How do you not love Patrick Wilson? There’s a certain lovability to the guy that makes him ideal casting as Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl II, the gone-to-seed retired caped crusader who finds himself in the middle of a heady mystery in Watchmen. The character is almost a perfect continuation from his regretful grown up jock in Little Children. And it’s the fact that Wilson has the chops to star in a movie of that caliber (alongside his Watchmen co-star Jackie Earle Haley) that made his casting so exciting.
Let me take you way back to October of 2007; I was visiting the chilly Vancouver set of Watchmen. Along with an eclectic group of journalists I sat inside a cavernous room that had been turned into Dr. Manhattan’s lab; somewhere in the distance saws buzzed and hammers pounded as another set was being built. The noise made talking with Wilson difficult, but he never lost his cool.
Q: When we find Dan Dreiberg, he’s not in the best shape; are you doing De Niro-style method acting?
Wilson: I probably gained about 20 pounds since the summer. The first
thing I said to Zack when we got together I asked him how much weight
he wanted me to put on. What’s interesting is in the first couple of
chapters at least in his plain clothes, or even in the Owl suit, he’s
pretty big. But by the time he takes his shirt off and the stuff where
he’s naked, he’s not a fat guy. There’s this perception of ‘Oh, he’s
huge!’ and he’s overweight. One of the first things Zack said is that’s
obviously a metaphor for what’s going on in his life, and being more
schlumpy and lost and all of those adjectives. Much more than gaining
all the weight. Plus when you’re doing a movie like this, when you’re
doing the early stuff, which there isn’t a lot, you want to be able to
fit in the suit. Basically what I’m saying is I didn’t want to go
overboard. But I wanted to have it. Nobody told me to, but I wanted to
anyway. I’m a pretty lean guy to begin with and I wanted to get a
little fuller and have a little gut.
Q: Did you have to stay at a certain weight to fit in that suit?
Wilson: I talked to the guys who designed it, because by the time I
did my first fitting – in mid-July, I guess – I was doing another
movie where I was 185, which is about what my weight is normally. So
when we’re making the suit, I told them I was going to be 15 to 20
pounds more when we started going. It wasn’t anything that drastic. The
weird thing has been trying to find this balance between all the
physical stuff that we do and the look of the character. What’s right,
what fits, what he is in comparison to other characters. I think we’re
doing a good job.
Q: Can you talk about working with Jackie
Earle Haley again? In Little Children you didn’t have so many scenes
together, but this time you’re playing the old partners.
Wilson: Well, we get along great. The first stuff we shot together
was us breaking into Adrian’s office. It was the first time I was in
the suit, so nobody had even really seen me in the suit. We sat there
before the first take and he’s putting his mask on and we’re like,
“What are we doing?” It’s Brad Adamson and Ronald James McGorvey gone
terribly wrong! We’re the sequel to Little Children. But it was great;
especially when you’re playing guys who have known each other for a
really long time, it helped. He’s so great and such a warm person
anyway. What I found on this movie, not just between me and Jackie, but
– and I dont know if you found this just walking around here –
everybody has this same focus. Everybody is in love with this material:
the script, the graphic novel. When that’s you’re common link, nothing
Q: The book is sort of elliptical about the history – the broad strokes are there, but the reader fills in many details. Did you and Jackie work out your history on your own?
Zack did one on ones or two on ones to go through all of our
relationships and how people started. What we see, what we may have
missed. So, we definitely went through that. You have to establish how
long they were together. And did they really fight together? That’s the
stuff you want to get to. And when they did, how much of it was at the
same time? So going through that was fun, especially with me and Jackie
because it’s such a history with those two. It’s a great relationship
for these two complete opposite types of people to work together. To
have an understanding of each other. So by the end it’s tragic, I think.
Q: Dan is sort of the hero of the piece, but he’s also among the most
normal. He’s the least flashy among all these eccentric figures. How do
you put yourself in and stand out among these characters?
Wilson: I read it from his perspective all along, so it’s hard for
me to even look at everybody else’s arc. To me, he’s such a complex
guy; he is very real. I think the Batman similarities are on purpose.
Really Dr. Manhattan is the only one with any sort of super power. I
found he has so much heart. When you see Dan with his glasses, he’s a
great guy. So all of the problems, all of the things that are
interesting as an actor: the sexual issues, the not knowing who you
are, almost having that Vietnam vet syndrome – when he doesn’t have
the suit he asks, who am I? Now that I’m not fighting that battle? Who
am I? There’s so much, and we’ve really just begun. That’s the stuff
I’m looking forward to;h e goes through such a wide range of being
introverted and lost, trying to adjust to society. He doesn’t relate to
being alive, to feeling empowered. It’s a great journey. I don’t feel
lost between the flashiness. I think he’s pretty cool.
Q: Were you a fan of the comic?
Wilson: I didn’t know it. I knew of it, but I hadn’t read it before.
Like with all comic book scripts that I’ve seen or been up for,
whatever the nonsense is, I called one of my best friends, Chris, who
is a die-hard fan and has been ever since I’ve known him. I call him
and say, ‘What do you have on Daredevil? Fantastic Four?’ He’d give me
his rundown. I said, ‘Alright I just got the Watchmen script.’ He
paused and he goes, ‘Oh god.’ I said, ‘What? I’m only halfway through,
but this seems pretty cool.’ He said, ‘If you are ever to do a comic
book movie, this is the one to do.’ So then I knew I had the stamp of
approval, at least from the fan. I knew I was getting into some pretty
revered work. I read the script first, but once I read the graphic
novel and became immersed in it – I mean, there’s stuff we were just
talking about a few minutes ago… some of the stunt guys just got
through it and they said, ‘It’s pretty dense!’ I don’t want to bag on
any other comics, but there’s a reason that it is to some people the
Holy Grail of graphic novels. You just keep finding new things in that
script. The thing about Zack is that he has such an appreciation for
that. It’s not going to be an 8 hour movie so in trimming, finding the
focus of the film, what do you leave out of the graphic novel – and I
think they’ve done an incredible job of adapting it – within that I’ll
sort of see something and say, ‘Man, I love this line that’s in the
graphic novel’ and you go to him and he says, ‘Great, yeah, I love that
line too.’ It’s an evolving process.
Q: Is your friend psyched?
Wilson: I talked to him today. He’s trying to get out of work so he can
come here to play. ‘What are you shooting?’ ‘We’re breaking Rorschach
out of prison.’ ‘Ohhhh my God!’ I’ve never seen this kind of
excitement! But we get that. Everybody here – you don’t run from it,
you embrace it. You don’t tread around it. You dive right in. Everybody
Q: Are you looking forward to piloting the Owl Ship?
Wilson: Oh yeah, have you seen the ship? It’s pretty great. That’s
the thing: every new set you walk onto, you’re just blown away.
Q: How is the action going with the suit? You’re doing some fights in that suit – is it supple, or is it hard to move around?
Wilson: Nice use of supple, by the way. I haven’t heard that today. I like that.
It’s high class problems, I like to say. What am I going to do,
complain about the suit? It’s unbelievable. Mobility-wise, it’s okay.
Tension is hard; it’s like a scuba suit gone haywire. You have the
elasticity but… it’s just like anything. You just get used to it. I’m
not going to complain about the suit. It’s unbelievable. It’s so cool.