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Watchmen - Patrick Wilson interview

Patrick Wilson in Watchmen

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PATRICK Wilson – the acclaimed character actor behind past hits such as Little Children and Hard Candy – talks about playing Nite Owl II in Watchmen, getting into character and costume, and why he thinks both Watchmen and The Dark Knight have now raised the bar in terms of the superhero genre.

Q. How aware of the graphic novel were you before being cast? When did you discover it was so different for the genre?
Patrick Wilson: I’d heard of it but I hadn’t read it. But even in the screenplay, when you see one of the main characters dying in the first few minutes and then you read the character descriptions of these people… I remember reading somebody calling my character, Dan, “a flabby failure” and going: “What is this based on?” So, immediately, as soon as you open the graphic novel, you go: “Wow!” Even if you haven’t even grown up in the comic world, you just understand from the illustrations different colours than you’re used to seeing. So, I think that’s a real testament to the comic. Even the average fan who doesn’t know comics that well could read it and go: “I can guarantee you this is different from any other comic.” And that’s a testament to both Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Q. Did you get a sense of empowerment whenever you put on the suit and switched between your real world character and superhero alter-ego?
Patrick Wilson: Certainly, but that’s Dan’s whole journey… to get the suit back on and what it meant to him to wear it. What was fun was to look at it through Dan’s eyes and see what his perception of it was. I remember even in Happy Harries where Rorschach and I go in there and he breaks a guy’s finger, there was a time when I didn’t have a line in there. Whereas now I say: “If everybody could just keep calm.”

It’s a very sort of funny release, because Rorschach is so angry. Jackie [Earle Haley] and I would always bring up these ideas of wanting to throw in other lines. It’s one thing to look at Dan as a sort of Batman figure, which you’re sort of used to seeing, and another to hear him talk and to not really have him be this crazy, deep voice. It’s the earnest, strongest side of Dan, which I love, because it’s really Dan’s version of Nite Owl. It’s not all of a sudden I feel like I was playing two different characters.

Q. Did you do a Clark Kent nod at one point with the glasses? Was it deliberate?
Patrick Wilson: [Winks] Everything is deliberate [laughs]. Yeah, certainly. He was one of my heroes growing up. I played one other character once that got to wear glasses, but was only in a few scenes. But what’s interesting about Dan and the glasses is that a lot of times he has them, and a lot of times he doesn’t and so you have to try and figure out what his eyesight issue is in a weird, actorly way. He obviously doesn’t need them all the time. So while they do improve his eyesight, I also think it’s another form of him hiding. But certainly, that gesture was very much a nod to the old Christopher Reeves.

Q. Did you pay any attention to the speculation surrounding casting? Or did you ignore it?
Patrick Wilson: I knew most of it. But I think because the movie has been thought about for the past 20 years, and attempted three or four times, everybody had their different dream cast. Rarely, if once, was I ever on that list. But rather than being nervous about it, it kind of freed me up because I didn’t give into this sort of perception of having to live up to any ideal. I just dug in and did what I do.

Q. Do you think The Dark Knight and Watchmen have now upped the ante for the genre as a whole?
Patrick Wilson: I think so. I think what will be interesting is when they go back to some of the other movies that are being green-lit now, or being made now. What’s going to be interesting is how the lighter fare do. You don’t want to make people feel like they have to all be dark and crazy. It’s OK to feel entertained. But what’s going to be interesting is the next wave, and when these other characters come in and ultimately when The Avengers is put together hopefully, and how the Marvel world comes together. It’s cool to see how huge this genre has become.

Q. Did you take any keep-sakes?
Patrick Wilson: I have some gloves. I’ve got a little owl ring. I have some cool stuff. I wanted to track down my Dan Dreiberg glasses, but somehow they escaped on the day that I wrapped that character.

Read our review of Watchmen

Read our interview with Billy Crudup