the last couple of months I have been hearing rumors coming from the Watchmen camp. Most of them were about casting – a very reliable source told me that some of the biggest names in Hollywood were in talks to star in the film. So when another source told me that Tom Cruise was in talks, I knew that it was quite likely true.

My source was right. While on the phone with Watchmen director-to-be Zack Snyder yesterday, talking about the pending release of 300, I asked him point blank about Cruise, and he confirmed that he and Tom had been talking about it. A lot. But that now it looked like Cruise would not be appearing in the film.

“He was interested,” Snyder confirmed to me. “I did talk to him about it for a while.” And would the role he wanted be Ozymandias? “That would be the role,” Snyder said.

I can feel the shudders passing through fandom right now, but I have to say that Cruise would have actually been great casting for Ozymandias. The character in the comic is the baby-faced most famous man in the world, and bringing in Cruise’s monolithic fame would add a layer to what’s onscreen. And Cruise would probably view this as a film in the vein of Magnolia – one that he does to heal his cred. He’s doing that with Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs, but that’s not a commercial picture – playing this role in a commercial film (and people who have read the graphic novel know why this would be an especially interesting role for someone like Cruise to play, based on what happens with him towards the end) would go a long way towards helping mass audiences like him again. And since Ozymandias is a crucial character but not the lead, it means the whole film doesn’t hinge on Cruise.

It also shows the kind of scope that Snyder and company are looking to bring to Watchmen. 300 is a visually arresting film, but it was done comparatively on the cheap, and without marquee names – people are going to come to theaters on Friday based on the visuals, mostly. Watchmen is looking to be a major, major project.

Snyder talked a bunch more about Watchmen, much of which I’ll save for the full interview, which will run on Monday, but I found this interesting: Snyder’s Watchmen is definitely going to be an R-rated picture, no matter how Warner Bros feels about it. “They’re mad at that,” he said. “They don’t want an R-rated movie, but they’re cool with me. They’re like, ‘OK, if that’s what you think, Snyder. But it’s a bummer.’”

While I don’t agree with everything Snyder is doing with the adaptation – including setting it in 1985 and filming the Tales of the Black Freighter pirate comic book stuff – I do completely agree with him that the time is exactly right for this movie. “I believe audiences are ready for what’s the next stop of the genre. It’s an exhausted genre right now, at least that’s what I believe,” he said.

When Watchmen the comic came out, it was in many ways a critique and deconstruction of the superhero genre in general. When Watchmen the film started percolating, almost 20 years ago, movie audiences hadn’t been immersed in superhero films yet. “That’s the cool part about it, for me anyway. Your movie audience is basically where your comic book audience was when the graphic novel was written – you’re basically in a place where you can make a satirical comment about a superhero and the audience will get it, because they have the frame of reference.”

300 is out next Friday. Watchmen may begin shooting as early as this summer.

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