Gender roles reversed in Netflix’s new dark drama Gypsy

Naomi Watts returns to television to play a Manhattan therapist with a dark secret and scant respect for boundaries in Gypsy on Netflix.

Naomi Watts in the new Netflix thriller Gypsy. The British actor plays a therapist who blurs her professional boundaries. Alison Cohen Rosa / Netflix
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'First, do no harm" is the familiar oath taken by medical practitioners. But as a Manhattan therapist with a dark secret – and scant respect for professional boundaries – Naomi Watts can hardly be held to her word in Gypsy, a new 10-part psychological thriller available on Netflix from Friday.

She stars as Jean Holloway, whose desires and obsessions are laid bare in a way usually reserved for male characters, as she complicates her seemingly perfect life by developing relationships with the people in the lives of her patients.

“I play quite a bad woman – she’s definitely flawed,” says Watts. “We’ve seen this character played out with a male protagonist many times over but I think it’s not that common for a woman to be playing someone seeking power and control, but still having a lot of desire.”

As the borders of Jean’s professional life and personal wants blur, she descends into a world where the forces of desire and reality are disastrously at odds.

It hardly helps that whenever common sense dictates she should step on the brakes, she races ahead with nervy abandon, leaving her husband, Michael (Spotlight's Billy Crudup), home alone wondering what is going on.

A great home life and a solid marriage is not enough, it seems, to dull her pangs of desire.

Two-time Oscar nominee Watts, 48, began her acting career on television in Australia in Hey Dad..! (1990). She moved to the United States for a role on the short-lived NBC sci-fi series Sleepwalkers (1997), before her breakout role in David Lynch's neo-noir mystery film Mulholland Drive (2001) kicked her movie career into high gear. Subsequent movies include 21 Grams (2003), King Kong (2005), The International (2009) and acclaimed tsunami-disaster film The Impossible (2012).

She can currently be seen in the Twin Peaks TV sequel, which has reunited her with Lynch.

In addition to Watts, who is also an executive producer, Gypsy stars Sophie Cookson (Kingsman) as rock chick Sidney, Lucy Boynton (Murder on the Orient Express) as Jean's patient, Allison, and Karl Glusman (­Nocturnal Animals) as another patient, Sam.

The series was written by Hollywood newcomer Lisa Rubin. Behind the camera – keeping a tight focus on all the amoral and amorous entanglements, and shooting in a peeping-Tom style that makes voyeurs of viewers – is a woman with an eye for this sort of thing, Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson.

"I really wanted to examine honestly what it looks like to follow the path that leads to becoming a wife and mother with a successful career, and to then find that these are now the things that define you," Rubin recently told The Guardian. "What about all the things that came before? Where do the desires you used to have go? And what happens if you stop suppressing the way you feel?"

"There is an erotic nature to Gypsy," Taylor-Johnson said, "but it's not at all in a similar way to Fifty Shades. It's about the character's power as a woman and how she uses it in her practice. It's complex".

As she sinks deeper into her unethical quagmire, even Jean confesses in a voice-over: “The more you watch someone, the more you realise we are never really who we say we are. In fact, hidden underneath, there’s always a secret. We might actually be someone else.

“I guess I’ve been living my life as two people. I don’t know which one is real ... I don’t know who’s in control anymore.”

In real life, Watts – a mother to two sons, Sasha, 9, and Sammy, 8 – says she is focusing on her career at the moment, not relationships or dating, after breaking up with actor Liev Schreiber last year after 11 years together.

But she is being picky selecting her projects.

“I’m here to tell the stories,” she says. “Not just to go to work and get paid by great actors and directors; it’s more than that. It has to be stuff that you’re connecting with, if it’s bringing something back into your own life. If it’s not growing me, then what’s the point?”

Gypsy will be available on Netflix from Friday