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The Heart of Watchmen

During the recent press junket for Watchmen we had a chance to speak to Watchmen movie actors Patrick Wilson, who plays Nite Owl II, and Malin Akerman, who plays Silk Spectre II.

The following is the complete interview that we had with them that day.

What did you think of the movie, both of you?

Malin Ackerman: I was blown away!

Patrick Wilson: Yeah, I love it.

MA: It was beyond my expectation. I was breathless for the rest of the day. It was amazing. I’ve never actually felt like this. Because most of the time when you do the film you sort of have an idea of what it’s going to look like, but this was… It was great because it was a surprise. You got to see Zack’s vision, everything that he’d been imagining in his head and you thought, oh my god. This guy is unbelievable. I think it’s fantastic. It’s the thing I’m most proud of in my career up to date.

One of the things I think a lot of the people I’ve spoken to who’ve just seen the film yesterday said… You see, a lot of the fans in the graphic novel complain about Laurie. They say, you know, she’s just an incessant whiner.

MA: [Laughs]

She’s sort of annoying throughout the graphic novel. But what they said about your performance was she wasn’t. She was brought a little more forward, made a little more relevant and wasn’t annoying in the scenes that she was in.

MA: Wow. And this is from the fans? That’s amazing!

Did you know that people thought that she was sort of…

Malin Ackerman and Patrick Wilson

MA: No, I actually didn’t. I did know that while it was being written, she was sort of an after thought. Like, “let’s add a female character in it.” She wasn’t one of the main roles at first. In the Absolute edition you see these vivid explanations of every character and Laurie’s character is a half page. So she wasn’t one of the mains. But I hadn’t heard that and I’m glad I hadn’t before I went in ‘cause it might have changed things…

[Laughter]

But I’m so happy that they’re pleased with it. I personally think that she’s a lovely character. I think she’s a vulnerable woman who’s coming of age, finding independence, finding love. It adds a softness to the whole film.

PW: I think it’s also one of the benefits of the medium. When you think of so many things that you lose when you go from a book to a film but for this, I think specifically with you and that character, there’s a real difference in reading a females portrayal, especially if you’re a man reading it and her conflict between Dr. Manhattan and Dan. And you feel like you get it. And then when you see [Malin] do it, there’s such a humanity and a groundedness to it. That’s when film can really round out a character. Because it’s a real person that you’re watching and so much can be said with so little. So it’s funny that that was the reaction. Because I think that’s a real benefit of film in general.

You both seem to be sort of, not the innocents, but the human characters. How did you play that against all this backdrop of superheroes?

PW: You know it’s funny. I thought whether this is a huge comic book movie or whether it’s a play. He’s as much of a detailed character with the biggest arc I’d say of anyone I’ve ever played. So I never got caught up in the ‘genre’ aspect of the film because so much of it was very organic, even when Billy was there and all his LED’s and dot’s and things. It’s still Billy Crudup who’s a fantastic actor. So I never felt like we were in some crazy CGI movie because for most of it, at least for our characters, maybe [Dr. Manhattan and Laurie] on Mars, but at least you’re still together. You didn’t get that feeling of sacrificing acting because of effects. You don’t get that in this movie. I think these characters are so real and it’s such a human struggle, certainly with these [characters], woman caught between one man who doesn’t give it to he, doesn’t give it… I know. That’s

MA: Gives her too many!

PW: But is not there for her emotionally. That’s as human as it gets! A guy who doesn’t feel empowered, he feels lost and doesn’t understand how he fits in society. He lost his job, basically and doesn’t know where he fits in. These are extremely human aspects. It just so happens that they used to be costumed avengers. The struggle was actually so well written, and the arc for all these characters. You never felt you had to just say ah, it’s just a superhero movie, I’ll just do it this way.

MA: There were moments though… [laughs]

How did you come to your voice in the movie?

PW: My voice? That’s interesting.

It felt a little Jimmy Stewart to me, which I liked. It’s definitely different than your speaking voice.

PW: There’s just a real eagerness and earnestness to do right, and to be correct and to do the right thing with Dan. There’s a lot informed by even the pictures and the way he talks and the language that he uses. It’s really sort of more seventies than eighties. [He’s] a very old fashioned guy. So there was a Jimmy Stewart sort of model in there, specifically with the younger stuff with The Comedian at the riots. Sort of playing it a little more eager before he felt lost, so by the time he find him in ’85 it’s just a little more sluggish.

Could you guys talk about the costumes? What were the fun things or what were the difficult things for you?

MA: Well the costumes were definitely a big challenge in their own sense. I don’t know if anyone in here has a latex fetish? [laughs] I certainly do not after this film.

[Everyone laughs]

MA: Uh, I was considering it before, alright? But it’s definitely not the most comfortable thing to wear for 18 hours straight. It’s very constricting. And then you add heels to that and a corset and this long wig and then they go, “Get out there and fight!” and you go, “Really? In this outfit?” And the hair’s going all over the place. And it also takes on the temperature of whatever room you’re in. So if it’s really hot you’re boiling up and if it’s cold you’re freezing. The guys had the opposite where it was all foam costumes.

PW: Yeah.

Silk Spectre II

MA: And it was heavy and it was hot. So for you it was harder to do the kicks and such.

PW: Yeah, it was hard to lift it. I mean I will say in defense of that, that I can go back and watch Batman, Michael Keaton’s Batman and understand now. “Wow. He can’t turn his head.” I know about that [Laughs]. But the leaps and bounds that they’ve come with the design of the material. The designers were so great and actually really receptive.

MA: Yeah.

PW: I remember once in a couple of scenes where I wanted to take the cowl off and have it down so how to make the right material so you could wear it like that… I put the kabbash on the corset. They wanted a corset. I said well if anything we can corset when Dan’s younger. But the whole point of Dan is it’s a pretty wide thing. I worked to hard for the gut!

The goggles are really cool in the movie. But were you almost blind while you were doing action scenes?

PW: You’re the first person to ask me that. Actually that was a real problem early on in the first fight sequence that we did which was in jail. And they had made them so sealed to my head, almost, not really sealed but the suction of them… I was so hot. The only skin that was showing was here and my eyes. You’d get about ten seconds into the fight and then the goggles would fog up and you couldn’t see. So we were thinking, what would Dan have done? So we started cutting little slits in the goggles to let the air get out. The goggles became real work. It became very difficult to try and figure out how to wear them.

But it was nice that you actually had the ability to put the goggles up. I think it’s different than a Batman. It’s almost like you could go a little bit back into Dan.

PW: Well that’s what we were shooting for. They were also like that in the comic. I think once scene they were down here, up, cowl back, I wanted all that stuff… cape off. I was trying to find as many as those as I could to really show wow, I’ve seen that. To make it as organic as possible… seeing the zippers on the suit. Because you have to imagine, how do they get into this costume? I can’t imagine Dan had a bunch of people sitting downstairs helping him out. They tried to make it look as practical as possible for that reason. It’s such a big part of the comic, to see him putting it on.

MA: I gotta say that something that’s so fantastic about Patrick and working with him is that I’ve never worked with someone who… he really became the character while we were on set. It was…

PW: Thank you.

MA: You were! It was, for me, every film was a learning experience and I felt so lucky to be with this group of fabulous actors, Patrick being one of them. He paid so much attention to the detail, which all of us did essentially; we always carried the books around and made sure we stayed as allegiant to the book as possible just because it was so important. But he was one of the main sources of that definitely.

And your character, you have to react. There’s a lot of reacting toward what the other main characters are doing. You’re almost like their sounding board or their inner thoughts in their dialogues with them. So I guess it’s critical that you’re getting [that].

MA: Absolutely I think it’s critical in any film that you do, any character that you play. It really is sort of reacting instead of acting. You can kind of tell when people are “acting.” Because why are they reacting that way, that person didn’t give them that. So when you have the ability to work with people who really give you something, they make your job easy. You don’t have to do anything but react. You get so affected anyway that you just end up becoming whatever you’re supposed to become. It’s fantastic.

And was it hard doing those scenes with Billy because he’s in this blue, light, Tron suit?

MA: [Laughs] No, but I gotta say the first week it took a bit of adjusting toward that. We all must have laughed in his face so many times. [Laughter] He was such a good sport. He was like, “Alright. Go ahead.”

PW: I remember the first day. Because I’ve known Billy for a long time and I remember seeing Jesus’ Son in the movie theater and just going, “I don’t know who that guy is but that’s an unbelievable actor.” So know that I say this with great, great respect. I think he’s one of the best actors around. That being said, the first day… my first day of shooting was the funeral so Adrian gets his umbrella and poor Dan is sitting out there in the rain, just covered; of course he forgot his umbrella.

Silk Spectre II and Dr. Manhattan

And I remember getting out of the car and it was literally just like a moment of like “Hello, Dan.” “Jon.” But I hadn’t worked with Billy yet and I get out of the car and he’s just staring at me in this pouring rain, trying hard not to blink and he’s got like 150 dots on his face and his little helmet on and he’s trying to be, “Hello Dan.” [Laughter] And I just start laughing, thinking, “This is ridiculous.” Anytime I’ve had a history with them like me and Billy, me and Jackie, when you see them on set and you’re in your costume you’re just like, “What do we do for a living?! What is happening?!” [Laughter] That was that moment with me and Billy. I’ve played Golf with that guy for years and now I look at him in this big LED suit on, pouring down rain, trying to keep a straight face and act like Dr. Manhattan.

Malin, you got to make love to both [Patrick and Billy]

MA: Oh, yes I did.

Dan, and Billy in that suit. What were the differences?

[Laughter]

MA: What were the differences? [To Patrick] Shut your ears.

PW: Didn’t you have two Billys?

MA: There were two guys in bed with me for the Billy scene; I think it ended up being three of them, I believe. And the thing is they’re in these white sort of pajamas with the blue LED lights. So really I was more nervous about: guys, are you sure if I put my finger in his mouth I won’t get electrocuted? So insane, it was really rough and I was like, “Billy, just try not to touch my face.” Because you get scratches so we were trying to piece it together and figure out how we were going to do this and make it look [good]. It was almost like Reiki massage where you’re not really touching you’re just going through the motions. So the difference was that there was no touching in that scene whereas this was more human and natural and…

PW: Touching.

MA: and, touching. [Laughter] We had to get a bit closer. But yeah there’s definitely a difference between trying to act with your self and then acting opposite someone and being

PW: in an owl ship…

MA: [Laughter] acknowledged. [Laughs] in an owl ship…

PW: On the dashboard. [Laughter]

MA: I have huge bruises on my leg from that actually because it was a tight chair. It was just odd. Nice black and blues. Try explaining that to your husband. [Laughter]

How familiar were you guys with the graphic novel.

PW: Not really. I had heard of it. One of my best friends is just a die hard, every Wednesday for as long as I’ve known him, goes to get comics. Even before I opened page one I called him and said, “Watchmen. What d’ya got.” And he said, “Oh god.” [Laughter] And he said if you’re ever to do a comic book movie, this is the one to do.

I honestly knew going in to it, and I have such tremendous respect for him and he wouldn’t have led me wrong, I knew that I was treading on hallowed ground. It was fun to come into it. I think this is one of those comics because it’s limited to these issues and one book, unless you’re in this world… I think I’d heard of it, but because you haven’t seen Nite Owl and Silk Spectre on Taco Bell or t-shirts… you haven’t had that merchandising so that’s what’s sort of fun. To know you’re being respectful to the die hard fans but really giving it to a whole new generation of people.

MA: It was the same sort of situation [for me] because I had read the script was blown away and not really knowing what had just happened because it was so crazy. So I went out and got the book and again was even more blown away. It’s so well written. I also was really excited how well-written the script was considering the novel because you never really know going from novel to movie. They tend to cut out way too much and it just becomes a whole other thing. But this was so well written, I just thought, “my god, this is great.” And anyway I think we all became fans along the way.

PW: Right.

MA: And got to see the magnitude of it at Comic-Con.

What does this mean to your lives, both of you, to play these characters that the fans go nuts over?

MA: We get to live like Rock Stars. [Laughter]

PW: If they like it. I think we all have a tremendous amount of pride in what we set out to do. Of course there are cuts that come from the translation from the comic to the script, then from the script to the cuts in the movie, then from the movie to the… So by the time the film is finished of course there are scenes that are missing that we can’t wait to look for in the director’s cut and then when they put in the“ Black Freighter”… I feel like it’s going to be the gift that keeps on giving for us just selfishly to keep watching what Zack does with this movie.

MA: Yes.

PM: Because the thing is there’s such passion from the actors, and the designers, and from Zack… a real sense of wanting to tell the story as faithfully as you can. With that I feel like you can’t go wrong, because honestly everybody has the greatest intentions to tell the right story. So any changes that have been made for some reason have been made in their minds for the good of telling the most faithful story.

Can you walk down the street anymore?

MA: I certainly hope so. [Laughter] I hope there was enough incognito with the wig!

PW: Depends on which street.

Nite Owll II and Silk Spectre II

MA: Yeah, they’re not all the same. Let’s put the wig on for fun! [Laughter] I actually don’t have words for the feelings. The magnitude of this is bigger than anything that I’ve ever been part of. And it’s a little bit nerve wracking and crazy and exciting and everything all at once. I’m excited to see how it does. I really hope that it does well because of what you said. It was just a passion project for everybody involved. So hopefully the fans will appreciate that.

Can I ask about the fire rescue scene? Were you actually working with fire on the set?

MA: Yes, we were. The scene where Laurie comes through the roof?

The drop-in?

MA: The drop-in was actually my stunt double, they wouldn’t allow me to do that but then they set me in and the fire was in the back and so they had to put fire gel all over my back to make sure the latex didn’t catch on fire because it’s very flammable. There were very, many precautions taken and it was hot! It was a hot day that day, but absolutely it was a real fire. Of course, only at a distance but again, Zack wants it as real as possible. And the set was more tangible and real than he had on 300, where there was a lot more green screen. That was nice about this whole thing; you really got the feeling of it.

You talked about the feeling of everybody on the set. And everybody I’ve spoken to from the beginning has said that unlike any other film set, the synergy amongst the cast and crew; that there were theegos and everyone worked well together…

MA: Absolutely.

Why did that happen? Was it just the right bunch of people? Or was it just the dedication of wanting to do right by the graphic novel made everyone just come together?

PW: When you have a director like Zack, that has the energy of a teenager…it’s a hundred and something day shoot and every day the guy is like, “Alright! Awesome, let’s go!” Everybody wants to be like that. That’s your captain. And the producers had such faith in him, not only creatively or because of the success of 300… I remember meeting with Zack long before 300 came out… When you have a guy who knows exactly the story he wants to tell, when you have a captain like that of your team that knows exactly what he wants to do, everybody is moving forward. There’s nobody going, “uh, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

MA: Exactly.

PW: You never had that conversation that you have on movies. And you had such faith from all the producers that would come up to visit. Or when the heads of Warner Bros would come up and see us… You really felt like we were just shooting this great little movie. I mean it was a long movie but it didn’t feel like this huge epic thing. It was like a bunch of people getting together…

MA: And it was so collaborative, everyone was there together. And I don’t know how it happened; I guess Zack just picked the right people.

PW: It just did. That’s the thing. You always look to your captain. There can be other elements but if your director is that strong and focused and positive? There’s no time for anything else. Because then it’s like: why are you complaining? This guy’s got the hardest job here and he’s the happiest one around.

3.4.09 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.

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