As Naomi Watts‘ career took off, not everyone was as supportive as she had hoped.

The Book of Henry star sat down with PEOPLE’s editor-in-chief for the latest episode of The Jess Cagle Interview to discuss her rise to fame and life now.

As a young woman in Australia, Watts, 48, recalls when she started getting a few acting gigs.

“I started off with modeling, but I was never tall and didn’t have that high-fashion look,” says Watts. “I would get sent on these commercial castings and often get those. I think there was a [tampon] commercial. All humiliating.”

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  • Watch The Jess Cagle Interview: Naomi Watts, available now on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to, or download the PEN app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device. And for more on Naomi Watts, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

But soon she began getting larger roles in films and was surprised by the reaction she got from some friends back home. She says it was at this point she first experienced Australia’s tall poppy syndrome.

“The poppies grow together and they’re supposed to be uniform. If one grows up too high, it means it’s got to be slashed and cut back down to size. People don’t like it if you succeed too much. It makes them feel bad,” she explains. “I don’t know how much it is there now. I’m not living there all the time, but I do remember experiencing it. I remember some friends. We were all rooming together and I was dressed up for an audition. I remember them going, ‘Wow, you’re really dressed up. You look really glamorous,’ like you’re not supposed to try hard or have any ambition, so you stand out if you are slightly ambitious or goal-oriented.”

For more on Naomi Watts, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

But the actress says she soon got over it and wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of fulfilling her desire to act — a career she had dreamed about since she first saw her mother onstage in an amateur theater production of My Fair Lady.

“My mum was onstage in a play, and I was in the front row. I was about 4 or 5, and she had a pretty dress and a wig and was talking in a funny voice. I just remember looking up at her and thinking, “Wow.” It just was such a wonderful world to watch.”

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