Rousing standing ovations from 2,000 fans greeted the beaming ensemble of the new Watchmen series as they made their collective public debut here at New York Comic Con just 16 days before the edgy and offbeat epic makes its broadcast premiere on HBO. The thunderous reception that greeted Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, Louis Gossett Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, was earned right in the room: the cast interview panel was preceded by a screening of the pilot in its entirety and there was wall-to-wall satisfaction from the giddy fans.
“Loved it!” bellowed one of those fan when series creator Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) confirmed the exclusivity of the screening. (Who watches the Watchmen? Javits Center does.) Big huzzahs also greeted Lindelof and episode director Nicole Kassell when they joined the cast on stage but those paled in comparison to the eruption that welcomed the panel’s surprise guest: Dave Gibbons, the artist and co-creator of Watchmen, the milestone 1986 limited series (and, later, single-volume graphic novel, that is the show’s namesake and inspiration.
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“I first met Damon at San Diego Comic Con in 2018 and he talked and talked,” Gibbons said, ribbing uber-fan Lindelof. “And I did discover he had a huge respect for what [Watchmen co-creator Alan Moore] and I had done and the conclusion was, I thought if anyone was going to do a TV series with it, it’s him, and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s not far off the mark.”
The television series vaults from Gibbons and Moore’s work and shows the future that followed the familiar epic’s sprawling vision of a world where superheroes are corrupted, outlawed, and inextricably part of geo-political history. It is a future that has a black-and-white view of society with white supremacists on the rise.
Lindelof said he had repeatedly turned down the revival but relented because he feared the projec would be done without him. “I had so much reverence for the show,” he told the crowd, having earlier related that his father gave him copies of the graphic novel when he was 13, telling his son, “‘You’re not ready for this.'”
Lindelof also flipped on his own long-held rule not to work with any actor more than once. The “no second time” rule did not apply to Leftovers costar King who recalled her amazement when first reading the script. “I’d never read anything like this,” she said, citing her action-hero role, Det. Angela Abar, a.k.a. Sister Night. “I’d never seen this world or this woman—she was so complex. She just blew me out of the water. How could I not say yes? It was, just tell me where I need to show up.” The accompanying envelope King received contained “an artist rendering my face as Sister Knight.”
“It would have been very awkward if you’d said no,” Lindelof quipped.
“I just always root for the unlikely hero,” King continued, espousing her love for the Hulk and for comic books generally, earning shout-outs from the crowd. “For me, Firestar and Wonder Woman were huge when I was young. I never felt either one was objectified, but I knew I felt their power.”
Gossett, playing Will Reeves, an old man with a rich past, evoked comics, too, as he recalled his boyhood in Brooklyn, filled with an escape into fantasy. “I was raised by Superman and Captain Marvel,” he said. Of the script he added, “It contained my favorite things—[the necessity of covering] the Tulsa bombings, [lawman] Bass Reeves and HBO.”
Irons, playing the brilliant Adrian Veidt, a fan-favorite from the Moore-Gibbons epic, was intrigued from the start. “Damon took me to lunch and talked very quickly for an hour and a half with enormous enthusiasm, showing he had an imagination of enormous wit. He was talking about this graphic novel world of which I knew nothing because I live in England and I’m over 45, and somehow that whole world had passed me by. But I was fascinated. I had nothing to say—there was no time to say anything. Later, the script amused me hugely but mainly what I thought was that man I had lunch with has such energy, I don’t know what he’s going to make but if he thinks I can be of some help, I’m aboard.”
Lindelof answered, “to give you an idea of what I was thinking through the lunch it was, ‘It’s Jeremy Irons, Jeremy Irons, Jeremy Irons, don’t f*ck up, don’t f*ck up, don’t f*ck up…’”
Nelson—who joked that he wasn’t important enough to earn a Lindelof lunch—was also honored to take part, as Looking Glass. “The temerity and the welcoming of danger of taking this on and imagining a future in this universe [related to] our present was so exciting, and to do it in a way that hewed really nicely to the aesthetic terms, there was no was I wasn’t going to join on.”
Abdul-Mateen II, playing King’s husband Cal recalled getting the invitation to meet King and Lindelof, “Going in my mind, ‘Regina King, Regina King, Regina King.’ Then I realized, HBO—and like [Gossett] said, ‘Momma didn’t raise no fool.’”
The same can be said for Hong Chau’s cagey, and wealthy, Lady Trieu. “Obviously, she’s a boss bitch,” Chau said. “She’s an enigmatic trillionaire and no one knows what she’s up to.”
Smart’s FBI character, who really debuts in a big way in the third episode, was “drawn into the vigilante role at a young age and she has some bitterness about that. She has some issues,” the actress said.
Gibbons’ appearance truly brought all the action full circle. “To me, this is show is an amplification of what we created, not a dillusion,” Gibbons praised, to which the über-respectful Lindelof added that what Gibbons and Moore created, “is canon to us. Our hope is that this show becomes a gateway drug for kids to now buy the original 12 issues; it is one of the greatest things ever written and illustrated.”
As to the question of “What’s next?” for future seasons, Lindelof would only say, “One of the things that made [Gibbons and Moore’s creation] perfect is [the issues were] designed and well thought out. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. They knew exactly what they were doing and we plotted out these nine episodes so every mystery would be resolved.”
“We’re just trying to make this Watchmen worthy,” Lindelof told the audience. “We wanted to live up to the name.”