There’s something dark and beautiful about “Watchmen” that separates it from other novels. It’s a story, most of all, about human beings struggling in a world that they don’t understand and that doesn’t understand them. It seems like the question of whether the story is relevant to our current socio-political world keeps cropping up, and the reason that the answer is a resounding “Yes” is that it touches a core feature of our humanity that will always need exploring.
In the interest of full disclosure – I’m a major “Watchmen” fan. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to meet almost a dozen other “Watchmen” fans earlier today when I had the honor of sitting down with Zack Snyder and the cast of Watchmen – Malin Ackerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jackie Earl Haley, Carla Gugino, Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson and Matthew Goode – alongside “Watchmen” co-creator, and true genius, Dave Gibbons.
I say they are fans because the way they talked about their characters and the story they’re creating was done with such love and care that it felt like talking to a nine individuals about their personal passion projects.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays The Comedian, had a similar sentiment. He claimed the atmosphere on set felt “like doing an independent movie” specifically referring to “the care” that went into filming the story. Hearing him talk about how the movie “came to life” for him during the filming of the Keene Riots was like listening to an old married man speak about the first time he laid eyes on the love of his life.
Jackie Earle Haley gave similar care when discussing Rorschach – the fascist, ethical mirror of the film. “Sometimes [Rorschach] followed me home,” he said, describing the impact that playing the character had on him personally. “He’s meant to be an example of what could happen in a world where costumed vigilantes exist…a negative example.”
In the original comic, the boy named Walter who would become Rorschach has a gruesomely troubled childhood that is fleshed out in great detail, and it was that detail that gave Haley a large amount of his motivation. “Every bad guy he takes down is an attempt to protect little Walter.”
But if Haley had to play a monster, Carla Gugino, who plays Silk Spectre, strove to find and emote the human qualities of her character. When asked about playing a superhero, she claimed that behind the suit, “you still feel human.” In delivering that human character – she differentiated between the typical superhero flick and Watchmen by claiming that in the former, an actor usually asks, “How can I make something human?” and in the latter, she had to ask herself, “How can I step up to the plate” since the characters are already so richly detailed?
Billy Crudup joked around about the mechanical equipment he had to deal with since Dr. Manhattan, his character, is CGI – calling himself “a lighting instrument for the other actors” – but he also delved deep into discussing the moral questions of dealing with a character whose omniscient nature gets in the way of empathizing with the small details of humanity. He and Matthew Goode, who plays Ozymandias, both had to carve out characters that stick to a strict ethical world-view that isn’t anywhere near what normal society would approve of. And according to both actors, the goal of that mindset is to save that world that wouldn’t approve.
Malin Ackerman, who plays Silk Spectre II, had to reconcile falling in love with one of those morally questionable characters, but she described her character as a woman who doesn’t “have her own life yet.” She grew up in the shadow of, and under the control of her mother who pushed her toward becoming a masked vigilante. In her youth, she falls in love, and, as Malin described, it’s “really sweet and beautiful,” but it can’t last. It has to become something else.
But no one spoke with more love of their character than Patrick Wilson who plays Nite Owl II. Even during the panel in front of 6,000 fans, he spoke at length, referring to Dan not as a character, but like a close friend. When I talked to him, he spoke of Dan like an older brother who has been personally charged with protecting his younger sibling. He went into great detail about Dan’s empathy and celebrated the true nature of the character – that, in the end, he’s a man who everyone roots for to win and who seldom does.
Throughout these conversations it became clear that I wasn’t sitting down to talk to actors who had been hired for a job, but true “Watchmen” fans – whether they had even read the novel before signing on or not – who invested a huge amount of themselves into creating beautifully rounded, intensely human characters. After seeing the extended footage earlier, and hearing the way these actors approached this film – like a passion project that happened to be backed by millions of dollars – this fan is even more sold on how fantastic Watchmen is going to be.
Stay tuned all this week as we bring you coverage from Comic-Con International. Not only will we be roaming the floor in search of love, but we will have the latest news Live from Hall H, great interviews with some of Hollywood’s hottest stars and random convention shenanigans, courtesy of our Comic-Con Attack Squad! To keep tabs on all of the happenings, just head over to our Comic-Con 2008 Homepage.