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‘Watchmen’: Jeremy Irons on the ‘Extremely Logical’ Behavior Driving His Seemingly Mad Scientist

Launching servants into orbit and tossing babies into a lake are perfectly normal things to do, per Jeremy Irons — it's just a matter of perspective.

Watchmen Episode 4 Jeremy Irons HBO

Jeremy Irons in “Watchmen”

Mark Hill / HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Watchmen” through Episode 4, “If You Don’t Like My Story, Write Your Own.”]

In a season filled with outlandish introductions to Adrian Veidt — Jeremy Irons’ long-unnamed character working within a remote castle at an undisclosed location, at an unknown time — the fourth episode’s debut scene takes the cake. No, not the purple, honeycomb-infused anniversary cake that also helps mark the passage of time. That pops up later.

Instead, Adrian is shown at in the middle of a lake lit by dozens of golden, glowing orbs. Underneath each is a large basket, and with the starry night sky sparkling above, Adrian pulls one out of the water, removes a small, flailing fetus, and promptly pitches it back into the water.

“They’re very happy in the soup,” Irons said, recalling the scene during an interview with IndieWire. “It seemed entirely natural. Strange enough, the vision I had in my head in that scene was– you’ve seen those documentaries about chicken farming? Where all the little chicks come down the conveyer belt and the guy goes, ‘No, I don’t want that one. That one can go. That’s male.’ That was what I had in my head for that scene — it’s entirely logical to live with.

“It’s a very beautiful scene, I thought,” Irons said.

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that’s precisely Irons’ point.

“The great thing about [creator Damon Lindelof’s] scripts is that he certainly put me into an extraordinary situation, but I think no situation is so extraordinary that it couldn’t happen in life — that it hasn’t happened or won’t happen. So you just have to get your head around it and glory in the bizarreness of it,” Irons said.

“Watchmen” audiences have been invited to do just that thus far, as the increasingly odd, seemingly disconnected scenes focusing on Veidt ask the viewer to just go with it. Don’t worry about whether or not they make sense right now. Just look at what’s happening, remember each scene, and soon enough, it’ll click.

Watchmen Episode 2 Jeremy Irons

Jeremy Irons in “Watchmen”

Colin Hutton / HBO

Remembering shouldn’t be hard. So far, Veidt has written a play about the creation of Dr. Manhattan — performed by his army of clone servants — which ends with Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison) being burned alive. (“He’s obviously not much of a playwright, I don’t think,” Irons said. “One of the problems he has to face is boredom, so that’s one way to get through an evening.”) He built a giant catapult, outfitted Mr. Phillips in a makeshift scuba diver’s suit — and launched him to his death. Veidt’s been shot at by a mysterious masked figure called The Game Warden, he’s massacred dozens of his servants because he “had a bad night,” and in this week’s episode, he unveiled a machine that accelerates the growth of his clones, turning a wailing baby into a blubbering adult in a matter of minutes.

“I loved that the character is very difficult to define. He remains enigmatic for a lot of it,” Irons said, refusing throughout the interview to call him Adrian Veidt (despite being told I’d seen the episode that confirmed his identity). “All those elements, I find interesting to play. A character who, after the first scene, you know all about him, I find somewhat tedious to play.”

Irons brought that mindset to set. While some actors may have prodded the writers to know the beginning, middle, and end to a story as wild as Adrian’s, Irons was happy living in the moment.

“I knew as much as I needed to know,” he said. “I knew what my desire was. I knew, like all of us really, I knew my life from my perspective — not necessarily from other people’s perspective.”

Irons said anyone’s day-to-day behavior might seem “bizarre” from the outside looking in, but the key to cracking a character as strange as Veidt is to see things from the inside. That’s all he needs.

“So as an actor, I just get into the situation, know what I want, and don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen the day after tomorrow — but then none of us do. Life can bring surprises and shift one’s perspective,” Irons said.

Watchmen Jeremy Irons Tom Mison Sara Vickers Episode 1 HBO

Sara Vickers, Tom Mison, and Jeremy Irons in “Watchmen”

Colin Hutton / HBO

Everything around Veidt’s story is outside of his control, and Irons trusts the way his showrunner is telling this story.

“I think Damon, the way he tells stories, is with the consciousness of that; that’s how we live, that’s how we exist — believing we are rational and normal,” he said. “To other people, that might not seem so, but how other people view the character is not my concern. I know what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and where I’m doing it.”

Only a few of those motivations are clear to the audience, four episodes into “Watchmen.” Veidt is trying to escape. He’s using the limited resources available to do just that (including the “soup” of growing babies). But why he’s been imprisoned and where he’s stuck remains a mystery. The coming episodes will shed more light, but don’t be in a rush. There’s a beauty to Veidt’s story, sans explanation.

“I think how we fill our time in life always interests me,” Irons said. “I’m very lucky. I have an amazingly dispersed, diffused life — with many different interests — but we are [all] filling those years that we’re lucky enough to be alive. I think [in Veidt] we see a man who’s doing just that, who’s just filling his time with what he can do and trying to succeed with what he thinks he wants to do.”

“The way some do it seems incredibly boring, and the way some people do it seems incredibly interesting — we read about them,” Irons said.

Expect to be reading about Adrian Veidt for quite some time.

“Watchmen” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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