Naomi Watts on acting "The Impossible"

(CBS News) With the Oscars just two weeks away, Lee Cowan meets with Best Actress nominee Naomi Watts . . . THE ENVELOPE PLEASE:


It ranks among the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

On December 26, 2004, a massive tsunami tore across Southeast Asia, killing some 230,000 people.

The world sat stunned -- anxious to help, but largely helpless from so far away. At least that's how actress Naomi Watts felt.

"Just remember turning on the TV and being glued to it, but I still felt like -- it felt like a long way away."

A long away away, until Watts traveled to the once-battered coastline of Thailand to begin filming a movie ABOUT the tsunami, appropriately titled, "The Impossible."

Her realistic performance of a real-life event now has her in the running for an Oscar.

It's a true story, based on Maria Belon and her family, vacationing from Spain when the tsunami hit.

Naomi Watts plays a tourist whose family is torn apart by a tsunami in "The Impossible."
Summit Entertainment

Miraculously, she, her husband, and all three of her children survived the tsunami, and returned to Spain.

"I was there, I was under the water, I was struggling," Belon said. "You feel thousands of things at the same time in a very, very strong way."

At first, Naomi Watts was nervous about playing Maria, wondering if it was even appropriate. "I don't want her to relive any more trauma, she's clearly been through way too much," Watts said.

Maria was nervous, too. Would Hollywood get it right? Besides she admits, she was a bit star-struck.

"Before this film happen, if you ask me which is your favorite actress, I would always answer Naomi Watts," she said.

Watts told Cowan that when she first met the woman she was to play on screen, she almost said nothing at first. "Yeah, I walked into the room and we just sort of sat opposite each other, and it was okay to be silent and look at each other. And then her eyes starting welling up, and mine did, too."

"I started to cry, like maybe I'm doing now," Belon said. "I got really emotional just remembering this moment. I said, you know, it's a big responsibility what you have and I have, because you're not going to portray Maria, you're going to portray all the moms during the tsunami."

Naomi Watts and Maria Belon attend the Los Angeles premiere of "The Impossible," December 10, 2012 in Hollywood, Calif.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

For six weeks they shot in a giant water tank, with Watts being battered around like a rag doll -- challenging for any actor, but especially Naomi Watts.

"Do you look at the water any differently now?" Cowan asked.

"I think I do, yeah," she replied.

After moving from her native England to Australia when she was just 14, Watts and her mother nearly drowned in a rip tide: "I got to the point where I was giving up and my mum didn't. And she found sand and she was able to pull me in."

In the film, she's pull in, too, brought to a group of Thai women who dress her and tend to her wounds. It's an emotional scene that Watts says she couldn't play without Maria's help.

"I just held her hand. I said, 'Maria ...,' and then she sort of just held my hand, and I just felt all her energy and all of her, you know, pain and troubles, you know?"

"I gave her all my love, all the love I got from these people back to her, so she was able to put on the scene," Maris said.

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