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The Weight of Watchmen

During the recent press junket for Watchmen we had a chance to speak to Watchmen movie actors Jackie Earle Haley, who plays Rorschach, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays the Comedian.

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

Jackie, I was wondering how you were going to emote so well through a mask. Like you said you had to do it with a sock on your head.

Jackie Earle Haley: What I did is I would just think about the first thing that would come to my mind and then a blot would appear. [Laughs]

Wow that’s you moving the blots? That’s good! [Laughing] Did you have any idea how it was going to look while you were wearing that thing on your face?

JEH: Yeah, we had some fixed Rorschach masks for stunt work and stuff that were further away from the camera. So we could see sort of a still representation of it. One day [John DJ DesJardin] showed up on the set, he opened up his computer and said, “Check it out”. It was the very first test that was done with Rorschach looking up into the window. That was incredibly motivating. I was like, “Oh that's what it is doing!” What they did with the blots I thought was incredible. It just looks really cool.

Rorschach with his grappling gun

It was kind of a challenge or concern, how am I going to go about this acting with a sock on my head? At first you’re kind of nervous because you’re taking away your first tool, which is your face, as an actor. But, at the same time you’re playing this character Rorschach so there is something incredibly motivating by putting this thing on. I think I struggled with it for a little while, just internally. All this was reconciled and becoming Rorschach became an easier process as time went on.

You had to stay in voice all the way through, how was it to stay in voice? Was that difficult for you? How did you come up with that voice?

JEH: Well, you know it was the first thing I heard when I read the book. I think it was pretty similar on my audition tape. It might have shifted a little bit, but it was the first thing I heard, and I remember talking to Zack, “What do you think, should we work on it? Should we try some different stuff?” I think it just really seemed to work so we never reexamined it. It’s a weird process too, everyday I would come in and still to this day I do some ADR or something. Then say, “Let’s check a reference, does that sound the same?” Then we would check the reference and yes it was good. Every time we checked a reference, it would sound like what I was doing.

In each of your fight scenes, they are so intense. How much of that is you guys selling the punches you are taking?

Jeffery Dean Morgan: The big fight I did was me taking a series of punches. I didn’t get to land one [Laughing]. I’m still mad about that. I was like just let me hit him one time for crying out loud! [Laughing] I put up a good fight, but not one punch lands, God when can we connect. We were just talking about this; I was in Vancouver two months prior to shooting just because of that opening fight. Every day was just learning how to take a punch, and how to NOT hit someone apparently. [Laughing] I learned how to miss.

What’s funny was, I think I did see two punches that you connected with and they were both women. Actually, you gun down a woman, you hit Sally, and then in the riot scene your first punch connects with a woman.

JDM: Yeah, I think I hit two people with the butt of the gun.

I think this means the Comedian has some deep-seeded issues with women then.

[Laughing]

JDM: Yeah, you think. [Laughing] It’s funny to realize that. Yeah, I think he has deep-seeded issues with everyone. He just seemed to “connect” more with women. [Laughing] No pun intended.

How did you feel about that aspect of your character?

The Comedian in Vietnam

JDM: Wow, That’s kind of who he is, unfortunately. How did I feel as Jeff? I don’t go around beating women, so it was a little bit different for me. There were a couple of moments that it was hard for me to do as an actor. Just because those are vicious hits, it’s not like you’re just pushing someone against a wall, not that that is right either. But it was so much of a smack down; I mean I gave [Sally Jupiter] a beat down. There was just nothing nice about it, and we weren’t holding back anything, so again you’re looking at a graphic novel or comic book where you’re seeing that whole Sally Jupiter... You’re looking at what — four panels of that sequence? So when you’re filling in those blanks what would be the reality of it and it’s just vicious. There is just no other way about it. And we took no prisoners in anything in the movie; we did it as real as we possibly could. The fight scenes in particular, they are not pretty fighting scenes, they are stylized. Especially the Comedian and Rorschach. These guys are fighting and kicking you in the balls, and they were just brutal.

These past few years have been big for both of you, with Oscar nominations, starting on this, and starting on Gray’s Anatomy and romantic comedies. I just wanted to know what the past few years have been like for the both of you.

JEH: Well, it’s just been incredible. Having been a child actor, and to watched that stuff slowly drift away. I had to struggle a few years and find my way in this world. Then to have this kind of come back, and Steve Zaillian called to put me in All the King’s Men, it just opened up this door again. It really seemed like impossibility, like that would never happen again. So, I can’t describe how incredible it has been to practice this craft, which is something that means a great deal to me, and to get to do it again at this level. It has been one of those pinch your self experience the last few years for me. With the Academy thing and just getting to do the work with Todd Field in Little Children, with Patrick Wilson and Kate. It was just phenomenal. For that to lead to me playing this iconic character, you know. I was absolutely flabbergasted when Zack called me to play the part of Rorschach. It’s just been a trip.

Were you at all worried about disappearing after Little Children, because it took so long to make this and the film took so long to get out?

JEH: I think there is always that feeling. I can never tell if that fear is like a deep-seated child actor fear from my experiences. So, I have to temper that, with trying to find that balance of trying to be overly freaked out, because I have a long past of scary career stuff. [Laughing] Let me just say, In the room we were saying how thrilled we were and excited, but I looked at Jeffery and said, “you never know — the other shoe can always drop”. [Laughing] As actors, it is just a project deal, so...

JDM: You never know, man. I just feel exceedingly lucky, and humbled by the last four years. I’ve never had a “come back” to have, I’ve been doing this for twenty years and everything sort of hit at once with the television stuff. I was like, “I'm done.” I had made a bad career choice; I had put all my eggs in one basket, and I’m going to be forty soon and I can’t pay my rent. This is ridiculous, what have I done. In this business, a lot of it is luck and there are a lot of good actors out there that you’ll never get to meet. Then there are a lot of crappy actors out there that you get to talk to all the time [Laughing]. It’s just a weird business.

And who are those guys?

[Laughing]

The Comedian at the Crimebuster's meeting

JDM: It would be so easy [Laughing]. So, you get this opportunity... and talk about being in Watchmen and being part of this movie. It is, it is a pinch yourself kind of moment and we’ve both been really humbled by this whole fucking thing. Again, we’ve been on the other side, the two of us, and if the other shoe does drop then it’s back to business as usual.

How do you stay so humble? Because it seems it would be so easy to start buying into the hype.

JDM: Because, we have really good memories [Laughing]. It wasn’t long ago that things were really bad. I think it helps when the good things happen a little later in life. It’s not like Jackie and I are going to be down there whooping it up with Paris Hilton on Sunset Blvd. [Laughing] I don’t think the likeliness of that happening is very good. What is important now is the work; it’s not the “scene.” I think for both of us, it’s about making the right decisions in our lives and our careers. That’s the exciting thing about being able to do a movie like this is, scripts that we get to read are a lot better than they used to be as well. That’s kind of a cool thing. But it’s just that we’re really lucky.

Jackie, you used the word flabbergasted when you got this part. I was wondering if that was just because this was a big studio movie, or if Watchmen had some sort of significance in your life.

JEH: I wasn’t fully aware of Watchmen prior to getting the role. Hearing the movie was going to be made and prior to getting the role, I became aware of what Watchmen was and who Rorschach was and what the material meant to the fan base. I immediately started getting sucked into it. It’s an amazing piece of work and Rorschach is an incredible character and an iconic character, he’s a beloved psychopath of Comic-Con. [Laughing] I realized that this was something I really wanted to do. The more I learned about Rorschach and the material I was wowed.

You have a black belt. Did that help you to play Rorschach? Your character’s movement is sort of ninja-like.

JEH: No, actually he’s kind of more of a boxer. But, he does have some ways and stuff. I think what helped me with having some experience with martial arts is that I didn’t need to do what Jeffery did. [Laughing] Which was show up two months before and start with the basics. I know everybody kind of went into fight training and then into choreography. I got to skip all that and just go into choreography. I also had the additional help that my character was covered, so I had a kick ass stunt guy who was able to do most of that.

That wasn’t you?

[Laughing]

JEH: It was nice that I didn’t have to spend so much time in learning how to throw punches and just go into the choreography of it.

What martial art do you have a black belt in, Karate?

JEH: Kenpo and Tai Kwon Do. I’m a little rusty now though.

What were the variations of playing Rorschach, wearing the mask as a vigilante and then the unmasked Kovacs? Were there any nuances or differences that you applied to those two performances?

Walter Kovacs in prison

JEH: Not much, no. I donned freckles. There really wasn’t. I really looked at that and thinking what should I do there. To me, the guy is just Rorschach. Walter is long gone. I think he’s Rorschach with or without the mask, so I pretty much kept it in the same world. I don’t think he throws on his mask and completely changes his personality, but I think that when he is in an interrogation, it might pump up his adrenaline, just like I think anybody would.

At what point in the process did you know you were delivering the line of the movie in the prison scene?

JEH: I did what?

JDM: You know! [Laughing]

There was a huge audience explosion on that line.

JEH: Just about two seconds ago. [Laughing] I mean I know that is a beloved line. But the movie is full of beloved lines.

Yes, but there’s just something about that one.

[Laughing]

There is also the way the line was blocked and delivered made it juicy. Also, you don’t get to see your face too much through out the movie, but you got to see your face there.

JEH: I’ll tell you, I was totally looking forward to doing that scene, but you know I kind of felt that way about every scene. People keep asking me, “What was your favorite scene?” One scene didn’t stick out. The whole thing was just a great, encompassing experience.

Jeffery, I just want to ask real quickly, what do you think your Gray’s Anatomy fans will think about this performance?

JDM: They are in for a shock!

3.9.09 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.

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