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Watchmen - Billy Crudup interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

BILLY Crudup talks about playing Dr Manhattan, the nude, blue master of all matter, in Zack Snyder’s keenly-anticipated Watchmen movie, coping with the burden of expectation and why Johnny Depp and Christian Bale are his next co-stars [for Michael Mann’s Public Enemies].

Q. So, we have to ask… how much of Dr Manhattan is your own body and how much is CGI?
Billy Crudup: All of it is CGI, except for a small amount. But I won’t tell you how much [laughs].

Q. Did you know anything about the graphic novel before being cast?
Billy Crudup: I didn’t, I didn’t know anything about it. It was one of those humbling moments as an adult… you don’t necessarily walk around going: “I’ve got this figured out… I put this over here, I put this over there.” But when I read this, I was so surprised there was this kind of sophistication and subversion in this genre that I’d been missing… and this whole possible avenue of provocative entertainment. So, it was exciting. It was a real discovery for me.

Q. Is it more difficult to play a character like this, in motion capture or in costume, rather than a regular person in a movie?
Billy Crudup: It was such a novel experience and one that is positively exotic. I’m sure I’ll never get the opportunity to do it again, so I welcomed every bit of it. It’s harder, in many respects, in terms of the practical, daily exercise of your imagination. When you’re playing in a kitchen sink drama all you have to do is, for the 800th time, forget there’s a camera there. You have your clothes that your character wears and probably the person opposite you is going to look like what they look like when the movie comes out… but for this everything that I was wearing and that they were looking at was quite the opposite of the 6ft 4ins, 240lb master of all matter. They had a 40-year-old short jackass! [Laughs]

Q. Do you feel pressure to please not only the fans but also viewers who may not have read the comic books?
Billy Crudup: Frankly, nobody has really gone to see my movies before, so I’ll be psyched if any of them go [laughs]. But seriously, there’s no reason to feel pressure because there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m curious to see how it will work out and whether I will ever work again.

Q. You’ve worked with Woody Allen, who is a veteran, whereas Zack Snyder is a young buck who is fast emerging. Was it a very different experience?
Billy Crudup: Zack is incredibly confident and expert at his craft. You don’t get any sense that this is only his third movie at all. He brings a kind of dexterity and confidence and gentleness to every day… and a real levity too. That was really fun for us. I was always extremely excited to go to work each day, despite the humiliation of trying to figure out that other part of it. And it’s not like that with 90% of the directors you work with, because there is so much pressure typically placed on their shoulders. The environment can become a real pressure cooker.

Q. You worked very closely with [illustrator] Dave Gibbons, but did you make any attempt to get in touch with Alan Moore to find out more about your characters?
Billy Crudup: I hung out as his house for a couple of months… you know, just to see if he’d come out [laughs]. No… there is an incredible amount of source material and not just from the comic book. There was a version of it called Absolute Watchmen, which published some of the original ideas as well as what these characters were based on. There’s a really interesting story that preceded the publishing of Watchmen about how Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore came to this idea – this kind of coalition of superheroes. So, that was a rich, dense, overwhelming body of work to deal with, but ultimately incredibly helpful. We were really trying to do the best we could in bringing their original source material to this medium.

Q. Do you think you have a taste for comic books? Will you explore more?
Billy Crudup: Well, Watchmen for sure. It’s hard to have that one as an introduction because it’s so rich and dynamic. But I’d love to read more and I hope I will.

Q. You’re doing Public Enemies next, for Michael Mann. What was it like playing J Edgar Hoover in that type of environment, with Johnny Depp and Christian Bale and Mann behind the camera?
Billy Crudup: Yeah, I did a small part. The movie is really about Dillinger and Purvis. But I make a cameo as J Edgar Hoover. The amount of work I had to do in a very short period of time was extensive. So, I had big long monologues that we’d take while we were walking along this government corridor and there’d be people running everywhere. So, it was not the same kind of environment as standing around, or standing up on the box and gesturing like Dr Manhattan. This was incredibly labour intensive and ultimately very rewarding.

Read our review of Watchmen

Read our interview with Jackie Earle Haley