A major highlight of the 2008 Comic-Con was the opportunity to talk to the cast of Watchmen, Zack Snyder's upcoming adaptation of Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel. In attendance were stars Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Billy Crudup, Malin Ackerman, Carla Gugino, Patrick Wilson and Matthew Goode -- all of whom were positively gushing after Snyder unveiled some fantastic new footage from the movie.
Following are notable excerpts from our interviews with the cast. Perhaps the most salient impression that emerges is each actor's sincere reverence for the source material -- an encouraging sign for ardent fans of Moore's work. (Those of you who haven't read the Watchmen comic, be warned: Some minor spoilers are scattered throughout.)
Jackie Earle Haley -- Walter Kovacs / Rorschach
On playing the most iconic character in the book:
"The whole goal out there was to try to stick as close as we could to the tone, theme, meaning and the whole thought-provoking aspect of Watchmen. It's kind of funny -- I realized this today in talking to press: I think about looking over at Zack at the monitor (during the shoot), I have to tell you that I saw him more with the comic book in his hand than with the script. And it was just an awesome experience to delve into this character with Zack and get into what makes him tick."
On wearing Rorschach's iconic mask:
"Regardless of the mask, I've got to do all the work of an actor to fully understand my character so that I can try to embody that internally, try to find his emotional state, try to find where he's been, what his experiences were and what makes him tick. That's the first part of almost any approach. After getting to that place, then I had to start to perform in the mask and the outfit, which I found to be very empowering, to make me feel like Rorschach. But at the same time I'd also find in looking at the monitor that some of what I was feeling and emoting wasn't coming through. As an actor I had to still try to live and breathe and feel and be this natural Rorschach, but at the same time perhaps throw in some external layers so that it's also coming through. Some days I felt like I was animating the suit. And that's what needed to be done."
On the surprising appeal of Rorschach, a character originally intended as deconstruction of the vigilante hero:
"Alan Moore said something to the effect that when they were first designing the character in the book, Rorschach was meant to be an example of what could happen in a world where costumed vigilantes exist. And I think by that he meant an example of how things could go wrong, and he was kinda surprised at how everybody could relate to this guy. I know for me, I think what I love about him is that who he is is kind of impossible. His conviction, his absolutism, his "no compromise" standing is a really interesting virtue. His remorseless violence at striking out at those who would victimize the innocent -- it's kind of fascinating to me. There's no discussion about it. Who he is is a direct result of similar treatment to him. He was victimized by his mom, and his mom meant well. She was doing the best she could for little Walter. She was a prostitute. Why? Because she had to put food on the table. But in his eyes -- and in mine -- that's a lot of complexity excusism. Her behavior spoke a lot louder than what she said she means. To mean one thing and do another -- he saw what she did and that tweaked the heck out of him. And I think every punch, every kick, every bad guy that he brings down is in direct relationship to him trying to protect little Walter."
Jeffrey Dean Morgan -- Edward Blake / The Comedian
On the Comedian's lengthy, complicated story arc:
"I had to break down the novel a lot and have a very clear idea everyday of what I was doing and where I was in that arc. But the best thing about playing the Comedian is that I do span from 1927 to 1984, and (embody) the changes that happen with the Comedian. There are a couple of very specific things that happen in this man's life that do alter him, and you do kind of finally see almost a human side to the Comedian, and it's surprising because he is such a bastard. What I was so fascinated by when reading the comic is how I didn't hate the Comedian, and you sure should hate this guy for the actions that he makes happen, but you don't. So as an actor, trying to bring that so that you guys as an audience understand why he has done what he has done, and why he has become this man, was a real thrill as an actor."
On the cast's devotion to the source material:
"We all care so much about this piece of work. More so...the passion that's involved in this with the cast and the crew and the studio is so intense. It's like doing a little independent movie that you have no budget on, but you get it done because everybody cares so much about it. That's what this was like, only on a huge friggin' scale. But we all came at it like this is it. We care so much about the original piece of work."
Carla Gugino -- Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre
On playing a (sort of) superhero:
"These aren't your typical superheroes. It's really amazing to play such intricate, complex characters who just happen to be superheroes or crime fighters. It's almost like an amazing perk to the job, because the characters in and of themselves...that's almost just a manifestation of what's going inside of them and the search that they're all on. So often the outside visual is really alluring -- and the costume is cool-looking -- it's not incidental to the character, but it's definitely a perk of the job."
On her character's controversial relationship with Edward Blake/The Comedian:
"It was a really fascinating thing, and I think that's what I love about human beings and what I love about acting is that you get to get inside somebody else's minds and somebody else's experience. We are complicated people on this planet. There is no black and white, everything is grey and we're all capable of everything. I talked to Zack about that the first time we sat down and I said, 'I find this fascinating." You expect that (Sally) should hate him. Instead, she has a real soft spot for him, and in a way he is probably the love of her life, and if you're going to use terms like soul mate, there was a deeper connection. And something beautiful was created from that. There are a lot of elements to it."
On shooting the scene in which her character is sexually assaulted:
"The rape is so brutal, and one of the things Zack said was, 'Are you okay with the fact that I want this to be really brutal? It's not sexy -- it's awful.' And I said yes, because it has to be that. It's intrinsic to the nature of it. But the fact that that's the case also sheds more light that she's ok with it, ultimately, later. We both loved that dichotomy, and obviously Alan Moore created that. It was a really interesting thing to play."
Patrick Wilson -- Dan Dreiberg / Nite Owl II
On the audience's sympathy for Dan Dreiberg's plight:
"There's this light with him. I think you pull for him because you know he wants to do the right thing. You see him trying to find his way. It's not so much that he's sad -- that's too easy to play, that's sort of just a primary color. The notes in the Absolute Edition sort of likens it to a soldier coming back and feeling not a part of society. Well, there you go. That I can dig into -- not understanding where he fits. I think that's the misfit in all of us, in some respect we all have that. He just really longs for that. I feel like he was cut way short. I feel like he probably could have enjoyed a great career and I think you see him in that meeting -- he really wanted to get this group together and it just doesn't work. I think he's genuinely upset and pissed off when the Comedian burns the map. It's this incredibly complicated relationship he has with Rorschach, and then Laurie comes into the picture. You think there must have been some little kernel of something (with Laurie) years before but it was never explored because Dan was probably just terrible at talking. You just wanted him to do good in so many aspects of his life, in his personal life, his sexual life. I know we always snicker about that, but what is more perfect, the greatest metaphor ever? He can't get it up."
Malin Akerman -- Laurie Juspeczyk / Silk Spectre II
On her character's deteriorating relationship with husband Dr. Manhattan:
"We've all been teenagers, we've all been young. There's a saying that every seven years we change, there's a major change. She met Dr. Manhattan at such a young age, she was intrigued - he was a blue man who was naked! But in all seriousness, she didn't have her own life yet, she wasn't her own person. She was forced by her mother into this life, she was with this group of people, met this amazing blue man, so when she finally realizes that she's starting to find her footing in life she also realizes that Dr. Manhattan is looking at her as more of a molecule than a person. I think when she finally finds Dan she finds herself and finds that human quality. It's a beautiful relationship that builds - it's sweet and real and beautiful."
On the prospect of sleeping with a god:
"Oh, I have tried to wrap my head around it. I think it would be exciting! There's anything you want with Dr. Manhattan. Problem is it might not really be him. He might be in his laboratory, with just his hand...doing something to you."
Matthew Goode -- Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias
On his character's decision becoming the moral crux of the story.
"We've talked about those grey areas, and that's the thing. Ultimately, at the end, as Laurie says, 'All we did was try to stop him from saving the world.' There's no other plan, there's no one else doing anything. It's intensely male, practical reason. It's as cold as Dr. M in the end, in many respects. It's the age old equation, the anti-Saving Private Ryan kind of thing. It's millions against billions. You absolutely have to make that decision quite cold and quite quickly, even though it's a decision he had to begin making years and years before."
Billy Crudup -- Jon Osterman / Dr. Manhattan
On the challenge of making the god-like Dr. Manhattan identifiable:
"I tried to do it in the way that the screenplay and the script asked me to which is: in a stumbling, complicated, awkward way. It's somebody with incredible gifts trying to make his way in a world that is ultimately -- while overpowered by them -- is unconcerned with them. They're interested in the way that people relate to one another, and he's increasingly less capable of that as his mind becomes more interested in the inner workings of the universe. If we all had the capacity, I'm sure, to see the kinds of things that he was seeing with comprehension and vividness with which he sees them, you might be distracted by it too."
On Dr. Manhattan's increasing detachment with humanity:
"The thing is that he's equally confounded by how his reality fits in the practical world. The perfect scene for it is when he's having a kind of banal argument with his girlfriend "I need more attention" while he's tending to solving the energy crisis in the world... in his mind! That's one of the things that's really beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable about the comic book, is that it exploits those questions in a way that's very entertaining."
On dealing with all of the CG:
"For me it was an exotic experience - I had never gotten to wear a motion capture suit, I had never been a lighting instrument for other actors, which basically is what I was. Which was kind of cool. It required a more forceful, imaginative leap than I had ever been asked to exhibit."
Zack Snyder -- Director
On speculation regarding the movie's changed ending:
"I believe the crux of the movie is that it offers a moral choice. That's Watchmen, right? Let's just say that, without being too spoiler-ish, that certain character in the movie survives that, makes a moral choice that we would consider -- or what an audience might consider -- questionable. But I think on paper you could make an argument for it. That's what it's about. I gotta say, you pose that to studio... you tell the studio that this character who kills millions of people, he's gonna be okay at the end -- that's tough. It's not like Lex Luthor ends up on an island. I'm saying this guy's right. That's a different thing, but that's the movie. That's the fun."
On Batman Begins and The Dark Knight ushering in the era of darker, more complex comic book flicks:
"One of the awesome things about The Dark Knight is that it's not just a superhero movie -- it's a good movie that happens to have Batman in it. That's cool. I was like, 'It's like Heat with Batman.' That's kind of what it reminded me of. But the difference is that in the first Batman movie - the one before this one - people were like, 'Ooh, that's a dark movie,' and I say, 'Yeah, it's dark, but don't forget that Batman gets to go to the Himalayas and train with ninjas to become a super fighter.' I want to do that. That's not dark, that's super cool."
"In Watchmen there's nothing like that. Dan can't get an erection because he doesn't have his suit on. That's like a different kind of dark. I do think that what Dark Knight does do is that it makes people, when they sit down, what they're anticipating can be a little bit different. They're a little more open minded toward a movie that's not exactly like bubblegum, popcorn, in your face, action freakout, that takes an hour for the Comedian to be buried. Yeah, there's a plot -- Rorschach's trying to figure out what's going on -- but that's not really the movie."
On adapting Alan Moore's complex storytelling approach for film:
"It's a different medium because it's linear. We do make reference to it a lot, the idea of symmetry. There's a sequence in the movie that's 12 minutes long that basically is Manhattan on Mars thinking about his origin story. There's a picture of he and Janey, he drops it on the ground and we go through his story. It's kind of like slightly non-linear and then also, for whatever reason, slightly chronological. Which is kind of my favorite part of the movie, because I would say that it is the most purely Watchmen-y thing. It has nothing to do with the story, no plot aspect to it at all. Meanwhile everyone's on Earth kind of going along and then we go to this 12-minute aside that has absolutely nothing to do with anything except just to understand Manhattan a little better."
On developing a Watchmen videogame for Warner Interactive:
"The first thing I told them was that it can't have anything to do with the book. There can be no sequences (replicated), but we can take ideas from it. Peter Nye -- my buddy -- and I ended up having to go, 'Ok, just let us write it. This is crazy.' What they were doing, I felt it was a little bit crazy, but I couldn't stop it. And so I said, 'You know what? Let us just do it.'"
"One of the plots -- just to rough it -- is that Woodward and Bernstein are in New York lecturing, and the Comedian assassinates them. It's all like that, in that style."
Watchmen opens March 6, 2009.