Naomi Watts: Going Gold

If Hollywood gave out awards for perseverance, Naomi Watts would win hands down.

She struggled as an actress for more than a decade before her breakthrough in films like "Mulholland Drive" and "The Ring." Now, she's up for an Academy Award as best actress for her performance in "21 Grams." She dropped by The Early Show to talk about her career with co-anchor Harry Smith.

In "21 Grams," Watts plays a middle-class woman who has had, in the past, problems with drugs. Then, there is a car accident.

"In that moment," says Watts, "her life is changed forever… She has been told if she behaves well, if she tries hard, then…only good things will happen. And so when this happens, it's a major wake-up call. And she's questioning and fighting and everything. She wants revenge. She wonders if she can carry on with her own life.

"To me," Watts continues, "it's an extraordinary human story that can happen to anyone, about a woman who has to endure the most incredible pain."

It is not a "date" movie, not a "popcorn" movie.

"It definitely addresses the bigger questions in life, and if you've brought your popcorn in, you're going to have to put it aside and concentrate," says the actress. "But for me, those kind of films are much more rewarding and, you know, you take something away with you."

How does Watts feel about the Oscar nomination, to be embraced by that kind of acceptance after years of struggle?

"It certainly feels good," she says. "I mean, I had pretty much reconciled that I would be an actor for hire. I worked, but there were large gaps in between, questioning if this is what I'm cut out for, can I handle this lifestyle. And now, you know, the phone rings and I get sent really beautiful scripts and offers to work with incredible directors and actors. It's far beyond what I ever dreamed."

There were times, she says, when she felt like giving up on Hollywood. "I packed my bags and I'd go back to Australia or back to England."

But she helped herself also with the company she kept: "I attempted to surround myself with really good people who tell me the truth, who believe in me or, when it's not worth believing in a situation, they tell me that as well. And, yeah, I mean, it takes a lot, you know. But I love what I do, and that's what kept me there. And even though the highs weren't coming too often, they would happen and keep you invested."

Watts says she plans to attend the Oscars ceremony Feb. 29 with her mother and also with her boyfriend, actor Heath Ledger. But she says she is not telling herself that she wanted to win the trophy.

"To me, it's already a win," she says. "I've worked so hard and this is…so beyond what I ever dreamed. It's a dream that would have been way too far-fetched."

Watts will face stiff competition at the Academy Awards show. Her fellow nominees are: Keisha Castle-Hughes, "Whale Rider"; Diane Keaton, "Something's Gotta Give"; Samantha Morton, "In America"; and Charlize Theron, "Monster."

Some Facts About Naomi Watts

  • Watts was born in Shoreham, England, on Sept. 28, 1968
  • In 1986, Watts made her film acting debut in "For Love Alone"
  • In 1991, Watts had a regular role on the Australian serial "Home and Away"; co-starred as a snobbish schoolgirl in the Australian film "Flirting"; and had a featured role in the Australian television miniseries "Brides of Christ"
  • In 1992, Watts had a role in "Wide Sargasso Sea"; she made her first Hollywood film, "Matinee"
  • In 1995, Watts played Jet Girl in the cult movie hit "Tank Girl"
  • In 1997, Watts made her American television series debut in NBC's "Sleepwalkers"
  • In 1998, the actress was featured in "Dangerous Beauty"; she portrayed the murder victim in the based-on-fact CBS drama "The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer"; and Watts returned to Australia to co-star in "Strange Planet"
  • In 2000, Watts had a lead role in the British television drama "The Wyvern Mystery"; she played title role in the independent feature "Ellie Parker"
  • In 2001, Watts starred as an aspiring starlet in "Mulholland Drive"; she also portrayed a television newswoman investigating mysterious elevator accidents in New York in "Down"; had lead role as a widow who takes in a gunslinger in the Showtime period Western "The Outsider"
  • In 2002, the actress starred in the blockbuster supernatural thriller "The Ring"
  • In 2003, Watts starred with Kate Hudson in the Merchant/Ivory film "Le Divorce"
  • In 2004, Watts will be seen in "We Don't Love Here Anymore," "The Assassination of Richard Nixon," and "I Heart Huckabees"