Watts is born to Peter, a sound engineer and road manager for Pink Floyd, and Myfanwy, a stage actress and interior designer. After her parents divorce, Watts frequently moves around with her mother and younger brother, Ben, before finding a stable home with her maternal grandparents in Wales. At seven, Watts' father dies. Although she has few memories of him, she tells Interview, "It was very sudden, and very shocking and upsetting."
At 14, Watts and family move to Sydney, Australia, where she begins taking drama classes. At a casting call for girls in bikinis, she meets 15-year-old Nicole Kidman, with whom she shares a taxi. "I was inspired by her," Watts tells PEOPLE.
Watts makes her film debut in For Love Alone. Shortly after, she decides to try modeling, which takes her to Japan. Only there for four months, she describes it as the most depressing time of her life and moves back to Sydney. Watts decides she doesn't want to be in front of the camera ever again. A year later, Watts snags a job in advertising at a department store, producing fashion shoots. From there, she becomes an assistant fashion editor at Australian fashion magazine, Follow Me.
When Watts reluctantly agrees to attend a weekend acting workshop, the acting bug bites her again. She quits her magazine job the following Monday and never looks back. Weeks later Watts is invited to the premiere of Kidman's Dead Calm and meets director John Duigan, who asks her to audition for a role in his upcoming film Flirting. She lands the part alongside Kidman and Thandie Newton. Watts will work with Duigan again in 1993's Wide Sargasso Sea.
After moving to L.A., Watts lands her first Hollywood film gig. It's a bit part as an aspiring actress in the period comedy Matinee, starring John Goodman. She then stars as Jet Girl in the 1995 adaptation of the comic book Tank Girl. While the movie has a cult following, it barely makes a blip at the box office.
Watts portrays the murder victim in the NBC true crime movie The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer and costars in the Australian romantic comedy Strange Planet. "I think my spirit has taken a beating," Watts tells London's The Sunday Times. "The most painful thing has been the endless auditions. . .I auditioned and waited for things I did not have any belief in, but I needed the work and had to accept horrendous pieces of s---."
After appearing in a long string of bit parts, Watts gives a breakthrough performance in David Lynch's Oscar-nominated noir-ish thriller Mulholland Drive, playing a troubled lesbian ingénue. Her performance establishes her as one of the most talented actresses nobody knew. Lynch tells the Los Angeles Times, "I saw someone that I felt had a tremendous talent, and I saw someone who had a beautiful soul, an intelligence, possibilities for a lot of different roles, so it was a beautiful package."
Watts is named one of PEOPLE's 50 Most Beautiful People. "I don't think I came into any attractiveness until I was in my late 20s," she tells PEOPLE. Her best friend Kidman also makes the list.
Watts films Ned Kelly in Melbourne, Australia, opposite Heath Ledger; the two begin dating. While Ledger is 10 years younger, it doesn't bother Watts. "I think it's about life experience and not about age," she tells In Style. "I fell in love with a soul and a person, and his life experience was rich enough that it stimulated me."
Watts takes the lead in the American remake of the Japanese horror film The Ring. She plays Rachel Keller, a journalist trying to save herself and her young son from a killer videotape. The movie grosses $129 million domestically, making Watts a bankable star. She signs on for the 2005 sequel.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Samuel Goldwyn/Everett; SUZANNE TENNER/UNITED ARTISTS; Universal/Everett; Vince Bucci/GETTY; VISUAL PRESS AGENCY; MERRICK MORTON/DREAMWORKS