On his website 30 Ninjas, Fair Game director Doug Liman describes Naomi WattsValerie Plame as a “truly challenging role because NOCs (government intelligence operatives who assume covert roles in organizations without official ties to their government) are wallflowers by nature…they want to learn about you without you learning about them, and [in so doing will sometimes attempt to be] the least interesting person in the room.

Fair Game star Naomi Watts (l.) director Doug Liman (r.) at the beginning of this morning’s press conference — Thursday, 5.20, 11:36 am.

“Traditionally, this is not the type of character whom audiences fall in love with, or want to follow. Audiences want emotive characters who are interesting to watch. This was a bit of an issue with the characters (Naomi’s in particular) in Fair Game, especially with the producers who were more hell-bent on me doing more traditional emotion with her. I felt very strongly that I wanted her to keep the steel exterior that is so honest to that type of person in real life and the fact that I didn’t have to relent is exactly why I think Naomi’s performance is so extraordinary.

“I was able to be totally true to that steel facade and still create a character that is completely compelling, whom you empathize with and root for. And at the same time, you’re infuriated by her because she just has this steely exterior and won’t let you through it. We’ll see from this point forward whether my choice to insist on this detail was it was the right call.

“It would have been easy to create a fiction that Naomi’s Valerie is an emotional NOC (i.e., non-official cover). That she has this steely exterior but when she comes home and she’s something else. In fiction you can make up anything, but I actually spent time around the real Val and found her completely compelling as a person and she kept that facade no matter what she was doing, and I wanted Naomi Watts’ character to follow suit.

“In Fair Game though, it’s the Joe Wilson character that is the more movie star role, because he is loud, colorful, charismatic and opinionated. It’s no wonder that Sean Penn, after winning an Academy Award, picked this character over the hundreds of others he was offered, because Joe Wilson is an amazing character with the kinds of traits that are appealing to a masculine movie star. And Valerie is a little bit of a cipher and to make matters worse, Watts has to be on the screen with Penn while he’s getting to play this incredibly colorful, charismatic character and she has to play the cipher and somehow still steel the movie because it is her movie.”

Thursday, 5.20, 11:37 am