Jeffrey Dean Morgan is lying down on a bench far too small for him when I walk into the room set aside for our interview. A former dying patient on Grey’s Anatomy Morgan looks nmore like an LA rock star right now; all black clothes, silver rings and chains and bits of leather wrapped around his wrists. The grizzled star of Watchmen – in which he plays Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian – is wired on the coffee infused with dashes of Bailey’s that have been kept in fresh supply by the publicists. Regardless of his jetlag-compromised state of mind Morgan is funny and charming as he regales stories of seeing Archie for the first time and why The Comedian is just misunderstood. But before I’m even ready to begin, The Comedian starts the interview for me…
How are things?
I’m really well thanks, how are your things?
Good, good. It’s been a long day and I’m feeling it a little bit.
Yeah, at about two o’clock today, just boom [claps hands]. But I’m doing well, hanging in there.
The journalists have all been kind to you?
They’ve all been great, thankfully everyone has liked the movie so that’s helped a great deal doing these.
The film really is an amazing accomplishment, I loved the music… I think perhaps you get one of the best funeral songs of all time.
It’s great, one of my favourite things is that soundtrack and I love that they got all the songs that are mentioned in the novel as well, that Zack fought for and got them is great.
Had you read the graphic novel yourself before becoming involved?
I hadn’t no, I never came from the world of comic books or graphic novels. I’d never heard of it and you know when I found out about this project I was told you’re going to meet with Zack Snyder who directed the 300, you’re meeting him tomorrow and we’re going to send over some material and what they sent me, which was really funny, was a Xeroxed copy of Watchmen, someone had Xeroxed everything. So it wasn’t even the novel and devoid of all colour.
Yeah really [laughs], that’s exactly the thought that went through my head. And then of course I read it, got to page three and I was like ‘I’m dead? You send me this phonebook and I die on page three. The response from my agent was can you just finish it, can you just read the whole thing before you pass judgment? I put it down after I read it the first time and was just ‘what the hell did I just read’ you know? It’s just such a massive, dense and epic piece of work. I’ve since read that thing I can’t even tell you, like 30 or 40 times and I’m surprised how continuously whenever I read it there is something new I notice, or some nuance about the book. It’s an amazing piece of work, I don’t know how I could ever get sick of reading it and I don’t can’t say that about a whole lot of things I’ve read. And that’s not just cos I’m in the fucking thing! We all became such rabid fans of Watchmen in the process of doing this it’s just been a thrill.
I saw the film for the first time three weeks ago having been a part of it for two years now I guess, really just kind of living and breathing it Watchmen for so long and finding out about the fans of this novel and the passion everyone has and frankly being a little bit scared about it you know. Everyone has questioned if Zack is the right guys, if these are the right actors, all sort of impassioned blogs on the Internet about the potential fuck ups we were gonna make. I know how hard we’d worked on it, but to finally see it and what Zack has done, it exceeded my expectations that were really high.
Of all the characters Eddie Blake, The Comedian, was the one you really had to have the courage of your convictions to translate to the screen. How was it for you playing the anti-Captain America?
The world where I had come from being this really nice guy on a television show who dies this was the polar opposite. Reading it the first time I knew this was what I’d really love to do as an actor. It’s a complete flip flop from what I’ve been doing, not that I don’t love what I do in being the nice guy and all, but I really wanted to show what I could do with this. It’s a testament to Zack for deciding after meeting me that I could pull it off. Not to say there weren’t moment that were really hard, Blake has some serious stuff that, I don’t care if you’re only working in a movie, that’s hard stuff to even shoot. Beating the crap out of Carla (Gugino – Sally Jupiter), that was a hard couple of days of filming.
But it was also a really cool thing, and this shows how complex and crazy the Watchmen world is, what I loved about The Comedian/Blake was I didn’t hate him. No matter how many times I’ve read this thing, no matter what he does, I never hated him. I had kind of a sympathy for him. I still can’t quite put a finger on it, but I know that it was really important in one of my first meetings with Zack when he said ‘it’s yours if you want it’, it was really important to me to somehow humanise this guy amidst all the shit that he causes. Assuming, uncaring, doesn’t give a shit about anything kind of guy, I mean he really doesn’t give a shit about anything, then you find out that he in fact does and there’s this humanity to him that is sort of crazy. Trying to bring that to the screen in such a short time-span is difficult.
Despite the fact he is this vigilante, murderer and rapist, do you think he is just a little bit misunderstood?
He is a little bit misunderstood. I like to say he had some communication problems. He really needed to go to the Hallmark store, get a couple of greeting cards for Silk Spectre along the way, that might have solved some problems [laughs]. I always play him like the love of his love was the original Silk Spectre and when he fucked that up, you know I always think he was a very hard man. When he was 16 or 17 I think there was still maybe some hope for him, but what happens that night with the attempted rape whatever chance he has of having a relatively normal existence is gone. That’s when the hard man emerges and relishes being the hard man. That’s way he’s so successful in Vietnam and other efforts.
Obviously you had some of the much heavier scenes to film, but to get away from that what were some of your favourite memories from the set?
My single memory, I mean I’ll remember all of it, but the one thing that I will remember forever was when we were doing the Keene riots. It was so cold and we were working all night, getting the age makeup was a long process, I remember walking out and they’d already lit the buildings on fire and the bus was on fire and Archie is floating about my head and there’s 500 extras freezing their asses off, and this alternate reality was right there in front of me: it was a panel right out of that fucking book come to life. It hit me in that moment, I was just ‘oh my God, we are making this movie’. And we’d been living that movie a month, I’d been training and all this stuff for five or six months, but that moment and seeing that was so weird and surreal. I was just ‘oh right, this is for real’. I knew what Zack’s vision was all of a sudden. There was some moment there as I was getting ready to jump out of Archie that I knew we were making something special. It was cool.
Talking to Malin I just really got the impression from her just how onboard everyone was, 150 per cent believing in what they were doing. How much of that is down to Zack and what he brought to the table?
He’s the captain of the ship, he brought everybody together from the director of photography Larry Fong – I mean it’s beautifully shot, an amazing piece of work – all the way down to craft service, this all comes from Zack. The cast, he put together not a well-known group of actors, he could’ve got anybody to do this movie and instead he went this alternate route. But what he did that was really impressive was the love that everybody kinda had, it wasn’t like we were doing this $150 million movie at all, it was like we were doing a $1 million movie and we were all pitching in our own money. Everyone cared about it and were like ‘let’s not fuck this up’, so it became this humongous passion project for 600 people. That was trip.
I don’t know anyone else who could have done it other than Zack. It was a hard shoot, it was long, winter in Vancouver, colder than shit, there were a lot of night and the hours were stupid and in the middle of this is Zack keeping the ball rolling. He kept everyone happy and we all wanted to work and do our best for him, he’s that kind of guy. Extraordinary man. And now that I’ve seen the movie…
How did you feel about the ending?
Unbelievable, I thought it was great. Did you?
I thought it was great… like a lot of people I knew what was coming and I was still just hanging on the edge of my seat.
Yeah, I think he did it man, he made the unfilmable novel. That’s an amazing thing to say, the unfilmable novel and everyone has been saying it for 20 years. I saw it and he did it. And to be a part of that is the coolest thing ever. I can’t believe it. I’m still pinching myself and I was a part of that thing. And I’m The Comedian, come on… holly shit! Best role in the movie I reckon.
Interview by Scott Henderson (Feb 12, 2009)
Watchmen is released in Australia March 6, 2009
Check back on Dark Habits for interviews with director Zack Snyder and producer Debbie Snyder.