For the Oscar-nominated actor, it's a particularly creative time, writes Michele Manelis.

Applauded for her vividly authentic performances as tortured, unhinged women-on-the verge, Naomi Watts chooses to reserve the drama and despair for the screen. Her acting includes Oscar-nominated roles in movies such as 21 Grams (2003), and The Impossible (2012).

But the off-camera Watts is a woman who loves to laugh - loudly, easily and often. Even now, as she finds herself in the spotlight over the break-up of her 11-year relationship with Liev Schreiber, father of her two sons, Alexander "Sasha" Pete, 10, and Samuel "Sammy" Kai, 8, there's no evidence of anguish or fragility.

She says being single is a new experience for her. "I am navigating it as we speak," she says slowly and cautiously. "But personally, yeah, things are going well. The boys are happy and healthy and doing incredibly well.

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"I feel like change is always scary but that's only because transition for anyone is new and you wonder how things are going to go for you. But I make sure I surround myself with good friends, people I trust, people who tell the truth."

Presumably, it's harder to go through such a life-altering shift in the public eye. "I feel like whether you're famous or not, transitions are scary for anybody but I feel I'm in a good place in my life."

Watts is, at 48, at a particularly creative time in her life. This afternoon, in New York City, she's promoting two projects: Gypsy, a Netflix series in which she plays a derailed therapist, plus The Glass Castle, a movie in which she plays the wife of an eccentric alcoholic.

"I think luck definitely plays a part in it," she says of this prolific time in her life. "But I think you have to go out there and get what you want. I think times have changed a bit and are getting better for women. It's happened to be that in my 40s I feel good that there are great roles available. And if you are 40 upwards, you have gone through quite a few experiences and those stories reflect that, which makes it really interesting for an actor to play."

In Gypsy, she plays one of the most duplicitous characters in her cinematic history. Playing a woman in what would be described as a healthy marriage and a great career, she sabotages both.

Naomi Watts, right, with Sophie Cookson in Gypsy.
Naomi Watts, right, with Sophie Cookson in Gypsy.

"The point of the story is, why was that not enough for her? And it's interesting. Last night I was at a dinner that Gwyneth Paltrow was hosting with [Belgian psychotherapist] Esther Perel and she spoke of how sometimes people have affairs not because something is missing in their lives or in their relationship or even themselves, it's just that sometimes they want to push the boundaries or try out new experiences," she says. "I was drawn to the project because it felt like a cautionary tale. We all live with human desire and we all have fantasies but do we need to act on those?

"But I get it, she doesn't make the best choices," she laughs. "I think that there are a lot of stories told in the same way through a male point of view, it's rarer to see it told from a female point of view."

Questioned about reports she and her Gypsy co-star, Billy Crudup, are in a relationship, she deftly changes the subject. She offers, "I just got back from Kenya two days ago, which was a wonderful experience to share with my kids. It was a lifelong dream for Sasha because he has always been so interested in nature and animals, so we got to finally do it. I have always talked about waiting for the right age, so it was great. There was no internet, no iPads. We just enjoyed nature."

In contrast to the great outdoors, which she relishes, for the most part, she also enjoys the pomp and ceremony of the red carpet. "There's definitely a time and place for vanity. It's nice that you get experts coming to your house making you look your absolute best. It's time-consuming but it can be fun. I try to remind myself to do it as gracefully and naturally as possible."

In fact, her natural appearance led to a job offer as the face of L'Oreal Revitalift Volume Filler. "It's probably a bit harder ageing in the spotlight, and it's tough getting older on camera and feeling the pressure because there's more judgment and more focus on you, but I think it's hard for anyone as you transition into mid-life. But there are great things that come with that because you get to carry all these fantastic experiences wherever you go, memories and depths of friendships.

Watts says she's mostly chosen roles which aren't centred on vanity. "I'm prepared to look old if I have to, so that's not a problem."

Above from left: Sadie Sink, Charlie Shotwell, Woody Harrelson, Ella Anderson, Naomi Watts and Eden Grace Redfield in The Glass Castle. Photo / AP
Above from left: Sadie Sink, Charlie Shotwell, Woody Harrelson, Ella Anderson, Naomi Watts and Eden Grace Redfield in The Glass Castle. Photo / AP

In The Glass Castle, she de-glams for the part of mother of journalist Jeannette Walls (played by Brie Larson), who focuses on her relationship with her unpredictable father (Woody Harrelson).

"Unfortunately, I lost my father when I was very young," says Watts. "But my mother is an eccentric character, highly opinionated and very artistic.

"I remember at school wishing I had a normal mother, who turned up to pick me up from school in tweed suits like other kids' mothers. Mine turned up in leather trousers and platform boots.

"But as an adult you think it's great that she opened me up creatively. I saw that world and she had fascinating friends and people around her at all times. She introduced me to many things that have clearly had an effect on my life and my brother's, who is also a creative person and has also done incredibly well in his field, as a photographer."

Lowdown

Gypsy

is streaming on Netflix.