Watchmen takes place in a contemporary alternate universe where Robert Redford has been President since 1992. It is based on the DC graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons of the same name.
The story is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here ‘superheroes’ are treated like outlaws, as they don masks to keep their identity hidden. The show’s creator and executive producer, Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) embraces the nostalgia of the original story. However it is also breaking new ground with his series.
Regina King (Oscar winning actress for If Beale Street Could Talk) who worked with Lindelof on the HBO series The Leftovers, stars as Angela Abar, wife and mother who is the lead detective in the Tulsa Police Department.
Both Damon and Regina came to the TV Critics tour to discuss their new series, which premieres on HBO on October 20th, 2019.
There are a lot of elements in this that I don’t remember from the Watchmen comics. What did you kept from Watchmen that made it necessary for this to be Watchmen rather than police in masks?
Damon Lindelof: Whether or not the show feels like it’s Watchmen is in the eye of the beholder. Some people who have an intense relationship with the source material might say this feels like Watchmen to me. Others might say this is an aberration and I wish that it’d never existed. People who are coming to it for the first time, who have no relationship whatsoever with Watchmen, won’t even be asking that question.
I love the source material. I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now if Watchmen had never been written. It is something that I hold in incredibly high regard and high esteem. But, at the same time, I feel that that respect could impair me from doing my job which is to tell stories that make sense to me and my collaborators. If I was too reverent then I wouldn’t be able to do anything that was risky.
You’ve been involved with a lot of shows and movies that have had a very intense fan base. How much power do you think fans have to tell networks and creators what they want to see and what should networks and creators do when those fans maybe overstep?
Damon: That’s a great question. And the short answer is I don’t know.
One of the things that I learned from Lost is that the fans had demands. There were things that they wanted, but they also wanted to be surprised. And that felt a bit of a contradiction. So, I don’t quite know how to thread that needle.
Regina, is Angela different than any other part you’ve portrayed?
Regina King: (She) was very different than any character I’ve ever played. I build (backstories) and the clarity (wasn’t) there with Angela immediately. I was getting to know her as we were shooting, and that was actually quite fun and scary at the same time. This is the first time I’ve ever been in a sex scene, I think. Guys will like that and some girls too.
But it was just fun for me to work muscles that I’d never worked before and conquer fears that I really didn’t even know I had. This was a huge undertaking.
And for future fans of Watchmen, what is Angela’s psyche?
Regina: It’s kind of hard to go deep into her psyche without revealing things to come. But she, like all of us, is a product of her experiences, her environment. As (the viewers) hopefully continue to watch the episodes, you will see why she’s this woman that feels she needs to wear several masks.
Because we see a lot of the story that’s happening in Tulsa through Angela’s eyes, through (her) perspective, we are reminded how we go around in our day-to-day (lives) taking off masks and putting them on. We are different people when we are around different people, and when we’re in different environments.
Did you have to do a lot of physical preparation for this?
Regina: I’m a pretty fit person. And I pretty much try to stay fit all the time.
I meant kicking butt.
Regina: Yeah, that’s what I meant too. (she laughs) The good thing about Watchmen is we were working with the stunt coordinator that we’d worked with on Leftovers, so he already knew my strengths going in.
I’m very particular when it comes to stunt doubles. I hate to see something where you’re like, ‘That’s a double.’ And so, they really took their time and looked far and wide to find a double that resembled me. And she’s 26 years old, so I’ll be playing action woman till I’m 66.
One thing with the original Watchmen comic, it couldn’t interact with the internet culture. Is this idea of online culture, masking who we are in our own cruelty in the way that we behave online, something you’re at all interested in?
Damon: This is a broad generalization, but the less inclined you are to let people know who you are, the more empowered you are to put toxicity out in the world.
We’ve created a world, for reasons that you will find in subsequent episodes, does not have an internet. People do not have smartphones, even though it’s set in 2019. The Redford Administration saw the writing on the wall and stepped in and made sure we could not troll each other incessantly and say nasty things.
Did you wrestle with a notorious fact that Alan Moore is opposed to any adaptation of Watchmen and most of his other works?
Damon: Alan Moore is a genius in my opinion; the greatest writer in the comic medium and maybe one of the greatest writers of all time. He’s made it very clear that he doesn’t want to have any association or affiliation with Watchmen ongoing. And that we not use his name to get people to watch it, which I want to respect.
I do feel like the spirit of Alan Moore is punk rock and rebellious. If you told Alan Moore in 1984 or ’85, you’re not allowed to do this because Superman’s creator or Swamp Things’ creator doesn’t want you to do it, he would say, ‘F-k you, I’m doing it anyway.’ And so, I’m channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to tell Alan Moore, ‘F-k you, I’m doing it anyway.’