Patrick Wilson has always displayed a remarkably square-jawed persona, even when playing a skeezy pederast in Hard Candy or an emasculated husband in Little Children. It's fitting, then, that he should step into the role of Watchmen's noble-yet-uncertain Dan Dreiberg. Malin Ackerman first attained notice in a decidedly unheroic role--as Ben Stiller's psychotic bride in The Heartbreak Kid--before landing the part of Silk Spectre II alongside Wilson. They spoke to the press recently about the trials and tribulations of Watchmen, living up to the hype, and finding the truthful characters beneath those latex costumes.
Question: Were either of you familiar with the source material before you got the role?
Patrick Wilson: I had heard of it, but I didn't know the comic at all. I sort of came into it all with the script, and I think Malin and I both had the same visceral reaction: what the hell is this?! It was amazing, it was crazy, it was like nothing either of us had expected. I called my friend, who's a huge comic fan. I always call him with whatever comic script I have at the time, and when I said, "Watchmen," he went, "Oh God!" I sort of gauged the interest and fear of the average Watchmen fan right there. So I knew going into it that it was a very special piece and that we were really treading on hallowed ground. Then I went out and got the graphic novel, and was just so blown away by it. Even though I didn't grow up reading a lot of comics, I always had a great respect for them. I felt like this was everything that they could be: almost Greek in its importance to literature.
Malin Ackerman: The first contact I had with anything to do with Watchmen was the script, which was amazing. I just kind of went, "Wow, I've got to get the source material for this." Anybody who reads Watchmen, there's no way you can't become a fan. I was shocked because--having watched superhero films and seen my cousins reading Batman with the "Pow!" and the "Pop!"--this was something completely different. It was amazing to finally read it and understand why people are so in love with it. It's well worth the pedestal it's been placed on.
Q: You two play superheroes, but you're both sort of the Everymen of the piece. Was it difficult to strike that balance?
PW: I think the point of the comic is that you don't cater to that stereotype. This was really the deconstruction of the superhero. Outside of Dr. Manhattan, there's nobody who's really a superhero. Actors only know how to play it organically. Luckily, we were given such great source material and a really faithful script. Your character is so detailed throughout the course of these issues that you know exactly where he comes from, what he does… you don't have to cut corners because it's a genre film. That's what was so exciting about it.
MA: If you take away the costumes and the crime-fighting elements, it's really just an exploration of how far human nature can go. The rawness of these characters makes it so hard to call it a superhero film. It's really its own thing.
Q: Malin, how treacherous was it working in the heels?
MA: It makes it a lot tougher. But at the same time, as a woman, when you put on a pair of heels, you present yourself in a different way that you do when you're wearing flats. It was way more difficult to do it in heels, but at the same time, it just gave that extra sort of "oomph" to the whole outfit and finished it. Here's a woman who's fighting, instead of one of the guys. They're steel-toed too. Steel stiletto-ed. That could poke an eye out.
Q: How did you approach the sex scenes? There's the two scenes: the one where it's not really working, and then the smoking hot scene with the costumes.
PW: For me, that is the cornerstone of this character. The essence of Dan's struggle. Giggling aside, nothing makes you feel like less of a man than that. There's this incredible sadness and loss of not being able to perform. Not feeling important. Not feeling like a man. Not feeling like he can do anything. One of my favorite panels in the book is Dan sitting there looking at the badge with the suit behind him, and then moving to naked Dan looking at the suit, and then the climactic sex scene in the Owlship. That's the journey: in some ways, the most primal journey these characters take.
MA: It becomes the conclusion of what makes us feel passion in life. For Laurie, I think she's trying to figure out who she is. She's been pushed into this career by her mother, like a stage mom, and this is her chance to figure out who she is and what she really wants. I think she eventually realizes that this is the man she wants to be with, because he's a real man and he cares for her, and she's never felt like this before. That passion and that drive: where does it come from? She finds out and she puts on that outfit--and it's her choice, not her mother's--and suddenly everything just clicks and it gets us going. It's an amazing thing to feel: when you're happy in one part of life, everything sort of falls into place.
Q: Patrick, you had to wear the cowl, which covers up a lot of your face. Did that make performing those scenes more of a challenge?
PW: I didn't really think of it like that. So much of film acting is expression in the eyes, so when you put those goggles on you make a choice--what is this character hiding? Certainly with Dan, so much of that ties into his sight. When he wears the goggles or his glasses in the book, when he doesn't, and what that means about his sight problems, what kind of problems he has. We got pretty deep into that. But I didn't really feel any struggles with the mask on, because we would just pick and choose the scene where he takes it off if we needed him to be more expressive.
Q: Did you realize at some point while you were shooting that you had become the subject of impassioned debate on the Internet among the fans?
PW: Well, we were shooting. I think it would have been the death of us if we'd looked.
MA: That's the thing. Obviously everyone is completely entitled to their opinion, but when you're getting into character on set, it's not time for that yet. You've just got to focus and be present and do your thing. Once the movie comes out, then judgment and debate is welcome on that finished project. Regardless of what people say, I am so proud of this. This is the best thing I've ever been a part of, and no one can bring me down from that.
PW: I actually knew I got the part early on, so I was sort of sitting on this information for months. You'd see interviews with people talking about other actors they'd like to see in the role, and it inoculates you a bit. But there have been so many attempts to make this film over the years… I actually find it interesting. Fifteen years ago, it would have been a totally different cast. And ten years ago, and five years ago, and three years ago. For this time to shoot this movie, I just feel so fortunate that we were the guys who got it. I don't fault anyone for wanting anybody else. For Dan, people would get really passionate about the weight issue. "This guy's overweight," and "that guy's the right age for it." Even if it's positive, there's nothing you can really do with that. All you can do it your work: if you give the most honest performance you can, then the work will stand for itself.
'Watchmen' opens in theaters everywhere March 6th.