Even before her date with a giant ape, it was a big year for Naomi Watts: She starred in the indie Ellie Parker as well as the thrillers The Ring Two and Stay. But it’s her performance as gorilla-love-interest Ann Darrow in Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 classic King Kong that’s garnering Oscar buzz. The Aussie actress, 37 – who’s been linked to actor-director Liev Schreiber, 38, since May – spoke recently about the perfect man and the unexpected benefits of yoga.

What was it like meeting Fay Wray, who played Ann Darrow in the original King Kong?
Meeting Fay was wonderful. We had a fantastic dinner in New York. Peter introduced me as the new Ann Darrow, and she looked at me and went, “You’re not Ann Darrow, I am!” And I thought, “She’s 96 and her humor is still right there.” At the end of the night, she whispered in my ear, “Ann Darrow’s in good hands.” I was hoping that that night would be the first of more, but, sadly, she passed away a few months later (on Aug. 8, 2004).

You fell down a deep hole during filming. Were you hurt?
We stopped shooting for that day, and then I was fine. I attribute it to years of yoga, because I’m very flexible, and literally my body went up into sort of a very strange shape. I was quite contorted (laughs).

Your character is in a love triangle between Kong and Adrien Brody’s playwright character. Which would you pick?
Adrien Brody plays the writer, the wordsmith. He’s got all the words, and Kong has all the soul, and all the power as well. As someone said the other day, if those two were molded into one, that would make the perfect man.

What did you see as the connection between Ann and Kong?
You’ve got two desperate beings. He’s desperately lonely, hasn’t had companionship for however many years, and she suffers from the same thing, really, only in a very different way. She’s dealing with a tough life in New York, and (has) to be as tough as possible. He’s this very isolated creature, and maybe she just identifies with him.

Your character is a struggling Vaudeville actress, and you struggled in Hollywood yourself. Could you relate?
Times are tough for Ann. She’s at the absolute low point. She’s resorted to stealing food, the theater closed, she doesn’t know when her next paycheck is coming. I mean, I can identify with struggle, but not to that degree.

When did you feel like you’d finally made it?
It’s great to be able to work with people you admire, and I love doing what I do – it means something to me, and that’s the thrill in it for me. It’s not like I go, “I’m now on the radar, I’ve made it.” There’s always another struggle, with every problem solved.