When it came time to fill the platform boots of Watchmen’s various morally ambiguous superheroes, director Zack Snyder took some potentially commercially ruinous risks.
Big names like Tom Cruise had been long bandied about, but that level of baggage-bringing star power didn’t sit well with the controversial filmmaker, so instead, he opted to cast a slew of critically celebrated but lesser known artists.
This meant bringing actors to the fold who weren’t known for donning latex tights and navigating tricky special effects; people like Billy Crudup (Almost Famous), Oscar-nominated former child star Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children), Matthew Goode (Match Point), Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy) and Malin Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid).
Not exactly the roster you expect for a comic book film, but then again, dismissing Alan Moore’s revered graphic novel as just a comic book is like calling Crime and Punishment a thriller.
“None of us wanted to veer too far away from the source material, because it’s perfect as it was,” says Akerman, who plays the central role of Laurie, a.k.a. Silk Spectre II.
The more or less faithfully adapted film sees a battered, bizarre version of mid-’80s America, still in the grip of the Cold War and littered with masked vigilantes whose personal and social problems leak out into their crime fighting work.
“These are people who are convinced they are doing the right thing,” says Haley, who plays the film’s most unbalanced character, the mask-and-fedora wearing Rorschach. “Rorschach is a product of his childhood, his upbringing and even though he’s psychotic, he’s not a bad person.”
One of the pivotal figures in Watchmen is the not-quite-human Dr. Manhattan, a former scientist who gets disintegrated in a lab mishap only to re-particalize as a blue tinted, physically anamorphous superman.
And while that description doesn’t seem much like the handsome, unassuming Billy Crudup, with the aid of special effects, he had little trouble filling Manhattan’s supernatural shoes. “I’ve had people ask me how much of the performance is me,” says the actor of his digitally tweaked turn. “It was basically all mine. Sure, there was this puppet version of me in the computer, an exact replica of me that’s a different hue, but I was wired to it and had complete control of every facial tick and physical nuance.”
But while Haley may focus on the less negative psychological aspects of the Watchmen, co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays the effortlessly homicidal Comedian, has a different take.
“If these guys weren’t on the streets trying to save people, they’d all be in prison … or worse,” Morgan says.