It’s been said before but it bears repeating – when making a movie, casting is everything. You can have the best script, the most accomplished director, and a budget that allows for both to maximize their effectiveness, but in the end, it takes people in greasepaint and funny duds to make the material zing. Put the wrong person in the lead and audiences will abandon your vision. Have a hack surrounding your otherwise accomplished company and listen to the critical commentary build and build. Some performers are poison from the get go (Jennifer Aniston, Robin Williams, Hayden Christensen), while others can steamroll over the rest of the players with their inherent sense of self (right, Mr. Olyphant???)
So when Zack Snyder started announcing his choices for the upcoming big screen adaptation of Watchmen, fans were initially fearful. Without seeing the actors in full costume and make-up, their ability to essay these iconic figures remained questionable. Now, just a few scant weeks from opening day, there are still issues with who will portray Moore’s enigmatic figures. SE&L has decided to look over the main characters from the novel and compare their print personalities with the actors hired to highlight them. In some cases, the choices are excellent. In others, we see the possible flaws in Snyder’s thinking – and where his visual panache will have the hardest time meshing with Moore’s more human take on the material. Let’s begin with:
The Comedian/ Edward Blake
Jeffery Dean Morgan (Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural)
The Comedian is perhaps the most complex character in Moore’s novel. He’s a hero, a cad, a scandal, a psychotic, a symbol of the old guard and an ever-present burr in the side of his former compatriots. In the book, The Comedian is a war criminal, a rapist, a guileless self promoter, and a survivor. We have to care that he’s murdered, wonder who did the deed, and wish to see such “injustice” addressed. This means Morgan has his work cut out for him. While The Comedian can easily turn into a caricature of the corrupting influence of ultimate power, there has to be a nobility and a self-awareness to his actions. Also, the character is all over the time line. Morgan will have to play old, young, spry, and sinister – in essence, the hero your love to hate or the villain you hate to love. Luckily, he’s more of a sidelight than a constant main focus in the Watchmen narrative.
Rorschach/ Walter Kovacs
Jackie Earle Haley (The Bad News Bears, Little Children)
It’s one of the few feel-good stories in Hollywood. Haley was a child star, an important part of Michael Ritchie’s comedic commentary on kids and sports. But after a turn in Breaking Away, he seemed to literally disappear. Oh, he worked, but appearances in Dollman and Maniac Cop 3 could not prepare him for a run at Oscar glory for his work in Todd Fields fabulous suburban primer. Though he lost the trophy to Alan Arkin, the rise in profile meant more meaningful jobs. Now he’s landed what is essentially the lead in Watchmen. Rorschach is our antisocial detective, hoping to figure out who killed fellow crimefighter The Comedian. In the process, his conspiracy theory oriented brain unravels a more meaningful cabal which could spell the end of all masked vigilantes. To call Haley’s hiring a genius stroke is an understatement. He’s a dead ringer for the character in the graphic novel, and has the right amount of world weary seediness to make truly take on Rorschach.
Dr. Manhattan/ Dr. Jon Osterman
Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Big Fish)
Since he plays most of his scenes in a CG-assisted body that would make Mr. Universe jealous, the actor essaying the only true superhero in Alan Moore’s world does have to worry about the role’s physicality. But Dr. Manhattan is an important part of the graphic novel’s theme (the concept of humanity failing to seek the help it so desperately needs), so whoever takes over the glowing blue mantle has to really deliver in that department. Crudup is an interesting choice. The trailers show his radioactive transformation into Manhattan, and his pre-nuked look is totally appropriate for the ’50s era experimentation. In the few new scenes where we hear the character speak, Crudup puts on a slightly stilted, almost alien lilt to his voice, capturing the ethereal quality of the character quite well. How he manages during the more confrontational moments (as when Manhattan is accused of giving former colleagues cancer) waits to be seen.
Nite Owl II/Dan Dreiberg
Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy, Little Children)
As one of the last remaining vigilantes still geeked up and ready to rumble with his self-created technological crimefighting wonders (the Owl Ship), Dan Dreiberg is the heart and soul of Watchmen. He’s the reason to care about the fate of these former heroes, and his efforts – along with those of Silk Specter and Rorschach – help uncover what’s really going on. Wilson seems like a decent selection, his ability to slink between bad guys (Candy) and victim (Lakeview Terrace) indicating an excellent range. Besides, he was wonderful in Todd Fields’ film and has extension stage training. This will definitely help in those moments where Nite Owl must don the cloak and take to the skies once again. Wilson is also an excellent example of an audience window. His wholesome looks and Everyman characteristics could make his Drieberg Watchmen‘s most valuable player.
Silk Spectre II/ Laurie Juspeczyk
Malin Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid, 27 Dresses)
This is a tough one. Akerman survived the horrid Farrelly Brothers remake of the Elaine May/Neil Simon comedy, and has found additional fortune as the bubbly blond bimbette skittering around the outsides of the typical RomCom. Seeing her dressed up as Silk Specter, however, shows some inherent limitations in her onscreen persona. Unless the trailers are taking some of the more meaningless moments from her performance and accenting them for now, she just doesn’t look like superheroine material. Her costume wears her, not the other way around, and Snyder can accentuate her movements with as much slo-mo stylization as he wants and she still seems…stiff. Along with the casting of the original Silk Specter, and to some degree the choice of Ozymandias, this could be Watchmen‘s biggest let down – or greatest surprise.
Ozymandias/ Adrian Veidt
Matthew Goode (Match Point, Brideshead Revisited)
Without going into detail, this is perhaps the most important role in the entire Watchmen saga. Adrian Veidt is more than just an ex-masked avenger. He’s a corporate superstar, an entrepreneur who took his stint as a crimefighter and, post-Keene Act, turned it into something much larger. He harbors secrets. He’s power mad without being obviously so. He plays to the publicity and loves the limelight. That’s why Goode seems like an odd choice. He was wonderful as the weak and spineless son in Brideshead, and other roles have concentrated on his vulnerability and weakness. Maybe Snyder sees an inherent cowardice in Ozymandias and wants Goode to play to those tendencies. But for fans who imagined some beefy blond superstar as the egotistical avenger, this version seems strange. Oddly enough, the only other actor previously considered for the part was Jude Law.
Nite Owl/Hollis Mason
Stephen McHattie (300, Shoot ‘Em Up)
As the inspiration for Wilson’s character, and a member of the old guard that fostered the Comedian’s corrupt ways, McHattie will be an interesting choice as the original Owl. Now the owner of an automotive repair shop, it will be curious to see how much of his backstory is offered by Snyder. Hollis Mason has an interesting arc, which is very important to the overall narrative. Still, one could easily see his material pushed aside for more modern forward motion.
Silk Spectre/ Sally Juspeczyk
Carla Gugino (Spy Kids, Sin City)
Here’s the biggest risk in the entire Watchmen casting process. Fans of the comic know that Sally Jupiter (aka Sally Juspeczyk, and mother of Silk Specter II Laurie Juspeczyk) is one hard-edged, arrogant shrew. She’s all burlesque queen beauty and tawdry tales outside of the crimefighting arena. Imagine someone like Debbie Reynolds meshed with Blaze Starr and you get the idea. While no one is doubting Gugino’s beauty, she’s way too young (all of 37) and too vital to be this fallen, broken down ‘broad’. Snyder will have a hard time making this click.