There’s no question that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. It is groundbreaking, awe-inspiring and left a lasting impression on millions of comics fans around the world. Then in 2009 came a live-action adaption of the comic directed by Zack Synder. Now, exactly a decade later, screenwriter Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) has created his own addition to the popular franchise with a new HBO series of the same name. I was lucky enough to have watched the first four of nine episodes and even luckier to sit down with the series creator Damon Lindelof, director of the pilot episode Nicole Kassell, and actors Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Hong Chau, Louis Gossett Jr, Yahya Abdul-Mateen, Tim Blake Nelson, and Jean Smart to talk about the new show.
The interview began with Regina King and pilot director Nicole Kassell kicking things off. Excited and nervous at the same time I asked Regina how she initially got involved with the project. “Damon Lindelof,” she explained. “He saw me as leading the charge, I guess. I think it’s funny saying that because there’s so much going on, it goes from an ensemble at times to just following one character’s story at times. Damon wrote me this lovely letter attached to a script that said, I can’t see doing this with anyone but you, and here we are.”
During the first few episodes, Regina’s character does a lot of running around. I asked her did she have to do a lot of physical training, and her response was classic. “It’s so funny, people always ask me that,” she says while smiling. “I stay ready! You never know what’s gonna go down! It wasn’t so much of a lot of physical training as much as it was communication between Nicole, Sadiqua my stunt double and Justin, our stunt coordinator. We worked with him before on Leftovers, so he knew what I could do. He knows what my strengths are and he really spent a lot of time with Sadiqua to know what her strengths are and every single one of those sequences that you’ll see in the future have been choreographed to Sadiqua and Regina’s strengths.”
Nicole Kaselle spoke on how she handled the pilot episode and her approach to the show in general. She explained, “I did not read the book before I read the script. I knew Damon was doing it and I had not grown up with it, so I decided to wait. I called Damon and said if you’re doing it then I want to do it, but I still had to win it by pitching myself for it. I wanted him to have a partner that was not beholden to the book, but beholden to him. Once I started working on it, then I went deep, I read the book multiple times and watched the [movie] which helped me see how it moved in the frame.”
Louis Gossett Jr. and actress Hong Chau were some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, but when asked in terms of wanting to know the full depth of the script, their answers were divided. “Well, for me, I’d rather not know a whole lot of stuff,” Louis Gossett Jr explained. “I know my character. I shocked him, I said I hadn’t read the whole thing because Damon wrote it in such a way that I just got to get in there and see what happens. And, I guess they bought a lot of it.”
Hong Chau felt differently. “Gosh, I’m the complete opposite. I want to know everything. I don’t know if it helps in the end, but I just like to let it marinate for a while. When I first met Damon I didn’t know anything about the graphic novel. I hadn’t seen the movie, I hadn’t read it, and I didn’t have any friends who read it.”
Tim Blake Nelson is no stranger to television or the silver screen, and he plays a very memorable character named Looking Glass on the new show. His character wears a silver mask, so I had to ask him how many times he laughed between takes. “I laughed a lot working with Jean Smart,” Tim explains, “because her character is great and we have such funny interactions. There was a lot of choking back laughter, [especially] on a show like this with so much fantastic hokum underpinning all of it. Along with the fact that to make good hokum work, you’ve got to take it very, very seriously. It really ends up making you crack up at the ludicrousness of some situations in which you find yourself. But you know, then again, you’ve got to take it really, really seriously, and because that’s how it’s going to be. That’s how it’s gonna work and obviously be fun for the audience. The mask was a good challenge. And I think as actors, it’s always best to embrace and internalize the challenges rather than to resist.”
Another character that fans will be interested to see is Jean Smart as Agent Blake/Silk Spectre. Jean had this to say about playing an established and well-known character: “That’s always the pressure when you’re playing somebody who people have a lot of expectations about. Because there’s been so many years and Damon is using the graphic novel as sort of a place to begin, not just to recreate it….that gives us a certain amount of freedom.”
Legendary actor Jeremy Irons joins the cast as another familiar Watchmen character, Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, and he got straight to the point on why he likes playing the character. “I love villains,” he said proudly. “I mean they’re people who make their own rules.” He talked about a quote that he keeps by his desk at home that says, “To go against the law, you must be an honorable man.” “That’s probably a rule of life that I follow,” he explained, that attracts him to different characters.
Damon Lindelof sat down to talk a little about how he approached Watchmen and the pressures of doing it. “I had to take and continue to have to take a defensive position when it comes to Watchmen,” he explains, “for all the obvious reasons. This was generated by multiple geniuses but namely Alan, who doesn’t want the work adapted. And so I needed to overcome and explain and contextualize why I was doing it anyway. I will have to continue to do that — that comes with the territory. It became very clear to me the third time that they offered me Watchmen, that if I didn’t do it, somebody else was going to, and that’s not an excuse for a lack of that.”
Our eyes were mesmerized around the table as he talked about why he did it and he even added a bit of humor to his answer. He said, “I was eventually inspired and had a set of ideas that I thought might be worth doing. But, I sort of felt like I had to go through the thought exercise of what if someone else did do Watchmen? What if I heard that Watchmen was being made by someone else as an HBO show? And I was like, I would want them to write me a letter and explain, explain to me what their intentions were. I have this 30-year relationship with this piece of material and if they’re taking it out for a date, I just want to know where they’re going and if they’ll be back by eleven.”
Last but not least I gathered a few words from Yahya Abdul-Mateen, who is just such a humble and amazing human being. We commented on his great screen chemistry with Regina King and his character influence. He spoke briefly about passing things on to the next generation from his character’s perspective and his own. He explains, “I come from a very large family and was very close to my grandmother. I took care of my grandmother and I come from a family that’s always searching from where we came from and the only way to do that is to go back as far as we can. We learn what we can and try to teach it to younger people.” His character is a bit mysterious on the show and it’ll be interesting to see his backstory unfold as the show progresses.
Watchmen is a very powerful and impactful show. Make sure to check it out on HBO when it debuts on October 20, you won’t regret it.