Comedian's Relief: Jeffrey Dean Morgan Eager for Watchmen

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is going to be big. There's no two ways about it. Between his unstoppable charisma, his rugged good looks, or his natural good-naturedness, you want to like this guy. Maybe you know him from his roles in Weeds, P.S. I Love You, or The Accidental Husband with Uma Thurman. Or maybe you love him from his heart-warming role as Denny Duquette on Grey's Anatomy for the last two seasons or like watching him kick ass as tough guy father John Winchester to stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles on Supernatural.

This year you'll be seeing him all over in films like Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock about the creation of the massive music festival in 1969, as well as playing opposite Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Gosling in the film All Good Things, a love story/murder mystery.

Plus, there's this little role in a movie that's getting quite a bit of attention called Watchmen , where he plays Edward Blake, The Comedian, a role he makes his own to raving reviews. Morgan boasts to have read the Watchmen graphic novel a whopping forty times in the last two years, and his goal is to make you care for Blake, despite the character's shortcomings.

We recently spoke with the actor…

[for Newsarama's first review of the film, click on the link]

Newsarama: Jeffrey, so what’s it like being a womanizing superhero who gets killed in the first 5 minutes of the story?

Jeffrey Dean Morgan: [Laughter] Let me think, for 5 minutes it was awesome! Nothing better than 5 minutes of being a womanizing superhero. I do die awfully quickly in this movie, but I milk the s**t out of those first 5 minutes! Womanizing hero – I’ve heard a lot of different things about him, but this is the first time I’ve been called a womanizer.

NRAMA: Did you ever read comics as a kid?

JDM: I did. I had a couple years where I stayed at my grandmother’s house. I would go through my dad and my uncle’s comic book collection. I read everything they had. Superman, Spider-Man, army guys, even Archie stuff – that was the extent of my comic book life up to when I was 12 years old and moved on from that to other things.

NRAMA: That’s pretty typical of most teens growing up, 12-13 you find girls and that’s it.

JDM: Yeah, I found girls and sports, and that was kind of the end of my comic book days I guess.

NRAMA: Now when you were trying out for this role, I assume you’d never heard of the comic book/graphic novel before. What was your first exposure to it?

JDM: I was never sent the full script. I got sent a photocopied version of the graphic novel. That was my intro to it, I didn’t’ even see it in color – Warner Bros. sent over a photocopy of the book, and the script for one scene.

NRAMA: That’s absurd! You really couldn’t get an actual copy of the book; they had to send you a photocopy?

JDM: I think they had to make sure I was going to be the guy they hired first! They didn’t want to waste $30 on me [laughter]. That was my first sighting; I read it 3 or 4 times in the first day, my first 17 hours with it.

NRAMA: First impression?

JDM: My first impression was being amazed while reading. I wanted to read more – I realized that it was a lot of material for a graphic novel. I’d never seen anything like it. It’s an intense kind of multi-layered writing. It’s a whole different thing looking at it in color, kind of comes to life – jumps off the page something insane.

I knew what I was reading was very special, but I didn’t do any research about it. The whole Time Magazine said it was one of the 100 best pages written in the last 100 years – I didn’t know any of this stuff. I just knew what I was reading was nothing like anything I’d ever heard of. So to get a grip on it I read it a couple times, mostly so I didn’t go into that meeting sounding like a jackass, and not know what I was talking about. By the way I’ve read it now 40 times. I think every time I read it, there was something new – new subtleties of some new easter egg that I pulled out of that thing. It’s a very complex and deeply psychological story.

NRAMA: It’s very dense – one of the most complex and interesting pieces of superhero fiction ever done. When you read the script did you feel it was faithful to the graphic novel or did it feel like things were missing?

JDM: It was very faithful. The script was almost thrown away once we got up there to the set. The graphic novel was visible everywhere. The comic book was always sitting on Zack’s chair. We all had copies of it, at least 2 or 3 when we were off set at all times. And if there was ever any kind of deviation from what we thought we should be doing as actors, we’d go the novel and go, “But look, this is what I should be doing,” or “This is how I should interpret this,” and work it out from there. But we always had the graphic novel as our start. The script, I don’t’ remember ever looking at a script much once I got a normal copy of the graphic novel to be honest with you.

NRAMA: Your co-stars have said similar things. That must have been strange as an actor to be relying on the source material more than the script.

JDM: It became a passion for everyone. By the time we started filming this, for me there was maybe 4 months before we started filming fight scenes and stuff like that. By the time we started filming, I knew the comic pretty well. Everything comes from the novel. That was our base and that’s what we wanted to stay faithful to. It was incredibly important to all of us. There’s so much stuff that was filmed that had to be cut out.

NRAMA: That’s what DVDs are for.

JDM: That’s right, that’s right. Hopefully we’ll get a ton of DVD extras on this baby!

NRAMA: From the roster of films you have coming out over the next year it seems you've taken on roles in nearly every era of the 20th Century. You have All Good Things taking place in the 70s-80s, Taking Woodstock in 1969, Shanghai in World War II, and Watchmen where you get to play around in various eras and settings including Vietnam. Is playing around in history something that excites you as an actor? Was it a coincidence that all these movies take place in different eras?

JDM: I never even thought about that until you just brought it up! Certainly not a conscious decision on my part. As an actor I just want to go where the good writing and good directors are this point. I didn’t even think about that, you are right; they all span a different period of time of some sort. None of them take place today. Watchmen of course, covers just about every period of modern American history anyway. I had a lot of different hairstyles.

NRAMA: So it wasn’t that you are a huge history buff?

JDM: Not at all. I want the best material possible and I want to work with the best people possible and as long as people want to give me the opportunity, I’m going to take it. I’m really lucky this year; I get to work with some great people. Just a weird coincidence that they are over all kinds of periods.

NRAMA: In all the roles you had in recent years, whether as a tough guy John Winchester on Supernatural, or romantic ghost-guy on Grey's Anatomy you haven’t been pushed as one type of character. Has any specific role prepared you for the grittiness of a character like the Comedian?

JDM: A lot of people like John Winchester a lot more than I knew when I was doing it. I think people like me more now than they did then.

NRAMA: And now you’ll be too popular and too busy to go back!

JDM: I would love to go back to that show, man, but right now yeah, I’m pretty busy. But I sure did have fun on that show.

The Comedian is a gruff kind of guy like Winchester. In that respect yeah, they’re similar, but then it ends. I don’t know that I have ever played someone like the Comedian before, or that I would again. There’s a certain darkness to him. I don’t’ know that he’s psychotic – he’s a bastard. The comedian is something special. I can’t think of anything quite like him.

NRAMA: You mentioned pre-film rehearsals and fight training and physical acting. Was this the first time you’ve had to train for a role like this?

JDM: Yeah, for sure, the first time for anything of this extent for damn sure. Normally it’s a day or two for a fight sequence or something. This was a whole different ball game. We had to do it throughout the whole film. The first 3-4 months was intense and I wasn’t in the best shape by the way. I’m not going to lie, for a 41 year old who hasn’t worked out since he was 18 years old, and all of a sudden I’m working out 8 hours a day – I couldn’t move.

It was great and helped me get into character, but that s**t’s hard, it really is. We had to spend hours every day with all the trainers and fight choreographers. Thank god they were as cool as they were. I don’t’ think I’m alone in saying that nobody enjoyed that whole process. Maybe Jackie. Jackie might have dug it – he’s so damn positive about everything! The rest of us were struggling with the fighting every day, trying to find a way out of it.

NRAMA: Edward Blake isn’t exactly a nice guy in any area of his life – do you think he’s redeemable?

JDM: In the novel and in the movie, none of us are together a lot, and we all have our segments – little chapters. There’s like two scenes where I hope I did it, make the audience not hate him – and let the sympathy come through. The rest of the time he’s trying to rape people or he’s shooting something. There are a lot of things he does that you shouldn’t have an ounce of sympathy for, but for some reason people do. I do.

Certain scenes that I think about in my head I think show he has a certain amount of honor. He’s not this monster, that isn’t all that there is to him. When he wants to approach his daughter and she tells him to #@$% off – that scene is important. The scene with Moloch where he figures out what’s going on, he realizes it’s all for nothing – whatever he’s been doing for the government. It all comes to a head for him and it all falls apart. I remember reading it and feeling sorry for him, and trying to make that translate to the film is the leap for what I was shooting for…it’s a tricky thing.

I think Zack [Snyder] especially had a really good sense of this, and I went in specifically trying to make that come through – that honor. I think when it comes down to it; I don’t think Blake is a horrible guy. I think when he ends up in the circumstances that he puts himself in, he makes bad decisions. Kicking people's asses and working for the government, working with the Crimebusters, being a superhero, that’s how he stayed out of prison. I think he does grow a conscience, and unfortunately, he’s 70 years old when his conscience kicks in. It’s a long road for him, a long road. We’ll see. I feel like I don’t know if I answered your question.

NRAMA: You hit it right on the nose. I think you have great understanding of this guy.

JDM: I hope so. I spent a year of my life playing him and another year talking about it. I sure hope I have a grip on it by now.

NRAMA: This is an ensemble piece. What it’s like being in a cast that’s so talented is there anyone you’d classify as a breakout star?

JDM: I wish I could answer that question. We weren’t really on screen at the same time, other than the Crimebusters scene when we are all together. I think this is a very fun and talented cast. The stuff that I’ve seen I’m impressed with everybody. Jackie as Rorschach really stands out, only because I’ve seen more of him than anyone else and he’s probably seen more than I have. Stuff I’ve seen, I loved Jackie. Patrick, and Billy are two of the finer actors we have right now. Matthew is going to surprise the s**t out of people, and Ackerman is Ackerman – especially when she puts on that costume.

It’s an amazing cast. We all were cast for a reason. Zack not only has a good caring heart, but he’s a really smart guy and there’s a reason he put us together, I’m happy with all of us. I can tell you this, we all put our heart and soul into this and we all care about this film.

NRAMA: There are a lot of expectations for a movie like this–translating it faithfully, the action pieces, the superhero movie aspects of whether to make it – dark like Batman or lighthearted like Spider-Man. What do you say to fans about that?

JDM: You have to see this movie about 80 times to catch everything Zack tried to put in there. I get stopped every day on the streets. I had no idea so many people knew about Watchmen. The times I’ve ventured on the Internet to see what people are saying, it’s very daunting to read the expectations of this film. I don’t know if it’s this genre of film that creates this expectation or this book itself. I think it’s a combo of both.

I’ve never heard of anything held in such high regard as Watchmen as a graphic novel. The film is marketed for everybody, including die-hard fans, but it was the filmmaker’s goal to make that die-hard fan happy. I hope to god it has, I know their expectations and have read the blogs online. My theory is we worked really hard on this and I think it’s going to be a great movie. There’s always going to be people who aren’t going to be happy regardless what you do. I think we did a hell of a job, I really do. We set high expectations for ourselves, to honor this comic. We didn’t know what it was coming in, but now our expectations are as high as the fans.

Join the club people. I’m excited to just see the damn thing. I can’t wait for 3/6/09. I’m ready for it.

Marc Patten is a writer and marketer of all things pop-culture, living in the greater New York City area of Southern Connecticut. He can be reached at marcpatten@aol.com. Special thanks to Samantha Wicker all her assistance.

Related:

Movie Review - Watchmen

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Video: Dave Gibbons on Watching the Watchmen, Part 2

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