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HOLIDAY SNEAKS | TIME LAPSE

Watts' 'little' holiday-season movie

November 06, 2005|Lynn Smith

"ELLIE PARKER" is the other film Naomi Watts stars in this season.

A funny, intense tale of a young actress (Watts) trying to protect her talent in a mindless and heartless Hollywood, "Ellie Parker" first appeared as an experimental short at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. It might have gone on to become part of the recent wave of TV about struggling Hollywood actors. But talks, as they say, broke down.

Instead, in the ensuing years, writer-director Scott Coffey kept returning to "Ellie Parker," working on new scenes and shooting them whenever he and Watts had a free day and the light was right.

Now the pieces have been fused into a feature-length film, to be released Friday. (Watts also stars in "King Kong," due out Dec. 14.)

The project was a labor of love for the friends, who were themselves struggling actors when they first met on the 1995 film "Tank Girl."

Coffey proposed the idea for "Ellie Parker" when the pair reconnected on the set of 2001's "Mulholland Dr." He used a hand-held digital camera to shoot the first 16-minute short, which follows Watts as she changes clothes, applies makeup and rehearses lines -- all while driving on the Santa Monica Freeway on the way to an audition. ("We could have been arrested," said Watts, who co-produced the film.)

Another car scene shows Watts and a girlfriend in an "act off," vying to see who can be the first to produce real tears.

While the film isn't biographical, both Watts and Coffey said it reflects experiences many actors have had.

"Ultimately, [Ellie] believes she has something to offer, but she's come to a point where she's lost sight of herself and who she is. I identify with that," said Watts, on the phone from China, where she is shooting "The Painted Veil."

She added, " 'Ellie Parker' is about the ugly, paranoid, self-loathing moments."

Watts, 37, toiled in Hollywood for eight years before her breakthrough role in "Mulholland Dr." and has gone on to become an Oscar-nominated movie star.

She said she still has moments, though, when all she cares about is being filmed while looking her best. "But as you get older, it doesn't matter so much what people think. It matters what you think, and one or two others."

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