Actors Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan play two of the most morally dubious superheroes in comic book history, starring as Rorschach and the Comedian in "Watchmen," the big screen adaptation of the award-winning graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Academy-Award nominated Jackie Earle Haley began his career as a child actor in such films as "The Bad News Bears" and "Breaking Away." After an extended leave from Hollywood, Haley recently returned with parts in "All the Kings Men" and "Semi-Pro" before earning an Oscar nomination for his role as a convicted child molester in "Little Children." Haley now returns to the screen in his first major role since his nomination, as the faceless vigilante Rorschach.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is probably best known to TV audiences as Denny Duquette on "Grey's Anatomy" or as John Winchester, Father of the Winchester boys on "Supernatural," but the talented actor has been working in film and on TV for almost twenty years. Morgan now has an opportunity to be introduced to a whole new audience with his role as the sadistic, gun-slinging anti-hero, the Comedian.
CBR News had the opportunity to sit down with the two actors last weekend at WonderCon in San Francisco to talk about the new film, the graphic novel it's based on, their important roles and the pressure of living up to fans' expectations.
CBR: The characters that you two play in the film, Rorschach and the Comedian respectively, are arguably the darkest characters in the movie. Yet in a strange way, both set the moral barometer for the world that "Watchmen" takes place in. Was that a factor in the way you played these roles?
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Yeah, you kind of have to approach it that way. But I think certainly what Alan Moore was saying within these two characters, though they are kind of on the dark side, I think they're very clear in their actions and who they are certainly. The Comedian very much lives in this realm of grey-ness and kind of loves that aspect of it, you know. Where Jackie's take on Rorschach is much different than that.
But all the credit in the world to Dave [Gibbons] and Alan for making these characters so complex and have so many layers. Getting to live and immerse our selves in the world of "Watchmen" was amazing. Playing these characters certainly was fun. There was a beginning and an end and a roller coaster ride in between but I always kind of knew where I was going within that.
Jackie Earle Haley: I think what's cool about these two guys is they kind of take that same view of this world, the complexities, the grays and they deal with it in a very opposite manner. And yet they kind of admire each other because of that moral compass, in a sense.
Jeffrey, you're primarily known for the "nice guy" roles you've played on TV and in film. Did you feel that doing this movie would be a chance for you to break free of that type of casting?
JDM: Yeah, absolutely. Coming off of "Grey's Anatomy" or "P.S. I Love You," a couple of romantic comedies, it would've been really easy to kind of stay in that world. Yet as an actor, I desperately wanted to do something different and the fact that [director] Zack [Snyder] was able to look at me and go, "You're my Comedian," well I give him all the credit in the world. Frankly, when I heard he wanted to meet with me, I thought there was no way in hell that he was going to give me this job as being the biggest asshole in the world, basically. And for him to have the trust in me was amazing because it was exactly what I wanted to do. I'm really glad I did it. We'll see how the fans react to the nice guy being not so nice anymore but I certainly loved it and it was a great challenge.
Early reviews of the film have highlighted both of your performances as standouts in the picture. What's your reaction to that and all the attention you're getting?
JDM: That's really fucking sweet. I mean, I've heard some people say nice things about us. Of course, in the last three weeks we've been doing nothing but talking about this. So it's really great that people are responding to these characters, although it makes me wonder about the people who are responding to these characters.
JEH: Yeah, I think everybody [who's seen it] has had a response to every character in a different kind of way. In talking about Rorschach, there is something impossible about him that people admire. It's because we live in this very complex world. I think we would all not necessarily agree with his morality, but he just has that very decisive moral compass and his absolutism. I think we all in this complex world try to make things black and white and that's what's impossible but Rorschach does it. So it's fucked up but it's weirdly admirable.
Jackie, in some ways Rorschach and Nite Owl are both two different sides of the Batman character. Nite Owl is the more clean-cut heroic version and Rorschach is the dark, vigilante aspect of Batman. Did that idea inform you're performance at all?
JEH: That's interesting. Not really in the sense that I looked into Batman, but in the sense that I definitely remember reading an Alan Moore quote on the net; he was talking about how part of the process was to see what it would be like, by studying a character like a Batman, you know, in terms of Rorschach and who would really do that? Go out and dress up in an outfit and be a costumed vigilante. His answer was, he'd be a nut bag! So that was very informing and it's so obvious on the page too. So I've always kind of felt that but everybody always thinks that Dan is, and he certainly is, you know.
Finally, were you two fans of the graphic novel before being cast in the film?
JDM: Well, no. Not until someone called me and said, "Look, Zack Snyder, the guy who did '300' is doing this film" and Warner Bros. sent me a Xeroxed copy of the graphic novel. Which, incidentally, is just a bad way to look at "Watchmen," in black and white. But that was my introduction to it and obviously since I've become a huge fanboy. We knew immediately, I think, what the fans' perception of this novel was and the scrutiny we were under as actors and filmmakers filming this thing. All you needed to do was go on the Internet for half a second and realize that everyone pretty much hated us, thought that we were the wrong choices and that Zack was the wrong director. So I never opened my computer again in Vancouver while I was there.
JEH: Yeah, I wasn't a comic fan at all. I hadn't heard of it. I had seen some images. I had actually seen Rorschach but wasn't aware of him, I don't even remember where I saw it. I guess from comic book friends and stuff. As a kid I never read comic books. I didn't understand the pacing of it. You know what I mean? Do I look at the pictures? Do you read the words? And I also thought it was like a kids' medium. So in reading it I immediately was enthralled at what an awesome piece of literature it was. And the layers, you can read that thing twenty times. As a matter of fact, I don't think there is any end to how many times you can read it. So you read this thing at age seventy-five, for your five-hundredth read and you're going say, "Oh, I never saw that."
So I've been reading comic books. I read "V for Vendetta," it's just amazing. "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," that was cool. "The Dark Knight Returns," badass! So now I'm starting to be a comic fan, I love it!
"Watchmen" is in theaters now.