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SYFY WIRE Watchmen

Damon Lindelof using Alan Moore’s ‘punk rock spirit’ against him to adapt HBO’s Watchmen

By Tara Bennett & Benjamin Bullard

At HBO's TCA 2019 session today in Beverly Hills, California, Damon Lindelof, the series creator for HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series, spoke about doing his due diligence with original comic writer Alan Moore. As a self-confessed superfan of the original DC comics, Lindelof says he reached out and asked for a blessing from the iconic (if adaption-averse) writer. But when that failed, Lindelof simply said “F*** you” to the whole olive-branch approach — and then channeled Moore’s punk aesthetic by diving straight into the version of Watchmen that he wanted to make.

It’s a move Lindelof believes captures the spirit that Moore brought to the comics in the first place — and as he told the assembled press, including SYFY WIRE, he hopes that kind of creative audacity is something Moore would appreciate.

“I don’t think I have made peace with it [using Moore’s work when Moore himself doesn’t like seeing it adapted]. He has made it clear he wants no ongoing affiliation, and to not use his name to get people to watch it,” said Lindelof. “I made personal overtures to explain what we are doing, and he declined. As someone who has a very complicated relationship with my dad — I constantly need to prove myself to my father — Alan Moore is now my surrogate dad with this. I love [that] Alan has a punk rock spirit. I’m channeling his spirit to tell him, ‘F*** you; I’m doing it anyway.’”

Watchmen creators attends TCA 2019 in Los Angeles

Some of Lindelof’s commitment to forging forward with a creative vision descends directly from his experience as co-creator and showrunner for ABC’s Lost. Outside opinions — especially fan feedback — taught him that bowing to pressure doesn’t produce the best version of the stories that exist in his imagination.

“One of things I learned from Lost is, fans have demands — but they also want to be surprised. I get confused by the term ‘fan service,’” he said. “Is it a good thing or a bad thing? It all depends on execution. My job is to please me, and the people I am making it with. If I woke up having to make decisions to make fans happy every day, I don’t think I could do it.”

Lindelof also said this take on the genre-defining Watchmen comics (published over 12 issues from 1986 to 1987) will run straight toward topical issues and social themes of today, while remaining canon to the events of Moore and Gibbon's narrative. Set in 2019 Tulsa, Oklahoma, the locale will feel very similar to audiences, but also embrace all of the historical deviations from the comic, and the ensuing repercussions.

Lindelof said his initial way into the story was heavily influenced by his reading of writer Ta-Nehisi Coates' essays on reparations and "Black Wall Street," which spurred the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Those real-world events are woven into the open of the pilot and serve to underscore the myriad of topics that run through the spin of the series. 

Watchmen | Official Comic-Con Trailer | HBO

Joining Lindelof onstage were executive producer/director Nicole Kassel, alongside Academy Award-winning actor Regina King, who’s playing Tulsa police detective Angela Abraham in the new series. King said the show’s mature themes and emergent storytelling challenged her in ways that took her outside her comfort zone — and that she’s a better actor for it.

“We see a lot of the Tulsa story through Angela’s eyes; we are reminded how we put on and take off different masks. That was very different than any character I have played,” she explained.

“As you get to know her, I get to know her. It was quite fun and scary the first time — it was the first time I’ve ever been in a sex scene. It was fun for me to work muscles I had never worked before, and conquer fears I didn’t know I had. It was a huge undertaking. There’s a lot of nuance I had to pay attention to.”

As Watchmen moves toward its fall debut, there’s a generally anarchic, punk-rock air about the show — not only in the lawless behavior of its Rorschach-worshipping vigilantes on screen, but even in the spirit that Lindelof is bringing to the behind-the-scenes production.

HBO’s previews already have given us reason to fear the militant right-wing vigilantes who invoke Rorschach’s legacy to justify their anti-cop violence. But Watchmen’s world of moral gray areas, set paradoxically against polarizingly strident loyalties all at war with one another, serves as a dark playground where ideas vie to be heard — and, on the extreme fringes, enforced. Cranking up the social-anxiety meter to 11, said Lindelof, is a way to reframe real-world ideas in a fictional setting, one that he hopes viewers will be able to appreciate with fresh eyes.

“It’s not supposed to be a world you recognize,” he said. “We use themes in the real world in a fictional world. … This is the jumping-off point. If you are asking, ‘Are police the heroes?’ — The answer is no. Watchmen is not interested in good and bad guys. It’s an examination of institutions in society.”

Starring Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Louis Gossett Jr., Adelaide Clemens, Dustin Ingram, and Andrew Howard, Watchmen premieres this October on HBO.