Watchmen Star on Series' Divisiveness, Experience With Racism in Oklahoma

Even before HBO's Watchmen premiered, actor Tim Blake Nelson predicted it would not lead to the entire audience proclaiming creator Damon Lindelof and the rest of the cast heroes.

"Reaction to this is going to be very divisive," Nelson told CBR. "That's because Damon will have succeeded."

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From the veteran actor's perspective, the polarity of the product would come back to the original 12-issue limited series, which served as the world builder for the current TV adaptation. The division, peril and paranoia that ran rampant through Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' work has now leaped forward decades to manifest itself in the 21st century.

"In transposing it to now, Damon has taken it upon himself to find those pressure points in our culture," Nelson explained. "By virtue of examining those in a bold way, he's going to have his proponents and opponents. When that happens, we're all going to say, 'Good.'"

Nelson was accurate in his prediction of discord amongst the Watchmen audience. After four episodes, nearly half of its first season run, it has earned a 96% critic's rating and a 42% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The main critiques accuse the show of tenuously connecting to its namesake, only using a couple of big-name characters from the source material and focusing on hot-button themes like racism and domestic terrorism. However, for Nelson, who is a native of the show's setting of Oklahoma, the fantasy of Watchmen is steeped in reality.

"As a Tulsan, I have lived through a lot of change in racial statics in America," he said. "When I grew up, there was overt racism everywhere. It pervaded. Thankfully, it's not so much like that anymore. But that journey has been a long one for a lot of people. I'm old enough to have experienced real, palpable, quotidian racism. There's no other way of putting it. It was sadly there for me to tap into."

It's a subject that Nelson and Watchmen viewers will continue to confront as the season moves along. Police chief Judd Crawford's (Don Johnson) murder is still unsolved, to the extent where the FBI has gotten involved in the form of agent/former vigilante Laurie Blake (Jean Smart). With Judd gone, Nelson's Wade Tillman -- alias Looking Glass -- has become an even more vital role to the cohesion of the Tulsa police force.

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"Looking Glass is afflicted by trauma in his past that informs who and what he is and even what mask he chooses to wear," Nelson said. "What was great about getting to play this character was that I was learning about that as the show was going along. It's much like we learn more about ourselves in life as we're confronted with various challenges."

It looks like the audience will get a firsthand look at that trauma in the near future. The teaser for next week's episode, titled "Little Fear of Lightning," seems to focus on the mysterious mirrored-mask man. Footage shows Wade in a bunker, as well as attending some sort of support group for "extra-dimensional anxiety." Through spending the good part of an upcoming hour staring into Nelson's reflective visage, viewers on Sunday night should get a dose of exactly what Nelson wants: a chance to look at ourselves, in all our ugliness and beauty.

Developed by Damon Lindelof, HBO's Watchmen stars Jeremy Irons, Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tom Mison, James Wolk, Adelaide Clemens, Andrew Howard, Frances Fisher, Jacob Ming-Trent, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Lily Rose Smith and Adelynn Spoon. The series airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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