Jeffrey Dean Morgan had just flown in to San Diego from Thailand and was right on the edge of delirious. Jackie Earle Haley was his usual meditative, thoughtful self. That means these two together gave long answers, rarely just tossing off one liners or yeses or noes (and you have no idea how often that happens). I wonder if Warner Bros paired them for that reason. Or if because they both have three names.
Or maybe it’s because they’re both playing among the most morally complex characters in the book. Morgan, as the Comedian, is a government killer and all around asshole… with a heart. And Haley is the fascist, insane vigilante scourge of the underworld… with a seriously wounded inner child. And they both do things that they think are right, or that they think they have the right to do, that might make the rest of us blanch.
Beware of some minor spoilers in the following interview.
Jackie, you’re playing the most popular character in the book, the disturbed vigilante Rorschach. What was that like?
Morgan: I argue that point.
It was an absolutely awesome experience. Getting to go out there and
work with the likes of Jeffrey Dean, Patrick, Billy, Malin, Carla, Matt
– it was just a real treat. Zack Snyder, his vision for this thing, was
incredibly exciting for all of us. The whole goal out there was to try
and stick as close as we could to the tone and meaning and the whole
thought-provoking aspect of Watchmen. It’s kind of funny, I realized
this today talking to press, looking over at Zack at the monitor, I saw
him more with the comic book in his hand than the script.
It was an awesome experience to delve into this character with Zack and
get what makes him tick. To find who he is and to work with the make-up
department, the wardrobe department, because they’re so much part of
the character. They helped me make him.
your character has this huge arc, but so much of it happens off screen,
in flashbacks, popping in and out of the story out of sequence. How
hard was it for you to capture that arc without playing any of the key
moments in it?
Morgan: I had to break down
the novel a lot and have a very clear idea every day of what I was
doing and where I was in that arc. But the best thing about playing the
Comedian is that I span from 1927 to 1984, and the changes that happen
to the Comedian in that time, there are a couple of very specific
things that happen in this man’s life that do alter him. There is a
human side to this man that you finally see and that’s surprising
because he is such a bastard. Getting to play that was for me the
reason I wanted to do it so badly. What I was so fascinated by when
reading the comic is how I didn’t hate the Comedian, and you sure
should hate this guy for the actions that he makes happen, but you
don’t. Trying to bring that as an actor so that you guys in the
audience understand why he has done what he has done, and why he has
become this man, is a real thrill as an actor. It’s just about breaking
this stuff down, paying attention. And like Jackie said, Zack was
instrumental for all of us. He knows this book so damn well and we all
do at this point, but he was so good at communicating with us and
helping us remember where we were at any given moment. In a movie like
this you’re all over the place – on any given day we’re shooting me
falling out the window and the next day it’s Rorschach splitting a dog
in two. Nothing’s in order so you always have to refer to Zack. And we
all care so much about this friggin’ piece of work. The passion that’s
involved in this by the cast and the crew and the studio is so intense
– it’s like doing a little independent movie where you have no budget
but you get it done because you care so much about it. That’s what this
was like, only on a huge friggin’ scale. But we all came at it like
this is it, and we care so much about the original piece of work.
Jackie, Rorschach wears a mask that covers his whole face. How do you act through that?
short answer is that regardless of the mask I’ve got to do all the work
of an actor to fully understand my character, so that I can try to
embody that internally. Try to find his emotional state, try to find
where he’s been, what his experiences have been, what makes him tick.
After getting to that place I had to perform in the mask and the
outfit, which I found to be very empowering, it made me feel like
Rorschach. But at the same time I’d find that looking at the monitor
that some of what I was feeling and emoting wasn’t coming through. As
an actor I had to live and breathe and feel and be Rorschach, but at
the same time perhaps throw in some external layers so that it’s also
coming through. Some days I felt like I was animating the suit. Which
is what I needed to do.
You made an audition tape for this. Any chance of us seeing that?
Morgan: I want to see it!
Haley: I sure hope not.
Morgan: It had to be good. It got you the job!
What’s your favorite scene for your character?
I have a soft spot for the Keene riots myself just because seeing those
sets and the Owlship above me and the crowd of people and everything on
fire – it was so surreal, and it came alive for me. At that moment I
realized what I was doing and it was overwhelming. I haven’t seen one
frame of that, by the way, but it was the comic book come to life right
before my very eyes. It was something else. I hope the scene came out
Haley: I can’t answer it. Every scene
is… the whole process was amazing. Some scenes were disturbing to me,
stuck with me. The role I did before this [in Little Children] – that
guy should have stuck with me and he didn’t. I could leave him on the
set, but for some reason Rorschach, that guy followed me home. The end
scene – and I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to spoil it –
that was kind of an amazing, emotional day on a lot of different
levels. That was a trippy scene to work on.
Alan Moore intended Rorschach as a deconstruction of the vigilante
character, and he’s supposed to be sort of repulsive. But he’s also the
coolest character in the book. There’s this endless twenty year back
and forth about whether we should think Rorschach is as cool as we do –
where do you stand?
Haley: I think I’ve got a foot
in both camps. Alan Moore said something to the effect that when they
were designing the character in the book that Rorschach was meant to be
an example of what could happen in a world where costumed vigilantes
exist, and by that I think he meant how things could go wrong. I think
he was surprised by how everybody could relate to this guy. I know for
me that what I love about him is that who he is is kind of impossible –
his conviction, his absolutism, his no-compromise standing is a really
interesting virtue. His remorseless violence at striking out at those
who would victimize the innocent is kind of fascinating to me. There’s
no discussion about it. Who he is is a direct result of similar
treatment to him. He was victimized by his mom. His mom was trying to
do well. She did the best she could for little Walter. She was a
prostitute. Why? Because she had to put food on the table. But in his
eyes, and in mine, that’s a lot of complex excusism. Her behaviors
spoke a lot louder than what she said she means. He saw that and it
tweaked the heck out of him, and I think every punch, every kick, every
bad guy he brings down is in direct relationship to him trying to
protect little Walter.