"I was doing endless auditions for years and years and years, and getting rejected over and over again, and really taking a beating on my soul," she said.
She landed a role in David Lynch's enigmatic 2001 film, "Mulholland Dr.," at age 31 -- old by Hollywood standards.
"People said, 'Overnight success' after 'Mulholland Dr,'" Watts said. "And I went, 'Overnight? That's a long night.'"
Now at 44, she is landing prime roles, defying the stereotype that there are no good parts for older actresses. One of those roles is Princess Diana, who Watts will play in an upcoming biopic, "Diana."
"This is a story about a woman who was both complicated, full of contradictions, someone who was fighting for happiness and forced into isolation," Watts said.
In real life, she is happily living with her partner, actor Liev Schreiber, and their two sons in New York, where the family has lived for the past eight years. Soon, she might be heading to Los Angles for the Oscars -- Nominations will be announced on Jan. 10. But while Watts appreciated the early buzz around her performance in "The Impossible," it seemed that she didn't want to get her hopes up for taking home an Academy Award.
"It's always nice that your peers will recognize you but it makes me go all sweaty and clammy and get nervous," Watts said. "With 'Muhollard Dr.,' everyone was so sure and I won all these critics awards and it didn't happen [at the Oscars] and you feel lost."
Nevertheless, Watts was just nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award today, and has shown that she can harness the power of the human spirit to play unforgettable roles of strength and heart.