I first met Naomi Watts some 10-plus years ago in the penthouse of The Plaza Hotel—a two-story, glitzy, goldencrusted space floating high above the New York City and Central Park–adjacent skyline—that is, by its very nature, incredibly opulent and over-the-top.
Today is not necessarily that same day. With her daughter, Kai—the most practical, about-to-enter-high-school teenager who is uninterested in ordering the iced matcha tea, but is very good at helping run everything on-set (maybe only for the fact that she’s ready to head back home after being at work with her mom all-day) in tow—Watts has driven herself out to our more laid-back Montauk beach location, a peaceful place that, as we later find out, the paparazzi has decided to set up shop early, hiding behind a nearby surf camp to get a quick shot of the A-list actress.
As the sun starts to come out of the clouds on this unexpectedly overcast day, Naomi shows up early with her brother, Ben, waiting on-set, ready to photograph her.
She has no requests, but when parking passes for the notoriously tough-about-parking beach community come up, she’s first to raise her hand. “Of course Naomi needs her pass!” her brother shouts in a moment of playful sibling rivalry. “It’s Naomi! It’s all about Naomi!”
And, at the age of 54, it really is.
On the cusp of launching her labor-of-love, very-personal project of Stripes, a brand that she set out to help “erase the stigma of menopause,” Naomi admits that she’s excited, yet nervously awaiting a bit of backlash for it. “Most Hollywood careers are made on the fact that actors are somewhat mysterious,” she says. “But the whole thing around this line is making some taboo subjects not so mysterious. It’s time.”
Why did you decide to make the move into this second-career of skin care?
“I went through a very difficult time with fertility, and I came to it late—not as late as some—but I had some troubles. When I was 36, I met a partner [Watts has two teenage children with actor Liev Schreiber and is now in a long-term relationship with Billy Crudup] who I wanted to have children with, and I discovered that I wasn’t able to get pregnant as easily as I thought I might.
I had a bunch of tests and conversations with my OB-GYN, and all of it just didn’t sound so great. The word ‘menopause’ was mentioned very early on; I don’t even know if there was such a word as perimenopause used then. I certainly hadn’t heard of it, but I did know that my mother had gone into menopause early at 45. I didn’t know anything else around that; I just knew that she had her last period when she was 45. It was all in very vague terms.
When I was told that it was looking like I was going to go into menopause early too, it sent me into a rather shocking state of mind; I felt completely panicked. Plus, I was told that I wasn’t an IVF candidate. I did try some other things, multiple interventions, and nothing was working. Eventually, long story short, I tried all the alternate routes—the smuggling in bags full of herbal teas from China and buying all of the wheatgrass from Whole Foods.”
You were secretly reading books under the mattress?
“I was all kinds of things! And I had a lot of shame around it…like I was not a full woman if I couldn’t bear children. Of course that’s a ridiculous notion, but society labels you as such. At that time, it was all very secretive and particularly taboo in my industry— Hollywood prides itself on well-known people being private and mysterious; I think we all have this idea that if we can stay secretive, we’ll be better at our jobs— that there’s less onus on the audience to suspend their disbelief.”
The least amount of information you can put out there, the better…
“Yes, I had a tough time for a couple of years. I ended up falling pregnant naturally, and I think it had a large part to do with all these alternative methods and remedies I put in place, and then backed off of it…in retrospect, it seemed like. As soon as I had one baby, my body seemed to know how to do it, and then I had a second baby.
Then, pretty soon after at age 43, I went into perimenopause. But I still did not know what that term ‘perimenopause’ actually meant at the time. There’s no one test, because if you do a blood panel and read your hormones, they could read one way on one day and completely different the next day. It’s really not a perfect indicator. All the things were happening, but I only knew of maybe one or two symptoms.”
And, like you said, it’s not necessarily something everyone talks about.
“I was really out there on my own. Yes, I tested the waters with friends: I made jokes about menopause and hormone-estrogen dips and things like that, and they were always met with nervous laughter, which worked out in my brain as, ‘Well, no one must be experiencing the same things as I am, yet.’ I knew about the classic symptoms, like hot flashes and night sweats, but I was having multiple night sweats and no one seemed to want to talk about it—you can actually have night sweats while breastfeeding.
Of course, when I say you have, I don’t mean everyone. It doesn’t manifest for everyone in the same way. I also started having chronic migraines. I had itchy skin and a multitude of symptoms. I quickly dealt with it because I was very in touch with my body, so I made sure I got the right kind of treatment.
But back to why this brand was born…I didn’t want to have to walk through that feeling again, of being completely alone and shrouded in secrecy and shame, nor should anyone feel like that. It just a terrible feeling, and wherever there’s stigma, it should be broken down because you need a supportive network. You need a team, whether it’s your family or hopefully doctors, to provide you with that care that you need, or you’re going to think that you’re losing yourself.
You’re definitely thinking you’re losing your mind as you go through those ups and downs. It was chaos. As soon as you understand it better and have the knowledge on the table, you can be your best advocate. You are always your best advocate.”
It sounds like the goal is to fill some voids in the beauty space. Do you see Stripes as more of a self-care or sexual wellness brand—or something else?
“We’re at the beginning, which is why we’re starting with the beauty space to ease into it, but it’s more than that. Menopause can hit every part of your body in a different way. It’s all-encompassing. For starters, I wanted to reach women who feel underserved and under-supported, and not necessarily reflected in the ways they want to be.
We don’t want to look at packaging or ad campaigns of women in their 20s or even 30s. That’s never going to be the story I can adapt to. I’m never going to look like that again.
Why not try to embrace this time and make it as positive as possible? The only way to do that is to arm yourself with the knowledge, the community and the products to support you. With the loss of your hormones—with them dipping down, especially estrogen—you lose hydration. That goes from your scalp to your vag. How can we support with good ingredients in products that are needed for all of those places—your skin, your hair, your vagina, your body? Have a campaign that’s really targeting menopausal women, so that they can feel better knowing there’s a community surrounding them, and at the same time, that’s hopefully solving a problem? This is why we created Stripes as a wellness brand—one that intends to address beauty needs and more.”
You’re still in the moment of launching it, but what was the most difficult part about taking the idea from pen to paper?
“The stigma. That part is still ahead of me, especially in my industry. Part of my job—part of acting—is that we are taught to keep things private and be mysterious, so we can immerse in the characters that we play. People want to get lost in that story, not your own story.
But this endeavor is all another version of storytelling to me. I’m in the business of hoping that people see themselves through the telling of whatever that story is—through the character I’m playing and whatever movie I may be in. The goal is to, hopefully, help the audience tap into a part of themselves that makes them think and dig deeper and feel less alone in the world.
This is the same thing, only it’s a bit more specific and a whole lot more personal. Every day I get closer to products on shelves, or another Instagram post, or another conversation with a journalist, and I get a little bit more scared. We’re getting closer to launch now, and I love my day job. I don’t want to give up my day job. I love being an actor, and I love that this is also something that is helping women and hopefully solving a problem, and yes, helping them feel supported. Again, telling a story that could be positive.”
I think it’s fair to say you’ve prepped people…your social media posts have made it clear you think that “midlife and menopause” are both a liberating time.
“Yes, but I don’t want to be reduced to menopause. I just want to own it and say, ‘Hey, this is OK.’ We’ve had a whole lot of experiences, good and bad at this point. We should feel proud of this moment. We’ve earned our stripes. We should be able to hold our heads high and feel a certain level of status. I know status is such a pejorative term, but in this case, if you’re in your 50s, you have accumulated your ups and downs. We know how to recover. We’ve earned the right to feel good about ourselves.
Now, let’s just make that happen and enjoy this part of our lives. We’re living so much longer now! We’ll spend 40- or 50-percent of our lives postmenopausal. Why wouldn’t you want to enjoy that? Why wouldn’t you want to set yourself up better in a medical way, in a community way, in a fun way? I want to tell the stories. I want to collect everyone’s stories, have everyone share them, and hopefully, bolster each other through this time.”
Shake the stigma.
“Yes! I think it’s as simple as, wherever there’s stigma means that we’re lacking collective support. We just want to find the alignment and make it work.”
I know you don’t want to give up your day job, but Hollywood has not always been kind to the 50-something woman, or even the 40-something one. Do you think it is getting any better?
“I do. It’s still risky doing this because, like I said, it is deeply personal. But I don’t care, and I don’t mind being part of the changemaker movement. I think every conversation is opening up now. We’re seeing it in multiple arenas. People in menopause today have a different approach to it because we have the internet. We’re the first generation that has been able to access information through the internet. We are the generation of changemakers.
We should be throwing down the ladders to the younger generation, so that they’re better equipped. I wasn’t equipped; I wasn’t prepared. It’s mindboggling that people don’t understand it. When you think about it, it’s really the bookend to puberty. We had that whole story spelled out for us in Sex Ed in fourth or fifth grade, but no one gave us the ending, which is ridiculous. It’s like the story just stopped. It feels like a secret code of silence that we all somehow agreed to. We need to stop staying silent about it.”
Role Play: ”I hate answering the question about my favorite role…because there’s a couple. I’ve had such good times on so many different movies. Early on, the David Lynch experience [Mulholland Drive] was really a standout, especially because it originated as a TV series, and then the doors closed because ABC didn’t want to make it a TV series. But then it became a movie two years later when the French producers came back and said, ‘Let’s not let that sit there, doing nothing. Let’s make a film out of it.’ It was very, very lucky for me—it could have been a project that just sat on the shelf, that no one got to see. That was just a wonderful experience, and then, of course, King Kong and 21 Grams and The Impossible because it was such a gut-wrenching story, and shooting it there with people who had experienced the tsunami was life-changing for me.”
Co-Parent Tip: ”Have good communication, have good, shared decency, and always have the kids’ needs in mind. That is always at the top of the list in how you negotiate, and we’ve always seemed to achieve it. Not to say that there won’t be bumps along the way, but we’ve always had that goal in mind. We just want the best for our kids.”
Basic Instinct: ”I wish I had been not so caught up with what everyone else needed and wanted from me when I was younger, and that I got more into what I felt was good for me. I’m definitely a people-pleaser and I still am, but I’m getting better. But it took a long time to get to that place. Just trusting my instincts, I would say, is the best piece of advice I would give to my younger self.”
Next Up: ”I’m going to be filming a new project in the fall and it’ll be shooting in New York. It’s called Capote’s Women. I’m playing Babe Paley, so I’m super excited about that.”
Photography by Ben Watts at Marram Montauk; Makeup: Mary Wiles; Hair: Rebekah Forecast; Styling: Jeanann Williams; Styling Assistant: Ashley Afriyie