“The Ring” actor reflects on road to success, stardom

Here’s how Naomi Watts, whose new film “The Ring” opens Friday nationwide, sees herself in old age:

“I’ll be in the home somewhere, looking at the sunset through the window, and some other geezer will roll his wheelchair up to mine and say, `Excuse me, but can you please explain to me what happens in the ending of “Mulholland Drive” ‘?”

“It’s something that will haunt me until I die,” says Watts of the 2001 David Lynch film that made her an overnight star after almost 15 years in the movie business.

Watts played the impossibly innocent ingenue who comes to Hollywood to be in the movies, only to get involved in _ well, mystery.

Now she stars in “The Ring”, a remake of a Japanese cult movie, it has a premise that pretty much screams “teen movie”: An urban legend going around high schools says there’s a video with the power to kill; anyone who watches it dies exactly 7 days after they see it.

Watts plays Rachel, an investigative reporter and self-absorbed single mother who becomes intrigued with the legend after the mysterious death of her niece, a death her friends blame on the video.

“I just love the idea that this movie starts out like `Scream’ and then turns into this entirely different thing,” says Watts.

“There’s none of the usual gore or gags and none of the usual cliches, just this overwhelming atmosphere of dread, and this mystery that my character is determined to solve.

“When I first talked to (director) Gore (Verbinski), he explained how he wanted to pull the audience into the film the way the victims are pulled into watching the video and then spend the first half-hour or so introducing the characters. So we’re invested in what happens to them.”

Verbinski, said, “I’m a big fan of horror films. But there are the ones that simply shock you and ones that operate more subversively. They have a particular psychological manipulation going on that the viewer is not completely aware of. When they work, they have a tremendous residual effect _ those films stay with you longer, because they get under your skin.”

“I saw `Mulholland Drive’ and immediately responded to (Naomi’s) performance,” says the director. “I think Rachel is a tough role, and Naomi is a gutsy actress.”

Watts says she loved losing herself in stories.

“It was difficult when I first came here, because I had done well in Australia, and my opportunities in this bigger pond were fewer. I just kept going, and I got some good roles, even if they were in television or films people didn’t see, and I learned from all of them. I’m not sure what would have happened if I would have had success in my early 20s. Now that I’m older (she turned 34 last month), I think I’m better equipped to make good choices.”

“The thing that excites me the most for the moment is `The Ring’ is so simple and direct, and not so clotted up people will be asking me to sort it all out for them. If they just say it scared them silly, I’ll be very pleased.”