From show creators Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, and based on the New York Magazine article “The Haunting of a Dream House,” the Netflix original series The Watcher follows the Brannock family as they move into a dream home in an idyllic suburb in New Jersey. Having put everything on the line to be a part of this new neighborhood, Dean (Bobby Cannavale) and Nora (Naomi Watts), along with their two kids, realize that they may be in over their heads with their rather unusual new neighbors, and all of that is before the ominous letters start arriving, telling them that their every move is being tracked by “The Watcher.”
During this interview with Collider, co-stars Watts and Jennifer Coolidge (who plays Karen, the realtor handling the Brannock’s dream house and an old acquaintance of Nora) talked about what it was like to get the phone call from Murphy inviting them to be a part of this, what they found so compelling about this project, the brilliance of a story that can really get under your skin, what they would each do if they found themselves in a situation like this, and the fun they had in exploring the relationship between their characters.
Collider: I am completely terrified by this whole nightmare of a story. What attracted each of you to this? Was it the fact that this is inspired by a real-life experience? Was it the character? Was it your co-stars? Was it Ryan Murphy? Was it all of those things?
NAOMI WATTS: They were all good, but for me, the initial thing was, when Ryan Murphy calls, it’s a good day. It’s a good moment, no matter what he’s calling about. Hopefully, if you’re an actor, he’s calling with an offer, and indeed it was. I read the article. I wasn’t familiar with this story beforehand, which is odd, I suppose. But living on the East Coast, I know everybody else was familiar with it, so I must have been living under a rock, or something. I found it deeply compelling and imagined how it could be a great story for an audience to latch onto. Anyone could find themselves in this same situation, and it would be pretty daunting and haunting.
JENNIFER COOLIDGE: I was thrilled to get that call from Ryan Murphy too. And then, of course, I found out that Naomi Watts was in it, and that really helps you desire to have that job. I found out that my character would have many scenes with her. I like to be creeped out. I feel like somehow there are so many creepy stories out there that when I am creeped out, I realize there’s such an expert thing going on. When you think of how many horror movies there are, when one gets under your skin, and you can’t let it go and someone’s telling a story, even if you already know the story, but you’re seeing it and you’re like, “Oh, my God, this makes me so uncomfortable,” those are the stories I don’t forget. Those are the movies I don’t forget. I haven’t been asked to do one of these before, so I was just beyond thrilled when I found out that I got to be in this creepy story with all these cool people, like Mia Farrow and Margo Martindale and Bobby Cannavale. I would be an idiot, if I turned this down, a true idiot.
I feel like I’m always telling myself that I would not turn into one of those people in a horror movie that goes outside alone in the dark to search for whatever the noise is. If you guys personally found yourself in a situation like this, where you moved into a dream house that turned into a nightmare, what kind of person would you be? Would you refuse to believe it, initially? Would you immediately leave and just let somebody else sort it out later? Would you fight? How would you react to something like this happening?
WATTS: I don’t think I would immediately leave. I would try and endure, definitely. But I also wouldn’t be wandering out into the garden by myself.
COOLIDGE: It might take some time to build a safe room, but I would immediately have at least 13 pit bulls outside my bedroom and in my bedroom. I would certainly protect myself. And have some stun guns.
That certainly sounds like a good checklist to have. What was it like for you guys to explore the dynamic between your characters? It’s such an interesting relationship, so what did you like about getting to explore that with each other?
WATTS: I felt like our relationship, on the page, was great, and they had a little history, but they hadn’t seen each other in a long time. There was a need for Nora to feel comfortable in this new neighborhood, particularly as she’s feeling slightly unsafe, and that connectivity felt really comfortable. But Karen’s definitely an oddball. The great thing about playing these characters is we didn’t have all the information all at once, so there was a lot for us to discover and find out. Not knowing was actually helpful because that’s how it would work in a real-life situation. You don’t have all the answers of who this person is and what they want and why they’re there. So, it made for good, truthful experience.
COOLIDGE: Yeah, the not knowing was a huge advantage, it really was. I really do love stories where there are two people who are very, very different, and they’re forced to interact with each other. I remember thinking that this woman couldn’t be any further away from who I am, when I was doing scenes with Naomi, just character-wise. There was so much fun stuff to play. It was actually a lot of fun, even though it was a very disturbing topic, and it really is disturbing when you know it was a true story. There’s something about that. Your mind doesn’t let go of it, when you find out that it’s true.
WATTS: And Nora is odd because she’s just holding onto that dream. At times, you wonder, “Why wouldn’t she just bail? She’s getting lots of signs that she should do that.” It’s definitely all odd.
The Watcher is available to stream on Netflix.