Welcome to E!'s Tales From the Top, our series on women who are leaders in their fields and masters of their craft. Spanning industries and experiences, these powerhouse women answer all the questions you've ever had about how they got to where they are today—and what they overcame to get there. Read along as they bring their resumés to life.
Naomi Watts wants to talk about sexual health, baby. About all the good things and the bad things that may be—including menopause.
"We all know about puberty, because it's taught in school," the 54-year-old explained to E! News on the dearth of information about a period (or, rather, lack of periods) that roughly half the population will experience. "You can empathize when a 12- or 13-, up to 18-year-old, is behaving badly because we know what it is. It's raging hormones. But we've got the same thing, only plummeting hormones, and there's no empathy because there's been no education."
The result, noted the British actress, who estimates she began experiencing menopausal symptoms "earlier than most of my peers," is generations of women entirely unprepared for what their bodies will endure.
"And when you don't know, you really start trying to make it up for yourself," recalled the star, mom to Sasha, 15, and Kai, 13, with ex Liev Schreiber. "Like, 'Oh my god, I sweated through the night. What is that?' And, 'Oh my god, these headaches.' And, 'Oh, s--t, I lost my temper with the children.' And if there's no community out there that's reflecting the same kind of story, you just think that you're the problem, that it's only you."
So she found a solution: Meet Stripes (as in, you've earned them), her newly released brand that's creating both science-backed products to tackle the physical symptoms of menopause and an online community to provide emotional support.
"There is so much negative information surrounding this topic," Watts explained. And while she's certainly felt her share of "painful, lonely, terrifying" moments, "there is a way to get through it. Once you see your story identified, you're halfway to solving the problem. Because then you can say, 'Hey, did you talk to your doctor about this?' It just leads to a whole fantastic network of information."
She considers this attempt at destigmitizing the experience (which also included curating a line of menopause-focused greeting cards with Em & Friends) a highlight in a career that already includes two Oscar nods, a Screen Actors Guild Award and 90-plus film and television credits.
"It truly is mind-boggling that it's taken this long," noted Watts. But, "just to be part of that change is something I feel good about."
Venturing into a new arena can be scary, but having built up a few callouses during her early years of endless auditions, "I'm okay with taking risks," said the star of Netflix's recently released limited series, The Watcher. After all, she's already earned her stripes. And she's ready to impart the wisdom she's gleaned along the way.
E! News: In a way it seems we stop talking about a woman's sexual health once she's done having children. Was that your inspiration for this launch?
Naomi Watts: Yeah. And I certainly walked through some painful and private moments through fertility as well. Fertility stories are much more open and accessible now, but back then, less so. And I walked through a fair amount of shame and secrecy and I really didn't want to have to go through that again.
You get to this point where it's like, not only do I want to make this better for myself, but I want to empathize with the generations that went through this before me and also throw the ladders down to the younger generations and have them feel better equipped going into it. Because we certainly came in flailing.
E!: What's the conversation you're hoping to start?
NW: Firstly, debunk myths, alleviate the confusion and take away mystery. A team of people bolstering you is just so profoundly important. And then also to provide women with products that are going to support. One of the symptoms, among many, is dehydration. Through loss of estrogen, you lose hydration in your hair, in your body, in your vagina. So we want to provide great ingredients that moisturize and lock it in and strengthen skin barriers. But, really, equal parts it's about creating the community and arming the community with good education.
E!: I love the meaning behind the name. There should be a certain pride to reaching this point of life, no?
NW: And we should always be leaning on the shoulders of the people who came before us. There is wisdom. This obsession with the youth culture, of course there's many things to learn, but we musn't only look in that direction. It should be balanced. And I feel like these times shouldn't reflect the end. Yes, the years are getting shorter ahead of us, but we've accumulated fantastic experiences. We've recovered from the lows and we're better informed. I think taking hormones out of the equation, sometimes, can help drive better decision-making, frankly. I just reject the idea that this is the end of one's life. We should hold our heads high and be proud of this moment and make it the best it can be.
E!: So who do you turn to for advice?
NW: Even though sometimes my mother drives me crazy, I definitely take tidbits from her and appreciate a lot of what she's said and done. And I have role models in my acting career: Meryl [Streep], of course. And people like Susan Sarandon, Jodie Foster, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench. They've all made terrific choices and shown up in brilliant ways.
E!: Is there a piece of advice that's stuck with you?
NW: People have said, "Don't be afraid to say no." And I should listen to that more because I find myself spreading myself too thin often. So I try to abide by that. I'm a bit of a bird in the hand kind of girl. Like, "The invitation is there. Seize the moment." And I think that comes from having grown up without money or a lot of openings. It took a long time to get to the place that I got to. I didn't really start my career as an actor—even though I was studying and trying—I didn't get the right opportunities or recognition until my early 30s.
E!: What were the years before that like?
NW: It was some intense times. I've never been someone who is good at testing, that goes for school tests or auditions or even press. I've never felt like I thrive in that space. I think that's why I wasn't getting hired for so many years. And it wasn't a good environment. You would have to get these script pages and you were lucky if they'd fax them to you. Sometimes you'd have to drive across town and that was nearly two hours of your day. Then study for the next day and sit in a room waiting with 20 other people. It was really demeaning. But you had to just build a thick skin and callous up and get through it.
E!: What do you think is the key to building a career? Is it that perseverance?
NW: For me it was. That's what helped me through, the determination to kind of an extreme level. I don't know why I kept going. There were multiple moments where I felt like, "I'm not cut out for this. I can't manage this constant rejection." And sometimes really personal rejection: "You're not funny, you're not sexy, you're too intense, you're too old or too something." It's just like daggers in the heart sometimes. But I guess I had a resilience. Well, also, I felt, "I don't know what else I'm going to do. This is what I love and I'm not trained in anything else."
E!: Did you consider another path?
NW: I thought about becoming a yoga teacher because I loved yoga and it made me feel good. But I think moving around a lot as a kid set me up for this. I didn't feel super rooted to one place, one town, one home. My father died early on and so my mother moved around England a lot and then we even moved to Australia. A lot of twentysomething people have that, "Oh, I'll just go home when the chips are down." I didn't have that.
E!: What is your proudest career moment so far?
NW: Mulholland Drive really opened a new world for me in that I was given this extraordinary role with this extraordinary filmmaker, David Lynch. I was incredibly lucky, but I also felt really proud of what we did. That was a real pivotal moment because it really opened a lot of doors. Ever since then I've never had to audition again. And, believe me, I did 15 years of hardcore auditions. I very much lived under the radar.
E!: If you could talk to your younger self, what would you tell her?
NW: You often know the answers yourself, but you look to others so much for approval when you're young. I wish I hadn't spent so much time looking for admiration and, "Is this the right idea?" and just confirmation. I think that a lot of time was wasted in my earlier years.
E!: Is there a mistake you made along the way that you've learned from?
NW: I don't look at them as regrets now. I look at them as lessons. Back in the early days, I probably did go, "Oh, I wish I'd done this." Now I'm kinder to myself and go, "You did that because it was connected to the next decision." You see the whole fabric of the path. I don't think when you're young you're able to see so much beyond the moment. Where when you get to this point, it all makes a lot more sense.