A rapt audience got to its feet as soon as the screening of the pilot of HBO's Watchmen concluded. It continued as several big-name actors behind the series took to the stage, including Oscar winners Regina King, Jeremy Irons and Lou Gossett Jr. But perhaps the biggest acclaim came from the surprise appearance of Dave Gibbons, the original artist behind the Watchmen graphic novel.
"I first spoke to [creator] Damon Lindelof at San Diego Comic-Con in 2018," Gibbons explained. "He talked non-stop for what must be at least an hour and a half. I did discover that Damon had a huge knowledge of Watchmen and huge respect for what Alan [Moore] and I had done. The conclusion would be if anyone were to do a TV series of Watchmen, he would be the one to do it."
The original comic's writer, Moore, has been notoriously against any adaptation of his graphic novel, to the point where he refused to be acknowledged in Lindelof's introductory remarks before the screening. But what helped clear any muddy waters between comic and show is the fact that the series is not a direct remake of what happens on the page.
"What attracted me to this was that what Damon had in mind wasn’t a prequel or sequel," he said. "Alan and I asked, ‘What if superheroes really existed? What would they be like and what would the world be like?’ Damon is asking, ‘If that was the case back in 1985, what is the world like now?’ There’s nothing in there that contradicts the graphic novel. It’s an amplification rather than a dilution."
That amplification takes the action from the city to the country. There are some familiar characters, including Jean Smart as former Silk Spectre Laurie Blake and Jeremy Irons, who is simply referred to as "the man who you probably think he is." Additionally, Lindelof and executive producer Nicole Cassell took care to sprinkle in several Easter eggs for eagle-eyed fans, a skill built up in his previous work on LOST.
"I stole that idea from Watchmen," Lindelof admitted, "putting in these surface-level details for the careful watcher. We absolutely had to do it here."
The panel included the majority of the series' main cast, who discussed their various origin stories for making their way onto the show. King got the most personal touch, considering she worked with Lindelof previously on The Leftovers.
"Damon so graciously sent a letter with the script that no one else was able to read," she said. "It said this is his next project that’s dear to him and he couldn’t see anyone else he would want to be on this journey with." Also included was an envelope that contained an artist rendering of King as her character Sister Night.
Irons came aboard after a detailed lunch with Lindelof, a gesture that jokingly offended the other cast members on the panel. But what got the Brit to sign on wasn't the possibility of continuing a famous comic character, but the actual man who was giving the pitch.
"It amused me hugely. I thought this was a very interesting character," Irons said. "But mainly I thought, 'That man who I had lunch with has so much energy and enthusiasm. I don’t know what he’s going to make. But if he wants me to be a part of this story, then I’m aboard.'"
Tim Blake Nelson, who plays the enigmatic Looking Glass, hopped onto the project for the same reason. "When I read Damon’s script," he explained, "I felt the temerity and welcoming of danger to not only take this on but imagine this future in this alternative universe was so exciting. To do it in a way that hewed really nicely to the aesthetic terms of the source material, there was no way I wasn’t going to join on."
Considering the positive reaction to the screening, it was a surprise to hear that Lindelof currently has no plans to continue his Watchmen story past the nine-episode first season.
"One of the things that makes the original perfect is that those twelve issues were well thought out," Lindelof said. "There was a beginning, middle and end planned out. We had to do the same thing. We plotted these nine episodes with every mystery and question being resolved. We didn’t want this season to end with a [cliffhanger]. Our job was to deliver nine episodes that delivered a complete story."
That being said, he's open to change his mind, depending on the reactions from diehard Watchmen fans and the public at large. "We want to see how it’s received by you guys. If the show comes out and the conversation seems to suggest you’re hungry for more, we’ll take that into consideration."
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.