Taking on any television series is a big commitment for an actor — let alone a series with a built-in fanbase and franchise expectations — so it should come as no surprise that Damon Lindelof put a lot of thought into how he could convince recent Oscar-winner Regina King to lead his HBO drama, “Watchmen.”
“So graciously, he sent me a letter with the script that no one else could read,” Regina King told the audience at New York Comic-Con Friday afternoon. She added that scripts and offers are typically sent through her agents, but Lindelof bypassed those representatives. “It came directly to my house. It said, this is his next project out, it’s dear to him, and he couldn’t see anyone else to be on this journey with.
“I was like, ‘I don’t even really care what I was about to read. I’m in it!'” King said, but when she did read the pilot, she was even more convinced. “I never read anything like this. I’ve never seen this woman before. She’s so complex. You may have heard me talk about playing complex roles before, but she blew me out of the water.”
Lindelof also made a rule for himself that he wouldn’t work with actors twice — a rule King wasn’t aware of — but he broke it for his former “Leftovers” star. Beyond the initial sentiment shared with the script, King soon found there was another envelope tucked away into the script. On the cover, it said, “Regina, don’t look at this note until you get to this page in the script. Don’t cheat!” So she waited.
“It was at the part where you first meet [King’s character] Sister Night, and inside the envelope there was an artist rendering of me as Sister Night.”
“It would’ve been very awkward if you said no. Very, very awkward,” Lindelof said after her story.
King and Lindelof took the stage for an hour-long panel after the first episode of “Watchmen” premiered. They were joined by pilot director and executive producer Nicole Kassell and cast members Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, Louis Gossett Jr., Hong Chau, Tim Blake Nelson, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
“Watchmen” is set in an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws. Robert Redford has been president for 30 years. Cell phones were never invented. Police officers wear masks to protect their identities, especially from a domestic terrorist group known as the Seventh Kalvary. King leads the cast as Angela Abar, who wears two masks; one as a lead detective in The Tulsa Police Force and another as wife and mother of three.
Written for television by Lindelof, the new series puts Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original graphic novel in the past to envision a present as relevant to audiences as our own.
The premiere episode was well-received Friday evening. When Lindelof took the stage after the panel, he said he was “terrified” to debut the highly anticipated sequel to audiences. When a member of the crowd shouted, “We love it!” Lindelof thanked them. The crowd cheered their approval.
About halfway through the panel, original “Watchmen” artist Dave Gibbons joined the group and said he saw the new series as a “compliment” to the graphic novel, “not a dilution.” He also noted that he liked Lindelof’s decision to turn the character of Rorschach into a misconstrued icon for white supremacy.
“I could see that Rorschach could be kind of a role model for unpleasant people in the future,” he said. “I think the turning point for me when I was drawing ‘Watchmen’ was when I stop thinking of it as a superhero story and started thinking of it as an alternate history science-fiction tale. […] It’s not even about superpowers. It’s about how that could change reality.”
“The Seventh Kalvary is appropriating Rorschach,” Lindelof added. “He’s been dead for 30 years. He doesn’t get to say he wasn’t a white supremacist. They decided he was.”
Lindelof also made a point to reiterate why his “Watchmen” is a new story told in the present day.
“What Dave and Alan [Moore] did doesn’t need to be rebooted in any shape or form,” he said. “Those 12 issues are absolute canon for us.”
“Watchmen” premieres Sunday, October 20 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.