After years as a struggling actress, Watts came to attention in David Lynch's psychological thriller Mulholland Drive (2001). The following year she enjoyed box-office success with her role as Rachel Keller in The Ring (2002), the remake of a successful Japanese horror film. She then received nominations at the Academy Awards and the Screen Actors' Guild Awards in the Best Actress categories for her portrayal of Cristina Peck in Alejandro González Iñárritu's neo-noir 21 Grams (2003). Her subsequent films include David O. Russell's comedy I Heart Huckabees (2004), the 2005 remake of King Kong, the crime-thriller Eastern Promises (2007) and the Tom Tykwer-directed thriller The International (2009). Since then, Watts has portrayed Valerie Plame Wilson in the biographical drama Fair Game (2010) and Helen Gandy in Clint Eastwood's biographical drama J. Edgar (2011). For her leading role as Maria Bennett in the disaster film The Impossible (2012), she received second nominations for the Academy Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress and a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.
Watts was born 28 September 1968, in Shoreham, Kent, England. She is the daughter of Myfanwy ("Miv") Edwards (née Roberts), an antiques dealer and costume and set designer, and Peter Watts (1946–1976), a road manager and sound engineer who worked with Pink Floyd. Miv was born in England but lived in Australia between the ages of one and seven. Watts' maternal grandfather was Welsh and her maternal grandmother was Australian.
Watts' parents divorced when she was four years old. After the divorce, Watts and her elder brother, Ben Watts, moved several times across South East England with their mother. Peter Watts left Pink Floyd in 1974, and he and Myfanwy were later reconciled. Two years later, in August 1976, he was found dead in a flat in Notting Hill, of an apparent heroin overdose.
Following his death, Watts' mother moved the family to Llanfawr Farm in Llangefni and Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, towns on the island of Anglesey in North Wales, where they lived with Watts' maternal grandparents, Nikki and Hugh Roberts, for three years. During this time, Watts attended a Welsh language school, Ysgol Gyfun Llangefni. She later said of her time in Wales: "We took Welsh lessons in a school in the middle of nowhere while everyone else was taking English. Wherever we moved, I would adapt and pick up the regional accent. It's obviously significant now, me being an actress. Anyway, there was quite a lot of sadness in my childhood, but no lack of love." In 1978, her mother remarried (though she would later be divorced again) and Watts and her brother then moved to Suffolk, where she attended Thomas Mills High School. Watts has stated that she wanted to become an actress after seeing her mother performing on stage and from the time she watched the 1980 film Fame.
In 1982, when Watts was 14, she moved to Sydney, New South Wales in Australia with her mother, brother and stepfather. Myfanwy established a career in the burgeoning film business, working as a stylist for television commercials, then turning to costume design, ultimately working for the soap opera Return to Eden. After emigrating, Watts was enrolled in acting lessons by her mother; she auditioned for numerous television advertisements, where she met and befriended actress Nicole Kidman. Watts obtained her first role in the 1986 drama film, For Love Alone, based on the novel of the same name by Christina Stead, and produced by Margaret Fink.
In Australia, Watts attended Mosman High School and North Sydney Girls High School. She failed to graduate from school, afterwards working as a papergirl, a negative cutter and managing a Delicacies store in Sydney's affluent North Shore.
She decided to become a model when she was 18. She signed with a models agency that sent her to Japan, but after several failed auditions, she returned to Sydney. There, she was hired to work in advertising for a department store, that exposed her to the attention of Follow Me, a magazine which hired her as an assistant fashion editor. A casual invitation to participate in a drama workshop inspired Watts to quit her job and to pursue her acting ambitions.
Regarding her nationality, Watts has stated: "I consider myself British and have very happy memories of the UK. I spent the first 14 years of my life in England and Wales and never wanted to leave. When I was in Australia I went back to England a lot." She also has expressed her ties to Australia, declaring: "I consider myself very connected to Australia, in fact when people say where is home, I say Australia, because those are my most powerful memories."
Watts' career began in television, where she made brief appearances in commercials. The 1986 film For Love Alone, set in the 1930s and based on Christina Stead's 1945 best-selling novel of the same name, marked her debut in film. She then appeared in two episodes of the fourth season of the Australian sitcom Hey Dad..! in 1990. After a five-year absence from films, Watts met director John Duigan during the 1989 premiere of her friend Nicole Kidman's film Dead Calm and he invited her to take a supporting role in his 1991 indie film Flirting. She starred opposite future Hollywood up-and-comers Kidman and Thandie Newton. The film received critical acclaim and was featured on Roger Ebert's list of the 10 best films of 1992. Also in 1991, she took the part of Frances Heffernan, a girl who struggles to find friends behind the walls of a Sydney Catholic school, in the award-winning mini-series Brides of Christ and had a recurring role in the soap opera Home and Away as the handicapped Julie Gibson. Watts was then offered a role in the drama series A Country Practice but turned it down, not wanting to "get stuck on a soap for two or three years", a decision she later called "naïve".
Watts then took a year off to travel, visiting Los Angeles and being introduced to agents through Kidman. Encouraged, Watts decided to move to America, to pursue her career further. In 1993 she had a small role in the John Goodman film Matinee and temporarily returned to Australia to star in three Australian films: another of Duigan's pictures, Wide Sargasso Sea; the drama The Custodian; and had her first leading role in the film Gross Misconduct, as a student who accuses one of her teachers (played by Jimmy Smits) of raping her. Watts then moved back to America for good but the difficulty of finding agents, producers and directors willing to hire her during that period frustrated her initial efforts. Though her financial situation never led her to taking a job out of the film industry, she experienced problems like being unable to pay the rent of her apartment and losing her medical insurance. "At first, everything was fantastic and doors were opened to me. But some people who I met through Nicole [Kidman], who had been all over me, had difficulty remembering my name when we next met. There were a lot of promises, but nothing actually came off. I ran out of money and became quite lonely, but Nic gave me company and encouragement to carry on."
When I came to America there was so much promise of good stuff and I thought, I've got it made here. I'm going to kick ass. Then I went back to Australia and did one or two more jobs. When I returned to Hollywood, all those people who'd been so encouraging before weren't interested. You take all their flattery seriously when you don't know any better. I basically had to start all over again. I get offered some things without auditioning today, but back then they wouldn't even fax me the pages of a script because it was too much of an inconvenience. I had to drive for hours into the Valley to pick up three bits of paper for some horrendous piece of shit, then go back the next day and line up for two hours to meet the casting director who would barely give me eye contact. It was humiliating.
–Watts on her early struggles
She then won a supporting role in the futuristic 1995 film Tank Girl, winning the role of "Jet Girl" after nine auditions. While the film was met with mixed reviews, it flopped at the box office, although it has gone on to become something of a cult classic. Throughout the rest of the decade, she took mostly supporting roles in films and occasionally considered leaving the business, but: "there were always little bites. Whenever I felt I was at the end of my rope, something would come up. Something bad. But for me it was 'work begets work'; that was my motto." In 1996, she starred alongside Joe Mantegna, Kelly Lynch and J.T. Walsh in George Hickenlooper's action-thriller Persons Unknown; alongside James Earl Jones, Kevin Kilner and Ellen Burstyn in the period drama Timepiece; in Bermuda Triangle, a TV pilot that was not picked up for a full series, where she played a former documentary filmmaker who disappears in the Bermuda Triangle; and as the lead role in Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering, in which children in a small town become possessed under the command of a wrongfully murdered child preacher.
In 1997, she starred in the Australian ensemble romantic drama Under the Lighthouse Dancing and also played the lead role in the short-lived television series Sleepwalkers. In 1998, she starred alongside Neil Patrick Harris and Debbie Reynolds in the TV film The Christmas Wish, played the supporting role of Giulia De Lezze in Dangerous Beauty, and provided some voice work for Babe: Pig in the City. She said in an interview in 2012, "That really should not be on my résumé! I think that was early on in the day, when I was trying to beef up my résumé. I came in and did a couple days' work of voiceovers and we had to suck on [helium] and then do a little mouse voice. But I was one in a hundred, so I'm sure you would never be able to identify my voice. I probably couldn't either!" In 1999, she played Alice in the romantic comedy Strange Planet and the Texan student Holly Maddux in The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer, which was based on the real life effort to capture Ira Einhorn, who was charged with Maddux's murder. In 2000, while David Lynch was expanding the rejected pilot of Mulholland Drive into a feature film, Watts starred alongside Derek Jacobi, Jack Davenport and Iain Glen in the BBC TV film The Wyvern Mystery, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Sheridan Le Fanu that was broadcast in March of that year.
Much of her early career is filled with near misses in casting, as she was up for significant roles in films such as 1997's The Postman and The Devil's Advocate and 2000's Meet the Parents, which eventually went to other actresses. In an interview in 2012, Watts said, "I came to New York and auditioned at least five times for Meet the Parents. I think the director liked me but the studio didn't. I heard every piece of feedback you could imagine, and in this case, it was 'not sexy enough'." Watts recalled her early career in an interview in 2002, saying, "It is a tough town. I think my spirit has taken a beating. The most painful thing has been the endless auditions. Knowing that you have something to offer, but not being able to show it, is so frustrating. As an unknown, you get treated badly. I auditioned and waited for things I did not have any belief in, but I needed the work and had to accept horrendous pieces of shit." Watts studied the Meisner Technique.
In 1999, director David Lynch began casting for his psychological thriller Mulholland Drive. He interviewed Watts after looking at her headshot, without having seen any of her previous work, and offered her the lead role. Lynch later said about his selection of Watts, "I saw someone that I felt had a tremendous talent, and I saw someone who had a beautiful soul, an intelligence—possibilities for a lot of different roles, so it was a beautiful full package." Conceived as a pilot for a television series, Lynch shot a large portion of it in February 1999, planning to keep it open-ended for a potential series. However, the pilot was rejected. Watts recalled thinking at the time, "just my dumb luck, that I'm in the only David Lynch programme that never sees the light of day." Instead, Lynch filmed an ending in October 2000, turning it into a feature film which was picked up for distribution.
The film, which also starred Laura Harring and Justin Theroux, was highly acclaimed by critics and would become Watts' breakthrough. She was praised by critics, including Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, who said, "Watts's face metamorphoses miraculously from fresh-faced beauty to a frenzied, teary scowl of ugliness." and Emanuel Levy, who wrote, "... Naomi Watts, in a brilliant performance, a young, wide-eyed and grotesquely cheerful blonde, full of high hopes to make it big in Hollywood." The film premiered at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival and received a large number of awards and nominations, including the Best Actress Award for Watts from the National Society of Film Critics and a nomination for Best Actress from the American Film Institute. The surrealist film following the story of the aspiring actress Betty Elms, played by Watts, attracted controversy with its strong lesbian theme.
Also in 2001, she starred in two short films, Never Date an Actress and Ellie Parker, and the horror film The Shaft, director Dick Maas' remake of his 1983 film De Lift. In 2002, she starred in one of the biggest box office hits of that year, The Ring, the English language remake of the Japanese horror film Ringu. Directed by Gore Verbinski, the film, which also starred Martin Henderson and Brian Cox, received favourable reviews and grossed around US$129 million domestically (equivalent to US$171.8 million in 2017). Watts portrayed Rachel Keller, a journalist investigating the strange deaths of her niece and other teenagers after watching a mysterious videotape, and receiving a phone call announcing their deaths in seven days. Her performance was praised by critics, including Paul Clinton of CNN.com, who stated that she "is excellent in this leading role, which proves that her stellar performance in Mulholland Drive was not a fluke. She strikes a perfect balance between scepticism and the slow realisation of the truth in regard to the deadly power of the videotape." That year, she also starred in Rabbits, a series of short films directed by David Lynch; alongside several other famous British actors in the black comedy Plots with a View; and with Tim Daly in the western The Outsider.
The following year, she took the part of Julia Cook in Gregor Jordan's Australian film Ned Kelly opposite Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush; as well as starring in the Merchant-Ivory film Le Divorce, portraying Roxeanne de Persand, a poet who is abandoned by her husband Charles-Henri de Persand at the time she is pregnant. Roxeanne and her sister Isabel (Kate Hudson) dispute the ownership of a painting by Georges de La Tour with the family of Henri's lover. Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C" rating and lamented Watts' performance: "I'm disappointed to report that Hudson and Watts have no chemistry as sisters, perhaps because Watts never seems like the expatriate artiste she's supposed to be playing".
Conversely, her performance opposite Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro in director Alejandro González Iñárritu's 2003 drama 21 Grams earned Watts an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress later that year. In the story, told in a non-lineal manner, she portrayed Cristina Peck, a grief-stricken woman living a suburban life after the killing of her husband and two children by Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro), who started a relationship with the critically ill academic mathematician Paul Rivers (Sean Penn). She said of the nomination, "It's far beyond what I ever dreamed for – that would have been too far fetched". She also was nominated for Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, as well as many other nominations and acclaim. The New York Times praised her: "Because Ms. Watts reinvents herself with each performance, it's easy to forget how brilliant she is. She has a boldness that comes from a lack of overemphasis, something actresses sometimes do to keep up with Mr. Penn". The San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "Watts is riveting, but she's much better in scenes of extreme emotion than in those requiring subtlety."
She then starred alongside Mark Ruffalo in the 2004 independent film We Don't Live Here Anymore. The film is a drama which was based on the short stories We Don't Live Here Anymore and Adultery by Andre Dubus, and depicts the crisis of two married couples. She reunited with Sean Penn in The Assassination of Richard Nixon, which was set in 1974. She played Marie Andersen Bicke, the wife of the would-be presidential assassin Samuel Byck (Penn). Finally in 2004, she teamed up with Jude Law and Dustin Hoffman in David O. Russell's ensemble comedy I Heart Huckabees. Watts next starred and co-produced with director/screenwriter Scott Coffey her film, the semi-autobiographical drama Ellie Parker (2005), which depicted the struggle of an Australian actress in Hollywood. The film began as a short film that was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001 and was expanded into a feature-length production over the next four years. Film critic Roger Ebert praised Watts' performance: "The character is played by Watts with courage, fearless observation and a gift for timing that is so uncanny it can make points all by itself."
Watts returned in the lead role in the sequel to The Ring, The Ring Two. The film received several negative reviews, but was a major success at the box office, with an over US$161 million worldwide gross (equivalent to US$197.4 million in 2017) and Watts was once again praised for her performance. Her third film of the year was Marc Forster's psychological thriller Stay. Written by David Benioff, it also starred Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling and Bob Hoskins. Watts then starred in the 2005 remake of King Kong as Ann Darrow. Watts was the first choice for the role, portrayed by Fay Wray in the original film, with no other actors considered. In preparation for her role, Watts met with Wray, who was to make a cameo appearance and say the final line of dialogue, but she died during pre-production at the age of 96. King Kong proved to be Watts' most commercially successful film yet. Helmed by The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, the film won high praise and grossed US$550 million worldwide (equivalent to US$674.5 million in 2017). The Seattle Post-Intelligencer praised her performance: "The third act becomes a star-crossed, "Beauty and the Beast" parable far more operatic and tragic than anything the original filmmakers could have imagined, exquisitely pantomimed by Watts with a poignancy and passion that rates Oscar consideration."
Her next film was The Painted Veil with Edward Norton and Liev Schreiber. Watts played Kitty Garstin, the daughter of a lawyer, who marries Walter Fane (Norton) for his reputation as a physician and bacteriologist. The film centres on the relationship of the couple at the time they move to China, where Fane is stationed to study infectious diseases. Comparing her portrayal with Greta Garbo's in the original movie, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote "Watts makes the role work on her own terms – her Kitty is more desperate, more foolish, more miserable and more driven ... and her spiritual journey is greater. For her only other film of that year, she provided the voice of a small role, Suzie Rabbit, in David Lynch's psychological thriller Inland Empire. Also that year, she was announced as the new face of the jewellers David Yurman and completed a photoshoot which was featured in the 2007 Pirelli Calendar.
She later appeared in David Cronenberg's crime thriller Eastern Promises with Viggo Mortensen, which premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, to critical acclaim. As the movie, Watts also generated positive feedback among critics; Slate magazine remarked in its review that she "brings a wounded radiance to the overcurious midwife Anna. Though it's a bit of a one-note role, it's a note she's long specialised in, a kind of flustered moral aggrievement". Eastern Promises grossed US$56 million worldwide, (equivalent to US$68.7 million in 2017).
She appeared with Tim Roth in Michael Haneke's Funny Games (2007), a remake of Haneke's 1997 film of the same name that opened at the London Film Festival. The director said that he agreed to make the film on condition that he be allowed to cast Watts, according to UK's The Daily Telegraph. In the picture, she portrayed Ann Farber, who with her husband and son are held hostage by a pair of sociopathic teenagers. Watts also served as a producer, as this charge was for her "one way to spice up the deal and be involved in all the creative decisions". The movie generated mixed reviews and received a limited theatrical release in the United States, grossing $7 million, on a $15 million budget. Newsweek felt that Watts "hurls herself into her physically demanding role with heroic conviction". David Stratton, from At the Movies concluded that she was "as usual, really fine". However, New York Daily News criticised her part for being half-naked throughout most of her appearance, considering that it was "an awfully strange way to make a righteous point about exploitation".
After a short hiatus from acting following the birth of her two children, Watts returned to acting in 2009, starring alongside Clive Owen in the political thriller The International. She played a Manhattan assistant district attorney who partners with an Interpol agent to take down a merchant bank. The picture was well received by critics, and grossed over US$60 million (equivalent to $67.0 million in 2017) worldwide. The same year, she appeared in the drama Mother and Child, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. She portrayed the role of Elizabeth, a lawyer who never knew her biological mother. Watts co-starred the film along with Annette Bening, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. Mother and Child received mainly favourable reviews, with ViewLondon remarking that Watts "is terrific as Elizabeth, delivering a powerful performance that [...] isn't afraid to be unsympathetic". She was nominated for the Best Actress award at the Australian Film Institute Awards and was also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in the category of Best Supporting Female.
Her next film, the Woody Allen dramedy You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, opened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. She portrayed Sally, a woman who has a troubled marriage with author Roy (played by Josh Brolin). Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch and Anthony Hopkins also co-starred in the film, which received mixed reviews from critics and grossed over US$26 million (equivalent to $28.6 million in 2017). Later in 2010, she starred as Valerie Plame in the biographical thriller Fair Game, which was given a November theatrical release in the US. Based on Plame's memoir, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, the movie also marked the third pairing of Watts with Sean Penn after 21 Grams and The Assassination of Richard Nixon. The movie was acclaimed by critics and earned Watts a Satellite Award nomination for Best Actress.
Watts appeared opposite Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in Jim Sheridan's psychological thriller Dream House, which was released in September 2011, to a lackluster critical and commercial response. Watts' following film role was in Clint Eastwood's biopic J. Edgar, alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the title character. Watts played Edgar's secretary Helen Gandy. The film was released in December 2011 and rated average with reviewers. About Watts' performance, The Hollywood Reporter remarked that she "has little opportunity to express much beyond dogged loyalty" and while Los Angeles Times called her "talented", it also noted that her part was a "thankless one" for the actress.
Watts starred in The Impossible (2012), a disaster drama based on the true story of María Belón and her family's experience of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami; she played the lead role, with her name changed to Maria Bennett. Critical response towards the movie and Watts' performance was unanimously positive. Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter said that "Watts packs a huge charge of emotion as the battered, ever-weakening Maria whose tears of pain and fear never appear fake or idealised." Justin Chang of Variety magazine noted that "Watts has few equals at conveying physical and emotional extremis, something she again demonstrates in a mostly bedridden role." Damon Wise of The Guardian said that "Watts is both brave and vulnerable, and her scenes with the young Lucas ... are among the film's best." Watts went on to be nominated for the Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress.
In the Australian drama Adore, Watts co-starred with Robin Wright, playing two childhood friends who fall in love with each other's sons. The movie premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival as Two Mothers, and later opened in selected cinemas. It received a mixed feedback from critics, who concluded that Watts and co-star Wright "give it their all, but they can't quite make Adore's trashy, absurd plot believable". She obtained the FCCA Award for Best Actress in 2014, for her role. Her next release was Movie 43, an independent anthology black comedy film that featured 14 different storylines, with each segment having a different director. Watts' segment, titled "Homeschooled", was directed by Will Graham and revolved around two devoted parents (Watts and Liev Schreiber) attempting to replicate their son's whole high school experience. This marked Watts' second collaboration with Schreiber, following the 2006 drama The Painted Veil. The portmanteau film was universally panned by critics, with Richard Roeper calling it "the Citizen Kane of awful".
She appeared opposite Matt Dillon in Laurie Collyer's Sunlight Jr., an indie drama about a struggling working-class couple. The movie premiered at the 12th Tribeca Film Festival, and was given a limited US theatrical run in November 2013. Reviewers expressed a warm reception for the film and the San Francisco Chronicle, praising Watts and co-star Dillon, stated that they are "formidable actors at the top of their game here [...] exhibiting a remarkable chemistry". Also in 2013, she portrayed the title role in Oliver Hirschbiegel's Diana, a biographical drama about the last two years of the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. The picture, released amid much controversy given its subject, was a box office bomb and received largely poor reviews from audiences and critics. James Berardinelli found the film to be a "dull, pointless" production and remarked that while Watts did a "decent job encapsulating the look and feel of Diana", her portrayal was "a two-dimensional recreation".
Alejandro González Iñárritu's 2014 dark comedy Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) saw Watts play an actress and the partner of stage co-star Edward Norton. The film, about a faded Hollywood actor (Michael Keaton) struggling to mount a Broadway play, opened the 71st Venice International Film Festival and received an October theatrical release in specialty theaters, generating widespread critical acclaim. Cinemablend felt that Watts and Norton shared an "explosive chemistry" as "warring" lovers, and San Francisco Chronicle found the actress to be "poignant and funny" in her role. Birdman won four awards at the 87th Academy Awards including Best Picture, and Watts and the other cast members earned the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture.
Watts appeared in the comedy-drama St. Vincent, as a Russian prostitute. She learnt the accent by spending time with Russian women in a West Village spa during a six-week period. The film, co-starring Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy, was screened at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival and released to theaters on 10 October 2014, one week before Birdman. The dramedy garnered favorable reviews as a whole, but Los Angeles Times reported a dividing reaction towards Watts' role, asserting that her part "put off some critics with its outrageousness", but "earned plenty of plaudits too". Watts later nabbed a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress. In the comedy-drama While We're Young, Watts co-starred with Ben Stiller as a New York-based married couple who begin hanging out with a couple in their 20s. Like St. Vincent, While We're Young was screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, receiving an US release the following year. The movie was an arthouse success and Watts was highly acclaimed for her on-screen chemistry with Stiller.
Watts played rebel leader Evelyn Johnson-Eaton in Insurgent (2015), the second film in The Divergent Series, which is based on Veronica Roth's best-selling young adult novel of the same name. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a commercial success, grossing US$274.5 million worldwide. Watts reprised her role in the series' third installment, Allegiant, released on 18 March 2016, to negative reviews and lackluster box office sales.
Watts starred in Gus Van Sant's mystery drama The Sea of Trees, opposite Matthew McConaughey, playing the wife of an American man who attempts suicide in Mount Fuji's "Suicide Forest". The film premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it competed for the Palme d'Or, but was heavily panned by both critics and audiences, who reportedly booed and laughed during its screening. Critic Richard Mowe stated the audience reaction should "give the film’s creative team pause for reflection about exactly where they went so badly awry." Justin Chang of Variety also criticised the film, but commended Watts' performance for being "solidly moving and sometimes awesomely passive-aggressive." Distributed for a very limited theatrical release in the US, the movie went little seen by audiences.
Watts appeared in the dramas Demolition and Three Generations, both of which were screened at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. In Demolition, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, and Judah Lewis, Watts played a customer service representative and the interest of a grieving investment banker (Gyllenhaal). The film had a limited run in theaters and received an overall mixed reception. The Telegraph remarked that Watts "is powerless to make this groaner of a character feel like flesh and blood", while The Wrap felt that she "empathetically captures [her] harried single mom" role as she played "both the wit and the sadness with grace". In Three Generations, directed by Gaby Dellal, she appeared with Susan Sarandon and Elle Fanning as the mother of a young transgender man (Fanning). The film was pulled from the schedule days before its intended September 2015 release, but subsequently premiered on selected theaters in May 2017.
Watts was cast as Linda, the second wife of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner (played by Liev Schreiber) in the biographical sport drama The Bleeder, revolving around the life of Wepner and his 1975 fight with Muhammad Ali. The film had its world premiere at the 2016 Venice Film Festival and a limited release the following year, receiving unanimous critical acclaim. Variety wrote in its review: "Slightly out of place as the feisty bartender who gives Wepner a second chance at his downest and outest, a spirited Naomi Watts nonetheless gives proceedings her best Amy Adams in The Fighter." Also in 2016, she headlined the thriller Shut In, playing a psychologist insolated with her child in a rural house during a winter storm. The film received largely negative reviews and made US$8 million worldwide.
In 2016, Watts was confirmed to be involved in Twin Peaks, a limited event television series and a continuation of the 1990 show of the same name. It was broadcast on Showtime in 2017. Also in 2017, Watts starred in the Netflix drama series Gypsy. She also served as an executive producer on the series, in which she played "a therapist who begins to develop dangerous and intimate relationships with the people in her patients’ lives". Gypsy was canceled by Netflix after one season.
Her father's laugh can be heard in the Pink Floyd songs "Speak to Me" and "Brain Damage" from their 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. Watts is pictured in her mother's arms with her father, brother, the band and other crew members, in the hardback/softcover edition of drummer Nick Mason's autobiography of the band Inside Out.
Watts was in a relationship with actor Heath Ledger from August 2002 to May 2004. In the spring of 2005, Watts began a relationship with actor Liev Schreiber. The couple's first son, Alexander "Sasha" Pete, was born in July 2007 in Los Angeles, and their second son, Samuel "Sammy" Kai, in December 2008 in New York City. On 26 September 2016, Watts and Schreiber announced their separation, after 11 years together.
She considered converting to Buddhism after having gained an interest in that religion during the shooting of The Painted Veil. She said of her religious beliefs, "I have some belief but I am not a strict Buddhist or anything yet". She practices the Transcendental Meditation technique.
In 2002, she was featured in People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People.
In February 2016, it was reported that she had agreed to become the honorary president of Glantraeth F.C., a small football club in Malltraeth, Anglesey, Wales, near to her grandparents' farm, where she spent time as a child.
In 2006, Watts became a goodwill ambassador for Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, it helps to raise awareness of AIDS issues. She has used her high profile and celebrity to call attention to the needs of people living with this disease. Watts participated in events and activities, including the 21st Annual AIDS Walk. She is presented as an inaugural member of AIDS Red Ribbon Awards. She has participated in campaigns for fundraising. On 1 December 2009, Watts was meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and joined the AIDS response at a dramatic public event commemorating World AIDS Day 2009. During the event, she said: "It has been both unfortunate and unfair for HIV infection to be considered a shameful disease, for people living with HIV to be judged as blameworthy, and for AIDS to be equated with certain death. I have personally seen that dignity and hope have been strongest among those whose lives were changed by HIV."
In 2011, she attended a charity polo match in New York City along with Australian actors Hugh Jackman and Isla Fisher, which was intended to raise money to help victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.