The darkest visions in "Watchmen" are personified in the Comedian and Rorschach. Both see the world as hopeless. For the Comedian, it is an absurdist land of nihilism. For Rorschach, it is a debauched Hell that will beg him for help. Both are incapable of seeing a bright, beautiful tomorrow and both recoil accordingly when they see the full scope of the conspiracy told in the panels and reels of "Watchmen."
When actors Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan talked to CBR News about the film based on the classic DC Comics graphic novel by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, both called the chance to play the book's most compelling and central characters, as Haley described it, "a pinch-yourself moment."
Haley had been a child actor, most notably in the original "Bad News Bears" and "Breaking Away." After a decade of unsteady work and a subsequent thirteen years out of the business all together, he returned to films in 2006 with "Little Children" and "All the King's Men." Speaking about his whirlwind return, Haley said, "It's just been incredible: to have been a child actor and to watch that stuff slowly drift away; then to struggle for a few years and find my way in this world, and to have this kind of comeback. When Steve Zaillian called to put me in 'All the Kings Men,' it just opened up this door again and I was invited back into this world. It really seemed like an impossibility that just never would happen again. So, I can't describe how incredible it's been to practice this craft that's something that means a great deal to me."
When the call came to play to Rorschach, Haley said, "I was just flabbergasted." The actor admits he only read "Watchmen" when the project became a serious undertaking in the last several years. "I wasn't fully aware of 'Watchmen' prior to getting the role, but after hearing the movie was going to get made--and prior to getting the role--I became aware of what 'Watchmen' was and who Rorschach was and what the material met to the fanbase," he explained.
Haley calls the book "an amazing piece of work" and Rorschach "an incredible character and an iconic character. He's a beloved psychopath of Comic-Con. I recognized it was something I really wanted to do. And the more I learned about Rorschach and the material it was just like 'wow.'"
As Rorschach, Haley takes on a deep, scorched voice, which he says was his initial impression of the character. "[The voice] was the first thing I heard when I read the book. I think it was pretty similar on my audition tape. I think it's shifted a little bit, but it was the first thing that I heard," he recalled.
Through making the film, Haley did wonder if his vocal choice was the right take. "I remember taking to [director] Zack [Snyder], 'Should we work on it, should we try some different stuff?' And we thought, 'Well maybe,' but it just seemed to work, so we never re-examined it."
Rorschach's other signature feature, his mask, initially proved to be a struggle for Haley. "At first, you're kind of nervous because you're taking away your main [acting] tool, which is your face," he explained.
When asked if there was any difference in how he played the character unmasked, Haley joked, "Freckles? I donned freckles." He then elaborated, "I don't think that he throws on his mask and completely changes his identity. But I think when he's in the middle of an interrogation, it might pump up his adrenaline and his syntax, just like anybody would."
The mask also allowed for a lot of Rorscach's fights to be handled by Haley's "kick-ass stunt guy." Haley is well versed in Kempo and Tai Kwon Do, though he claims to be "a little rusty." This aided him in preparing for fight work he did do himself. "I think what helped me with already having some experience with martial arts is that I didn't need to do what Jeffrey did, which was show up two months before and start with the basics."
Jeffrey Dean Morgan joked that his training was "just learning how to take a punch and how to not hit somebody, apparently." The Comedian's only fight scenes is the film's opener, in which he is completely outmatched by a masked assailant. "I'm still angry about it," he quipped. "I was like, 'just let me hit him one time, for crying out loud!'"
Morgan has been a working actor since the early 1990s, but only came to prominence in the last few years, when he was ready to quit acting altogether. "Before everything hit at once, the television stuff, I was done," he recalled. "This isn't working. I made a bad career choice. I put my eggs in one basket. I'm going to be forty soon and I can't pay my rent. This is ridiculous, what have I done?" Now that things have turned around, he can appreciate the luck involved. "It's just in this business, a lot of it is luck. There's a lot really good actors out there that you'll never get to meet and then there's a lot of crappy actors that you get to [see] all the time."
Asked what his fans from "Grey's Anatomy" will think of the Comedian, Morgan said, "Oh, they'll be in for a shock."
Morgan explained the Comedian's problem with women, one of the central themes of the character. "I think he has deep seeded issues with everyone. He just seemed to connect more with women, no pun intended. It's kind of who he is, unfortunately." Those aspects of the character were difficult for Morgan to portray. "There were a couple of moments that were hard for me to do as an actor just because those are vicious hits. It's not like pushing somebody against a wall, not that that's right, either. It's just a smack down. I give [Sally Jupiter] a beatdown and there's nothing nice about it. We weren't, obviously, holding back anything and you're looking at four panels [in the comic] and you're filling in those blanks with what would be the reality of it and it's vicious."
Both actors are appreciative of the roles and the timing of "Watchmen" in regards to their own lives. "I think it helps when good things happen a little later in life. It's not like Jackie and I are going to be whooping it up with Paris Hilton down on Sunset Boulevard," Morgan explained.
The higher profile they both have has one other added benefit Morgan was willing to share: "The scripts we get to read are a lot better than they used to be. That's kind of a cool thing."
"Watchmen" opens March 6.