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Damon Lindelof on Why Watchmen Has 'Got to Piss Some People Off'

Damon Lindelof, creator of HBO's upcoming Watchmen adaptation, got candid with CBR when discussing the trials and tribulations of bringing the seminal comics series to the screen. To start, he revealed it actually took three times for him to formally accept the role of steering the ship.

"It became very clear to me the third time they offered me Watchmen that if I didn't do it, someone else was going to," he said. "I felt I had to go through the exercise of thinking, 'What if someone else did Watchmen as an HBO show?' I would want them to write me a letter explaining what their intentions were."

That line of thinking led Lindelof, who also co-created ratings juggernaut Lost and critical darling The Leftovers, to an unorthodox maneuver. In May 2018, he posted a lengthy letter to his Instagram, directed to fervent fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' original work. In it, he affirmed that the series would be an extension of the comic, with the original 12 issues serving as canon. The Watchmen comic would be the Old Testament, while Watchmen the television series would be the New.

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"As a viewer of television, for me the most exciting thing is not knowing what's going to happen," he explained to CBR about the decision. "One of the ways we engage with these TV shows is that we theorize and guess. I engaged with the original 12 issues, and I felt it would be super-duper lame to adapt the original Watchmen, especially when the original is a master work."

Lindelof also went into detail about the creative process of the series. Although he's known for working on shows with complicated character connections and mysteries -- and Watchmen proves to be no different -- he makes it a rule to be flexible and never get too far ahead in the writing.

"We talk a lot about the narrative," he said. "'This is what needs to happen by Episode 5, this is what's going to happen in the finale.' We need to know the answer to those questions when we tell a story. It's very unlikely that we're going to change our course. When you're doing a story as complex and mysterious as this one, you better know the answers to your mysteries. But when it comes to character, emotion, and how they interrelate, you have to cast the actors and not get too far ahead in the script."

Lindelof then admitted that while the characters of the pilot were fixed, he purposely took the time to observe the actors during filming, which would then inform future episodes.

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"I look at writing a character the same way a tailor looks at making any garment," he said. "You don't just make it, put it on someone, and hope that it fits. My job is to take measurements and then custom-make the outfit. When you cast incredible actors, the more you listen, the better you're going to end up."

Lindelof also acknowledged his comment that made the internet rounds last month, when he confirmed in an interview he was "avoiding moralizing at a time when popular entertainment is terrified of being misunderstood." He took the time to clarify his intentions behind that statement.

"One of the things that drew me to the initial Watchmen was that clearly Alan was moralizing about good and evil in the world," he explained. "If you take a character like Adrian Veidt, there is moral ambiguity about the choice that he makes. Is Adrian Veidt the 'bad guy' because he murdered Edward Blake and three million innocent people? Or is he the 'good guy' because he saved the world? That's the kind of moralizing I feel is more interesting in the realm of Watchmen versus something like The Avengers or Justice League where it's a little more black and white. The heroes and villains in Watchmen are hard to disambiguate because the villains see themselves as heroes. The decisions we make are much messier."

That interview also highlighted Lindelof's adamancy to take risks with his projects. He's no stranger to controversy, having faced intense scrutiny after Lost's now-infamous 2010 conclusion. Indeed, he's ready to embrace walking into the belly of the beast when it comes to facing feedback for Watchmen, especially for die-hard fans of the original.

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"For me, the challenge that remains is: Can you do anything original in this space?" he asked. "Can you call something Watchmen and it feels original as opposed to derivative? What makes something Watchmen? Is Watchmen an adjective? The show couldn't pander to the uninitiated, because then you're leaving the people who love this thing out in the cold. And it couldn't be so inside baseball that it was indecipherable to people who didn't know anything about Watchmen."

"I know that there's no version of this show where every Watchmen fan would love it," he continued. "If every Watchmen fan loved it, we have failed. It's got to piss some people off. It wouldn't be Watchmen if that didn't happen."

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 will premiere Oct. 20.

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