Back in January 2008, we were lucky enough to visit the Watchmen movie set in Vancouver where we spoke to actor Patrick Wislon who plays the retired masked hero Nite Owl II.
The following is the complete interview that we had with Patrick that day.
Jackie [Earle Haley]was saying earlier that the two of you met on this set in full costume, and sort of said, "jeez who’d a thought two years ago that we’d be standing here?"
Patrick Wilson: I know, because I was the first one in a suit, he had done The Comedian headshot but Adrian hadn’t been in his suit yet. So it was the first day of Nite Owl. Me and Jackie before we would break into Adrian’s [laughing]... it was just very funny. The first day [we] just sort of looked at each other like, what the hell are we doing? We’re dressed like Ronnie McGorvy and Brad Adamson, our Little Children characters, like… is this the sequel? Wha, what, I’m way in off the deep end here? You find the pedophile has donned a mask and become Rorschach and Brad’s found his new freedom as Nite Owl. It was funny. I mean, it was great because you know that we… we overlapped on set a lot on Little Children but we never…
You guys only have, like, one scene together in that movie, right?
PW: Yeah, and no lines.
That was a real shot in the arm, though, for both of you. Like, that, that movie kind of…
PW: It’s real good for him. It’s exciting to watch. It’s always neat to see… you always hate to say resurgence cause then you feel like they’ve been just doing nothing for the past fifteen years. And he’s certainly had his own life and his own career. But it’s always great. I think that shows through every day with him. I think he’s so positive, you know? You see even in five minutes here on set. That’s how it is every day. Everybody’s real, everybody loves… no matter how long the days are, how long the shoot is, it’s the most positive set, I think I’ve ever been on. I think because everyone loves this. Everybody loves the graphic novel, so...
And yet it’s interesting that there’s this sort of upbeat whistle-while-you-work attitude on this movie that’s so, on the face of it, so dark, right?
PW: Yeah, I guess. I don’t know. I have no perspective on how the movie lands in a weird way, because we’re in the middle of it. You know you sort of want to follow Dan’s story, then get caught up in everybody else’s.
Do you think he’s like the audience identification figure for the movie?
PW: I don’t know. The easy answer is I think he’s probably the most human. But I also think that each of these characters just sort of represents different sides of the same person in a weird way. Each of them sort of plays one, not one emotion, but certainly one emotion comes to the forefront, whether it’s insecurity, whether it’s revenge, whether it’s mania. Everybody else’s sort of got their own vibe. I think you’re pulling for Dan because he’s the most earnest. Again, I don’t know how everybody else feels. That’s how I feel.
What’s his vibe in your mind?
PW: His vibe? He’s a very complicated guy. One of the things that stuck out to me was reading about the Blue Beetle. In the back of the absolute edition when some of the notes talk about how he’s a Vietnam Vet, sort of feeling lost… But what’s so informative to me is when you look at the artwork, frame by frame, for a guy that’s called a sad sack; he’s got this sort of shlubby kind of vibe everybody always talk about. Yet look at how many frames he’s smiling.
I never even talked about that before… Because in creating him and in our love for the novel, being faithful to it as much as we can… I’ve never played anybody from a graphic novel. I tried to get the physicality. I love to look at how he is, how many frames, even if he’s saying something very nostalgic, sort of “Remember when? Remember when?” or something that to me is so heartbreaking. And he’s smiling through it.
I think he’s just eternally positive. I think he’s a very complicated guy and he’s an insecure guy trying to get his manhood, his guts back. All the sort of metaphors, he doesn’t feel whole unless he’s got his suit on. He doesn’t feel like a man, and I think that’s how it manifests itself with the impotence and needing his suit, his fascination with the suit, down to the Twilight Lady. And even thought we don’t have that scene, I was very adamant about getting the picture in there, even if it’s just in passing and just you guys sort of notice it… see if we can zoom in on it or something. Because that’s his fixation, you know. That’s one of his flaws, I guess. As an outsider who’s not into S&M. [chuckle] But I’m fascinated by his sort of sexual… not preferences or deviances but just, what makes him tick? I think it’s so much about manhood.
Do they have any plans to do… I mean one of the big things you talk about (is the) panels, the comics… A lot of times his glasses are, white. You don’t see through. Is that something…?
PW: Now, that’s interesting.
Do you think they’re gonna do…
That would be impossible?
PW: Yeah. We played with a lot of different types of glasses. It’s funny you bring that up because what are his vision problems? We played with prescription glasses. I don’t wear glasses. For light and for shape and for reflection, they settled on much more of a flat glass where they do something to them where you don’t see a lot of the reflection just so they could see my eyes. I try to figure out what his eyesight is like because in a lot of the frames he just doesn’t have them on. And you sort of wonder, “Does this guy just forgets his glasses? Or is his eyesight not that bad?” You can justify it with the goggles being prescription.
We know the line, too.
Patrick: Yeah! Now you do. We don’t have, like in the novel, “Well, if you turn them this way!” But, they’re not doing the white thing.
I figured that would be tough to pull off. But you guys have got so many other things just down to the…
PW: Well, even at the frame in Raphael’s where the light’s sort of behind it. I think you sort of feel like that’s where the view is, where the camera is. I think that would be a Dave Gibbons question of just how he draws glasses.
How do you feel to have actual sets to work with use as opposed to like a 300, where for months on end you’d be in front of a green screen?
PW: I didn’t talk to Jerry Butler or any of the actors about it since 300. I remember talking to somebody on Star Wars, on Phantom Menace and how difficult that was... I don’t think it’s any secret that those actors on that movie have a tough time.
I’ve only ever had sets so I don’t know what it’s like. I’m glad that we have all that. The only sort of CG thing that I’ve come in contact with is I guess when Billy is there. Because he’s all in dots and blue lights and stuff. Other than that it’s a very organic experience. For however many thousands of effect shots they got, most of them are just Owl’s jump here, flying there. And Rorschach’s face.
The space you’re working in down there seems like a very tactile, dimensional space.
PW: Oh, yeah. You guys are fans of the book, that’s how this thing is. It’s got to be real. It’s got to be. The New York has to be chipped side walk, trash blowing around, 80’s New York. It can’t be…
Gotham City. [Laughing]
PW: [Laughs] Yeah! Or Spiderman’s New York or any of those kinds of New York’s, which are awesome. But it’s a different thing here. It’s more Taxi Driver than that, I think.
When you go into a film like this and you know it’s not just a regular film that will be released and critics will judge, audiences will judge… There’s a fan base waiting for this movie and they’re going to judge every frame. “This is fucked up, this is perfect, this is that...” Do you care? Can you worry about that part? Do you understand that kind of fervor of the fans?
PW: I understand the fervor. Do I care? Yeah, I care. I can’t help but want people to love what we’re doing. We’re giving it everything we got! You know what I mean? All you can hope is that…I’m sure the producers will say this better than I will but you want to make a film that obviously appeals to the fans, but you want a much broader audience. You want to bring it to people that have never seen it. I can’t go into it thinking, “Oh, they’re going to hate this and they’re going to love this.” That’s…
PW: Yeah and that’s not really my job. And the other thing is, whether they like me or don’t like me, what are you going to do? I’m sure everybody’s got their favorite person but I can’t control any of that. All I can do is control what I do. I think there will be enough moments where they can just sort of stop and go to the graphic novel and go, “That’s awesome! That is just…” you know? It’s a whole different thing; it’s a whole different vibe. But looking at gestures and faces and moods and all that… you just do what you can do.
You’ve made two, almost back to back movies here in Vancouver, you did Passengers, was it, earlier in the year?
I know a lot of the other actors were moaning about the rainiest fall we’ve ever had here in Vancouver. Do you commiserate with them or do you say, “You think you’ve had it tough? I’ve was here for a whole freaking year!”
Where you used to the place or what? How much of a gap was there between Passengers and this movie?
PW: Oh my god, quite a while. I was here I guess I left in March. So we were back in August.
Did they have to drag you back, like “No, not Vancouver again!”
PW: No, you didn’t have to drag me to do this movie, you’re crazy! I would have gone anywhere to do this. [Laughing] Vancouver’s a great town. But I live in New York and I miss home, sure. But I’m not going to knock Vancouver.
So tell us about the back lot? It was this artificial, invented, heightened New York and you’re a New Yorker. Can you buy it?
PW: Yeah. The thing is in a one block radius you had to double and triple different angles. If we were shooting the riots then we put a scaffolding in front of the Gunga Diner so it doesn’t look like Gunga Diner. There’s all that sort of stuff that they did. But yeah, just street wise, walking down the street. There was actually even a sign that said “bar” and I swear it looked exactly like the sign… I live on 46th and 9th and it looked like this bar that’s no longer there called The Collin’s Bar that was between 46th and 47th on 8th Avenue, and it just said “Bar” in neon lights. And it is the identical sign, I swear somebody from production went there and saw the sign and was like, “That’s a cool sign.” That kind of stuff, you love. And the “Judomaster” sign and all that stuff that’s out of the book but it’s cool to see, just like on the second floor it’s, “Guitar lessons by Dylan” Or something like that. [Laughing]
You had to put on twenty pounds, you said.
PW: Well, I chose to, yeah.
But now like everybody else you have to wear these heavy crime-fighting costumes. Is it absolutely killer?
PW: Yeah. You sweat a lot. Especially for the snow owl suit. The cape was I think, 18 and a half pounds on top of your costume and then almost like a BMX bike… Have you guys seen it?
We've seen it. We felt the capes too.
PW: Yeah, especially my capes became really…. Even my normal cape is over eight pounds I think. You sweat a lot. You sweat a ton. I try not to put the cowl on until we’re right before it because once that’s on... then they need you for close-ups and glue the nose down and then you just sit there with a fan. It’s the only skin exposed in your whole body, its right there. [points to a spot on his body].
And they’ve got these industrial strength, special effects little fans, none of those little plastic ones.
PW: They make it themselves. It’s pretty cool. They’ve taken apart a cordless drill and put a fan on it with a little cooling system on it, it’s pretty awesome.
So when you’re in the costume, do you sit there and say to yourself, “Schmuck! What am I doing, the check isn’t enough.”
PW: No way! Anybody who does that should be kicked right in the…
…or do you say “This is the coolest thing in the world”
PW: I mean, come on! It’s really cool. You feel like you’re doing something really special and different and odd and awesome. It’s all those feelings. But I would never, no matter how much money. It had nothing to do with money. It’s such an unbelievable opportunity, that I could never sit here and (say) “This is terrible! I don’t like putting on this suit!”
Well I forgot who it was but there was somebody who was saying, “My teacher at Julliard must be thinking all my lessons have gone to pot.”
PW: You know what? That makes me angry that actors would say that. That’s ridiculous. These are some of the most layered, dynamic, interesting, introspective, weird, active... I put these characters or I can speak about playing mine but this is just as hard if not harder than doing anything else I’ve ever done and it has nothing to do with whether he puts on a suit or not. I think Christopher Reeve would have said the same thing. You know? I always think that’s such a weird comment. Like, “Bah! I don’t wanna put on…blah, blah blah! I don’t want to put on spandex!”
PW: Or tights, yeah! That’s a thing. I did a lot of musical theater and I put on tights in college. You can mock it all you want until you’re sweating your ass off in a ballet studio going, “Oh my god. I’m terrible!” And you forget how athletic that stuff is.
Does all this dress up take you back to your theater days?
PW: No. I mean, I think there is a sense of… It’s me playing Dan playing Nite Owl. That’s the exciting thing. I think it’s funny. We were shooting the scene at Happy Harry’s. And at the time I didn’t have very much dialogue. I come in and Rorschach is doing his thing, “Pyramid Industries, anybody ever heard of it.” And I’m sort of looking around. At the time I didn’t have any lines. Until as we’re leaving and I see the “Hollis Mason murdered” and then I go and beat up the Knot Top. And there’s a whole scene in the graphic novel. Either Jackie or me, we just started talking about it like, “You know? I think we need to have that line. You have to hear Dan go ‘Alright, everybody stay calm.’” And as soon as I said that it felt, I don’t know what it looked like, but it felt right.
It’s not just “Ooh. The Nite Owl walks in like he’s tough.” It’s like Dan walks in as Nite Owl and he’s trying to keep everybody calm. And some people sort of giggled. Some people thought it was cool. That’s the tone here. It’s not making fun of the genre. But it’s... I’m not an owl. You know? I’m this guy! That’s what I love. That’s what I love!
All this stuff unfortunately for time had to be cut out of the scene that we just did. I swear to you, every single time, every single scene that we do I always go back to the novel and think “is there anything we can get in here? “ and try to switch lines around, and “Can I say this?” And Zach has never once said, “I don’t think so.” He’s always been like, “Yeah. Great, cool.” Because he knows that any idea you have is to make it better, to make it clearer, and to tell the story better. Not because, “I want to say this line because it’s cool and I’ll look cool saying it!”
There’s so much back story that goes on in the scene that we just did. The line (about how) I was fascinated with birds and airplanes and mythology. That wasn’t in the script until yesterday. I just said I’d love to get something in there. Because we lose the stuff about the aeronautics, engineering and they’ve got the MFA at Harvard and all that stuff that maybe nobody needs to know but I like that Dan tells Laurie that. And he [Zack] was like that’s great idea. Because they couldn’t get these two transitions from talking about that or dad? to then I became a super hero. It seemed too comic book. It seemed too ‘super hero.’ That was the cool thing. He’s always so supportive of that. Anything else?
Is there one shot, one frame that you’re most incredibly excited to catch the iconic image of? Did they do it already? Is it you in front of…
PW: Yeah. Me in front of...
Is it you in front of the mirror? Did you shoot that today?
PW: We shot that two days ago. Yeah, and to be honest, even though I hate nude scenes, today, me looking at the suit, I think that’s such an awesome, awesome visual in there of just seeing Dan… we’re trying to figure out whether we’re going to put on the goggles or not yet. But at least I’m going to have them in my hand. And just staring at the costume, the full suit, just naked guy from far away.
2.17.09 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.com
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