Few of the actors in Watchmen bear such a close physical resemblance to their characters as these two. Jackie Earle Haley--small, wiry, tough--took on the role of Rorschach after a career revival sparked by his Oscar-nominated turn in Todd Field's Little Children. Jeffrey Dean Morgan--tall, broad-shouldered, with a charismatic smile carrying just a whiff of the infernal--came from prominent roles on Supernatural and Grey's Anatomy to play The Comedian in Zack Snyder's adaptation of the classic graphic novel. They spoke to members of the press, including Mania.com, during the promotional tour for the film.
Question: How familiar were you with Watchmen prior to getting the script?
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: I wasn't aware of it. My introduction to it was Warner Bros sending me over a Xeroxed copy of the graphic novel and saying, "You're meeting with the director of 300 tomorrow." I got to page 3 and thought, "Oh great, my character is dead already. Excellent." Of course, I then read the whole thing and thought, "Wow." By now, I can probably recite the whole book to you. But I was new to the comic book world… and what an introduction to be a part of.
Jackie Earle Haley: Same thing. I realized he was dead on page 3. [Laughter.] I wasn't familiar with the novel, and I was never a comic book fan growing up. I could never figure out what you did first. Read the words? Look at the pictures? The pacing was all off for me. Plus I'm an incredibly slow reader to this day. But somewhere about age thirteen, fourteen, I starting getting into sci-fi. I started reading Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, all those guys. And then, in reading Watchmen, I kind of crossed the line and started to geek out. I've since gone on a bit of an Alan Moore jag: reading V for Vendetta, I realized that this guy wasn't simply brilliant, he was a genius. I didn't realize the comic book world had this kind of depth.
Q: Jackie, was there a difference in performing with the Rorschach mask on and the scenes in prison when the mask is off?
JEH: I thought about it a lot, and in the end I decided to change nothing. Voice-wise, it might be toned down a tad, but I realized early on that this guy is Rorschach. Walter no longer exists. So to me, he's still Rorschach sans mask.
Q: These characters are probably the most morally complex in the book: the ones who stay in that gray zone. How tough was it to find that place? How did you figure out their justifications?
JDM: You know, they're vigilantes. The Comedian goes into this line of work as a boy on the docks of New York. He had two directions he could have gone. I think this guy is amoral and nihilistic and probably should have spent his life in prison. Instead, he put on a superhero outfit and got to beat the crap out of people under the guise of "justice." Still, there's a certain humanity to The Comedian, which I thought was key. When I first read the book, I kept thinking, "Why don't I hate this guy who does these horrible things?" It was this huge question mark for me. I just couldn't understand how he could shoot the woman he got pregnant--kill her--and rape the one person he was genuinely in love with--Sally Jupiter, who was the love of his life--and yet we didn't hate him. How do you forgive that, as a reader and as the guy playing him? I couldn't. There's just no excuse. And yet there it was.
The only thing that kind of grounds him is his daughter. That, and finding out what the climax of the film is about. Realizing that life really isn't a joke. There's no joke to be had, there's no smiling your way out of it. I kind of felt sorry for him. He's virtually alone, he doesn't have any friends… the similarities with Rorschach are striking.
JEH: To me, there's nothing gray about Rorschach. Everything is black and white to him, which is what's so fascinating about the guy. And so impossible. He was an absolute victim, as a child, of selfish and self-centered behavior that was always masked and justified and excused by moral grays. Being a victim of that, he reaches a point in his life where he was fighting against that. Every punch, every kick, every finger snap is protecting that inner child. Lashing out at his mom… and at humanity's incredibly selfish and self-centered ways.
Q: Do you think he's being selfish in that expression?
JEH: Do I? No. Although he may very well be. I think, in a weird kind of way, it's his only hope of survival. If he didn't turn his energies this way, he'd be even worse for wear. Much more of a nutbag and much more of a danger to society. At least this way, he turns it on the guilty… or the guilty by association.
Q: Where did you find the voice for Rorschach?
JEH: It was in the third drawer of my desk. [Laughter.] No, when I read the graphic novel for the first time, that was just the voice I heard. That's what we did on the audition tape, and what we ended up doing on the movie.
Q: Did you check online during the process? There were some pretty impassioned debates about the casting…
JEH: Yeah, I poked around in there a little bit…
JDM: Dangerous. Big mistake.
JEH: Oh yeah. Someone turn off the Internet!
JDM: Why, oh why did I look there? They already hate me! I've already made the wrong choices!
JEH: At the same time, it was kind of cool. To really get a strong sense of the fan base and what this source material means with them.
JDM: There's no fucking around with these people. The fans of Watchmen are so passionate, they're so smart, they know it so well, they care so much about it… it's a big weight to carry around while you're shooting a movie. It kind of takes away from some of the giddiness, to know that this is a serious thing you're involved in. We didn't want to screw it up. None of us did. It's intimidating, but it's also motivating.
'Watchmen' opens in theaters everywhere March 6th.