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‘Watchmen’: Jovan Adepo on Superman, Batman, and Hooded Justice

The Episode 6 standout and "The Leftovers" star discusses playing a fictional character in a past that was all too real.

Watchmen Episode 6 Jovan Adepo

Jovan Adepo in “Watchmen”

Mark Hill / HBO

[Editor’s Note: This interview contains spoilers for “Watchmen” Episode 6, “This Extraordinary Being.”]

If there was trepidation about stepping into the spotlight of a high-profile television series and serving as the catalyst for the show’s whole universe, you’d never know it from talking to Jovan Adepo.

Episode 6 of HBO’s “Watchmen” series, titled “This Extraordinary Being,” featured the actor as the third iteration of Will Reeves, mysterious grandfather of protagonist Angela Abar (Regina King), previously seen as a young boy fleeing the Tulsa Race Massacre and, more prominently, as an old man in a wheelchair played by Louis Gossett Jr. After Angela overdoses on Will’s Nostalgia pills, both she and the audience are thrust into his memories, experiencing his life as a police officer in New York, an attempted lynching at the hands of fellow officers, and, ultimately, his decision to become Hooded Justice, the first superhero.

“This Extraordinary Being” is an origin story, not for Will or even for Hooded Justice, but for superheroes altogether, this time through the lens of a queer Black man forced to hide his identity – even while in costume – in order to allay white fear.

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For Adepo, the saving grace of coming into a series in a standalone episode of such great importance is the idea that everything about it is grounded in reality, not unlike his work on Netflix’s “When They See Us.” “I think it’s great to be able to play a role that is indeed fictional, but is set in a moment in time that’s absolutely real,” Adepo said in an interview with IndieWire. “It’s a history lesson.”

Pop culture can serve as a window into the less savory parts of the past, Adepo said, especially those moments that haven’t been painstakingly edited for consumption in high school history classes. He pointed specifically to individuals online who first learned of the events of the Tulsa Race Massacre from watching the “Watchmen” pilot. “There’s this responsibility to telling a story and wanting to be sincere, wanting to be completely open about it because a lot of people in the audience for these shows are seeing this part of history for the first time,” Adepo said.

Watchmen Episode 6 Hooded Justice

Jovan Adepo in “Watchmen”

Mark Hill / HBO

But creator Damon Lindelof didn’t rely solely on history in his pitch for Adepo to don the hood of Hooded Justice. He also wooed Adepo with parallels to both capes and cowls. “In the phone conversation I had with Damon to help me understand the arc in ‘Watchmen,’ he explained a lot of the homages they were paying to ‘Superman,'” he recalled. “Specifically with the Tulsa riot being a reflection of Kal-El escaping Krypton and its destruction serving as a parallel in order to paint that imagery.”

“Superman” is so fundamental to the creation of Reeves that the score playing under the scene of Tulsa burning, composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is titled “Orphans of Krypton.”

But Clark Kent wasn’t the only hero invoked when drawing parallels to Hooded Justice. When asked about the prominent use of a noose in his character’s disguise, Adepo likened it to the Caped Crusader. The actor hearkened back to Christopher Nolan’s 2005 origin story “Batman Begins,” during which billionaire Bruce Wayne is designing the Batsuit and explains to his butler Alfred that he’s chosen to weaponize his own fear to attack his enemies.

“I think that’s very similar to Will’s intention when using the noose,” Adepo said. “This is something that’s a reminder to him of a very traumatic experience in his life, something that would probably weigh on his heart for the rest of his life. Instead of allowing it to be a crutch or allowing it to be something that has a constant, crippling effect, he wants to use it as a symbol of fear for criminals. He uses it to empower himself.”

Adepo’s stint on “Watchmen” is just the latest in a year full of varied and complex performances, that included returning as Danny Greer in the second season of Facebook Watch drama “Sorry For Your Loss,” joining Amazon’s Tom Clancy adaptation “Jack Ryan” in its second season, portraying an adult Antron McCray in Netflix’s “When They See Us,” even trying his hand at live comedy appearing as Lionel Jefferson in ABC’s “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons.'”

“Follow the strong narrative,” he explained about his process of pursuing roles. “Find the strong character studies…I guess I still have this inner desire to keep pushing myself to do different things. The best way I feel I can campaign for jobs I haven’t gotten access to yet is to keep challenging myself and playing different parts.”

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