive. She is doing interesting work now and I think she’s pretty awesome. When I was working in Mexico once, I had people coming up to me, women coming up to me saying, ‘You were great in Harry Potter!’ (laughs) and eventually, because there was a language thing, eventually I was just signing. (laughs) And once I got into an excruciating misunderstanding with somebody asking me to do some charity work by email, thinking that I was Emma Watson. It was really awkward.
IF EVEREST IS A METAPHOR FOR ACHIEVING THE IMPOSSIBLE GOAL, TO PUT YOURSELF ON A PERSONAL PEAK, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR OWN EVEREST? WHAT HAS BEEN THAT DRIVE TO REACH FOR?
I think to be in a life with a career that is immensely turbulent, and to maintain balance and a sense of reality, that’s been really challenging. It’s always challenging and it’s not like a question you can answer and then it’s done; it’s an ongoing and huge challenge.