Best known for his roles as Izzie's dead boyfriend Denny on Grey's Anatomy, the Winchester boys' dead father on Supernatural, and Nancy's dead husband on Weeds, Jeffrey Dean Morgan probably wasn't too surprised to be cast as Watchmen's Edward Blake/The Comedian, who gets knocked off in the film's first scene (but happily recurs in many a flashback). Morgan's other films include P.S. I Love You and the upcoming Ang Lee film Taking Woodstock. Since getting an Oscar nomination for 2006's Little Children, Jackie Earle Haley has had to face being typecast as criminally disturbed men like Watchmen's Walter Kovacs/Rorschach and Freddy Kreuger (in the 2010 reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street). Ironically, Haley got his start as a child star in movies like Breaking Away and The Bad News Bears. His big-time adult comeback includes roles in Martin Scorsese's latest (Shutter Island) and the new comic-book-derived TV series The Human Target. Other films include Day of the Locust, Semi-Pro and All the King's Men. I spoke to Morgan and Haley backstage at the 2009 WonderCon, held at San Francisco's Moscone Center.
Groucho: Always so little time. Gotta get right into it.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: So little time, so many questions.
Groucho: No small talk. So, you know, this is a unique challenge for an actor: to play these outsized roles. What's your own take, each of you, on what was going through your character's mind or what was in his soul?
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Oof! (Exhales.)
JDM: Really? That's the question you want to ask?
JDM: You know, look, in looking at this from an actor's perspective and not having been a comic-book fan going into this, and I open up this massive, intensely complex and layered piece: it's all there, foundation-wise, as far as what's goin' through my head. I can look at a drawing; I can see what Blake is doing in any particular frame. So first of all, that was key was the source material. That had so much to do with becoming these characters. And, y'know, everything helped. Jackie just said—I'm going to totally steal his quote—we worked in a—it was immersion acting. Zack had created this Watchmen universe. And so between the costumes and the sets and me putting a cigar in my mouth—that helped. But in looking at Comedian in particular, for me it was—you know, I've said this a hundred times—it was seeing that little spark of humanity, that little piece of him that I thought made him somewhat sympathetic in the midst of the shitty things that he does. So that was kind of what I gravitated and grasped on to in the course of playing this character. Jackie.
Jackie Earle Haley: You know, in a nutshell—
JDM: Cut the shit down.
Jackie Earle Haley: In a nutshell, Rorshach's been in incredible pain, I think, his entire waking moment of every day, just, y'know, absolute pyschological pain. And he finds himself and his own identity in becoming Rorshach. I think every lash-out and injustice, every punch, every kick is a lash-out against his mom and the horrible upbringing, the neglect, the beatings that tweaked him. And if it wasn't for that upbringing, he wouldn't have lost his identity in the first place—that he needed to go out and come up with this black-and-white sense of justice just to survive. So his soul is a very, very dark place and gazing into that abyss for months upon months upon months is an unsettling place to be. But as an actor, it was a really rewarding experience and getting to work with Zack and these guys was just incredible.
G: Jeffrey mentioned the cigar helped him. What helped you get into the mood you described, that abyss?
JEH: Wow. I mean, it's the process of, again, just trying to wrap your head around this psyche. And it's ongoing, and all of those things combined with the immersion, y'know? Walking onto a set and throwing on that outfit. Once you've kind of worked it out—at first it's kind of like this, you know? But once you've kind of worked it out, you throw on that outfit and you walk into a set, it is like you are—it turns on all of that emotional work that you've been working on so hard, and you are suddenly inside the comic book. And it really does kind of flip a little light switch that helps you, y'know, go into that world. It's kind of hard to explain, but that's how it felt.