About a year ago, comic book fans everywhere took note of Jeremy Irons’ casting in Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen HBO TV series, and the speculation began on exactly who he’d play. Very quickly, it became known that Lindelof wasn’t really crafting an adaptation of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel (as was the intent with Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie) but more of a continuation to the existing story. So, this is definitely not the Watchmen of the 1980s and does, in fact, move from New York City to Oklahoma with a 2019 timestamp. Only a few characters from the original source material are confirmed for the series, but all signs pointed toward Irons playing one of these carryovers.
That character, Adrian Veidt, a.k.a., “Ozymandias,” was a costumed vigilante — and a megalomaniac who plotted millions of deaths (under the guise of saving billions) — as played by Matthew Goode in Zack Snyder’s 2009 film. The latest Watchmen trailer almost gleefully suggested that Irons is playing an older version of this smartest (and most nefarious) man in the world, and then HBO had even more of a ball ahead of New York Comic Con by tweeting a photo of Irons with no actual character name, only a cheeky acknowledgment: “Probably who you think he is.”
Well, Irons still appeared to be unable to fully confirm the obvious while speaking to us from a NYCC junket. He did, however, offer a few nuggets about Watchmen‘s treatment of vigilantism (as opposed to the Batman movies in which Irons has appeared), and how Damon Lindelof’s treatment of the source material is faithful to Moore’s epic work.
Your role has remained sort-of secretive. People were convinced after the trailer that you play Adrian Veidt. I thought it was a nice nod when HBO pushed out that tweet that seemed like the ultimate tease.
I gather that you’ve had to do a lot of tiptoeing around while discussing the show?
I have to try and keep my mouth shut, yes, and I can’t really say the name of the character I’m playing … so that stuff isn’t quite easy to deal with.
The series takes place in Tulsa, but your character is elsewhere. Did you know where he was while you were shooting?
I do know exactly where I am, physically. Yes. I did know that.
So you’re playing a heightened version of the character from the graphic novel?
Um, I don’t know about “heightened.” Obviously, he’s a bit older than he was in 1980-whatever, and he’s somewhere else. He’s done what we know he’s done. Yeah. I don’t know if he’s heightened.
He had a God complex in the graphic novel. Is that still going strong for him in 2019? You seemed to have fun playing him.
Well, that’s good. I think he’s still got the God complex, but how many men — just check the newspapers today — that’s kind-of a common complex.
He, uh, a little fixated and upset with Doctor Manhattan, right?
Um, yep, yep, yep. It’s always a little good to have someone to be upset by.
Well, this obviously isn’t the first time you’ve stepped into the comic book realm. You played Alfred Pennyworth in Justice League and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, both directed by Zack Snyder, who also directed the Watchmen movie. How do you feel about how the HBO TV series treats superheroes as opposed to the movie and also your Batman experience?
Well obviously, doing an HBO series is very different from doing those huge movies. What’s great about working with HBO is the pace at which you actually work is faster, which very invigorating. And I never saw Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film, but I do feel that Damon [Lindelof] has translated the atmosphere of the graphic novel and updated it in a very interesting and actually loyal way to how the story is told in the graphic novel. With flashbacks, with sort-of parallel things happening that bear no relation to each other. Such as the pirate ship and the wreck and all of that in the graphic novel, um, and flitting about from time frame to time frame, and of course, questioning. Although this is not is not an area that really affected me, but I suppose that it will be interesting to an audience, I mean questioning the relationship between vigilantes and superheroes and authority in general and people in masks and people in uniforms.
The blurred lines between masked vigilantes and costumed heroes grow intense in this show.
[Damon’s] playing around with that in the same way the graphic novel did, but with my experience with Batman, yes, there’s a vigilante involved. But I suppose there’s some of the same questions come up about the validity of superheroes. Um, yeah, but they’re two different beasts.
Also with the Watchmen series set mostly in Tulsa, Damon draws attention to an event in U.S. history that not many knew happened. You’re not in those scenes, but were you aware of the Tulsa Race Massacre?
No, I wasn’t! Not at all. It was a real eye-opener when I learned about it. But yeah, something that I think that everyone should be aware of.
Do you think the series will properly inform the mainstream on this injustice?
I think that creating awareness is always a good thing, but you never know how much difference that awareness will make to society.
HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ will premiere on Sunday, October 20.