Back in January 2008, we were lucky enough to visit the Watchmen movie set in Vancouver where we spoke to actor Jackie Earle Haley who plays the ruthless vigilante Rorschach.
The following is the complete interview that we had with Jackie that day.
Unbelievable experience for you?
JEH: This experience has been awesome. Just keying off what you’re saying, everybody comes here and they’re pretty amazed. Being here is like being amazed on a daily basis. It is. Every time I walk onto a new set, even Moloch’s kitchen – it’s a simple, small set – but you’re like, ‘Wow, this is detailed.’ It’s the whole deal.
And then you start looking at stuff like the backlot, Karnak, the Comedian’s apartment. His apartment was incredible. It was just, ‘Gaaaaaah!.’ It’s phenomenal. And it’s fun watching Zack work, sitting behind the monitor and watching so much inspired angle after angle. So much of it kind of pops right out of the comic book. It’s just this neat process, and it’s not like that on every project, when you’re watching just shot after shot and [are thinking], ‘I want to see this movie.’ I can’t tell you how many of us actors are just like, ‘Wait ‘til you see the movie.’
Did you know the material going in? Did you know the graphic novel?
JEH: Not real well. I was just vaguely familiar with it. I’d seen some images and maybe poked through one of the magazines or something early on, but I wasn’t real familiar with it. But I had heard about it. People on the Internet were kind of suggesting me for this, so I started looking into it a little before I got called [to audition]. Awesome material. Growing up, I was never a big comic book fan. I hate to say that. I wish I could be like, ‘Ah, I’ve always been a comic geek.’ For some reason, when I was younger, reading wasn’t my favorite thing. And even when I got into the comics a little bit it was more all about the pictures. So I never really held my interest.
When I started reading I kind of just started in with novels. But I’ll tell you, all these years later, after reading Watchmen and just seeing the brilliance that goes into medium, that I wasn’t aware of, I probably couldn’t have appreciated it. For some reason, I’m able to appreciate it now. But it’s actually got me wanting to read more graphic novels. Like, I just recently picked up V for Vendetta and I’ve just started it. I want to read some more of these just because the Watchmen experience was so cool, especially the layers. It’s neat on that first read. It’s like, ‘Wow, that’s really good.’ And then you read it again and it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s brilliant,’ because you get so much more on that second pass because everything is dialed in.
What interests you about Rorscach?
JEH: It’s just an amazing character.
You having more fun playing Kovacs or Rorschach?
JEH: There’s no difference. There’s one person, and his name is Rorschach. Wow, what interested me in this character most? I think it’s a fascinating character, you know what I mean? This guy, he’s got such a tweaked past and the way he dealt with all those emotional scars as a kid, I think, is just interesting. He’s of a single mind now just because of his past. It’s hard to figure out how to verbalize this stuff.
What’s it been like living with guy in your head all these months? Especially since you had a tough time of it at times with Ronny in Little Children.
JEH: Yeah, but that one was kind of weird. It seemed like at the end of the day there was some cool separation. I could walk away from him. This guy, I could totally walk away from him, but what’s kind of weird is sometimes I get… things will come out a little Rorschach-ian and you’ll be like, ‘What the hell was that?’ Yeah, it’s kind of bizarre.
Would you do your Rorschach voice for us?
JEH: No, I wouldn’t! But to talk a little bit about this character, here’s a guy that was in this weird kind of way victimized, neglected. He’s got a mom who justifies her behavior in these shades of grey things that she has to do to put food on the table. But yet all Walter sees is that he’s just in the way. He’s the problem. He’s just second seat to everything. [There’s)] physical abuse. She’s constantly with different men. I think that, early on, he felt that he was the problem. And he started to hate himself for being the problem. I think as he started to get older he realized that he wasn’t the problem, his mom was the problem and his mom was ruining his life. And he could only find himself in this sense of dad, that he never met, to try to find his identity. And that just made him hate his mom ever more because the dumb bitch didn’t even know the dad’s last name.
I think, in looking at that, when finally at age 11, after going to a home and stuff, that’s where he had those epiphanies that he wasn’t the problem, that he was a victim. I think he started to see that the way his mom victimized and justified it in those shades of grey, in that complexity of need, of the thing that she had to do just to be able to put a roof over his head and food on the table, he could never accept that. He could never accept that complexity. It was simply wrong. The things she did were wrong. There’s no justification for that. As that started to really implant itself, he started to see that society is kind of like that.
We do such horrible things in the name of complexity and grey that I think somewhere, as normal people start to deal with these scarrings and this emotional damage, people sometimes can find a way to kind of just deal with life. A lot of us have had weird childhoods and shit and we somehow find our way and we go through life with our scars. Well, Walter went the complete other way. His (mindset) became, ‘This is a world of black and white, by God.’ He knows that, and that’s what it is for him. I think that’s just one part of this guy. Every person that he has to deal with, he’s punching out at his mom. He’s protecting his inner child. He’s protecting the innocence from this bullshit with the complexity of grey. And through all of this, I think the guy has basically become so introverted that he has no one.
Were it not for costumed vigilantism he would really have nothing. This is the only place where he’s been able to find himself. Cops don’t like him. People don’t like. The Crime Busters don’t like him. The only guy that maybe a little likes him, and even he’s not sure, is Dreiberg. Without these guys and without Dreiberg, this guy is just truly and absolutely alone, with no purpose in life. This is really his only purpose. That emotional damage and that scarring and everything has pushed him to this, and this is the only thing that makes sense to him.
Do you think it works in reverse as well, that he also doesn’t really except anyone except Dan, that he’s phasing out relationships in general at this point?
JEH: Well, I don’t think he ever had them to phase out. I don’t know quite how to answer that, because he doesn’t like anybody. Everybody is wrong and everybody is very shades of grey.
But there is that one moment with Dan where he sort of holds his hand on the Owl Ship in that pivotal moment before going to Karnak. There’s a little flash of emotion, if you can call it that, where Rorschach is a little more human…
JEH: I know that Rorschach holds Dan in super-high regard, and I think if you went to Rorschach and said, ‘Who’s your best friend?’ he say, ‘Dan’s my best friend.’ If you went to Dan and said, ‘Is Rorschach your friend?’ he’d say, ‘Well, I’ve worked with him.’ You know what I mean? Dan is all Rorschach really has as a friend, as that semblance of really relating to anybody.
Is there any hypocrisy within Rorschach?
JEH: Of course. You asked me what I liked about this character, and that is what I liked about this character, his singleness of purpose. He doesn’t stand for any of this complexity, this justification for people’s behaviors and stuff like that. That’s what’s so cool about him, he’s so linear. You see the reality of it is, as much as I admire that in Rorschach. Black and white! No bullshit, dammit! This is the way it is; don’t give me that crap! But, I’m Jackie. I’m not Rorschach. I know we live in a world of grey, and what we do as people is we’re constantly trying to make it black and white. Constantly. Everything is argued over way over here and way over here, and we’re constantly striving to put things into a nice black and white, but life isn’t like that. Life is degrees of grey, and we’re constantly trying to reconcile that. I believe more in ambivalence than I do conviction, just because there’s always two sides to shit, and the one with an open minds walks right up and says, ‘Look at all the sides.’
Training, stunts, action…
JEH: I’m not doing a whole lot of stunts. I’ve been doing a little bit of it. So I haven’t had to do a whole lot of fight training. We have an awesome stunt guy who’s just incredible. But I have been working, doing a lot of core training exercise, just to be in really good shape for this stuff, for the tank top scenes and stuff like that, because I would imagine that Rorschach spends about three hours of his day stretching, lifting and then punching the bag. I would image he punches the bag for a while, and I would imagine he does it in nothing but his tank top. I don’t know why I’m imagining all this. It’s just his tank top and a sock on his head.
A lot of people actually compare Rorschach to the Travis Bickle character Taxi Driver…
JEH: I didn’t go down that road. I took a look at that.
How does it feel to be in that costume?
JEH: Awesome, just really motivating. This costume, it’s actually very warm and uncomfortable, but it’s really hard to complain because the other costumes are even more warm and uncomfortable.
Matthew [Goode] and Malin [Ackerman] envied the fact that you have the easiest costume to wear…
JEH: Yeah, well, they’re all full of crap. It’s a very difficult costume to wear (he says this playfully). It gets a little warm in there, but these guys, Malin is constantly freezing and Matthew and Patrick are just drenched. As soon as they put that on they just start sweating. So I’ve got it pretty good. But the thing is that Michael did such an amazing designing this thing and laying it all out. The very first night I was out working on the cemetery scene, and there was huge crane way off in the distance, but I was standing there and I looked down and I saw my shadow, and it looked just like that frame in New York where it’s Rorschach’s shadow. It’s almost his perspective, too. I’m looking at it and going, ‘Wow, look at these lines, man.’ Just the whole feeling of Rorschach and the movement and everything just started to really settle in seeing those lines and moving. It was really motivating.
How about the mask? Is it tasking your ability to act or is it better in a way?
JEH: It’s just kind of an interesting challenge because you have to think about it from the inside, but you also have to think about it from the outside. But, yeah, you can’t help but wonder what’s reading and how is it reading, where usually don’t think about it because it’s happening here. If you do it internally it’ll just happen here…. Sometimes you just have to look at the monitor to see how things are [coming across]. Again, it’s a lot from the inside, but with this guy you’ve got to look at the outside also, look at a take and see if I’m animating the costume correctly, if there’s something more that I can do to get this point and this emotion across.
Of course, what we’re also doing is we’ve left the eyes open, so that we’re recording everything like this and they can see my eyebrows and they can see my eyes and what’s going on to maybe help motivate the blots a tad. The blots are going to look like the blots, but it would be neat if they could fine a real subtle nuance for some sort of emotional connection to what’s going on, to a degree. Again, it couldn’t be like, ANGRY FACE! HAPPY FACE! It has to be just this very subtle, almost subliminal [thing].
Also a vocal performance with the mask on?
JEH: I don’t know how to answer that, because the vocal thing is just so an unnatural thing. It’s feeling natural now, but it’s a whole vocal thing. Okay, I do know the answer to that. When I’m playing Walter and when I’m Rorschach with the mask on it’s the same, it feels the same, with the exception again of looking at the monitor to see if I can move a little different to make something a little more clear or something. Sometimes it is a little frustrating, from the sense that you can’t tell if shit’s reading. You’re acting with a sock on your head. So it’s tough. It’s like, ‘You guys [journalists] write a story now. Put your pens down. No computers. Ready, go.’ It’s kind of tough.
How much are you enjoying this whole renaissance you’re experiencing? Being in demand again? Having a roomful of people hanging on your every word?
JEH: Oh man, this is awesome. I’m still tripping out. This rocks. I have been working non-stop for about eight months and it’s just been incredible. And being a part of this production is just phenomenal. This has just been a treat. Every time people come out – I’ve got my friends and family coming out – this is an amazing project. And it doesn’t get old. Being here on a daily basis, it’s hard work, it’s long hours, but watching Zack and his entire team work all of these details, all of these nuances, and seeing the board and everything come together, and it’s so creative and so attached to the books and has such great symbolism and graphics…
I mean, just the design, ah, Larry’s work probably Larry Fong, the DP, D.J.’s [John "DJ" Des Jardin] work, the actors… it’s phenomenal. Working with these guys is awesome. Working with Patrick rocks. Working with him is just super-neat. The first night, we were in Ozymandias’ lair or whatever, and it was the first time it was Rorschach and Night Owl standing there in full costume. We [Patrick Wilson and Haley] were looking at each other and saying, ‘Two years ago, if we had ever said we’d be standing here in these outfits, we just wouldn’t have believed it.’ It’s a treat. It’s really a treat.
2.17.09 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.com
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