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SYFY WIRE Poker Face

Tim Blake Nelson on 'Poker Face' role, how his character mirrors his 'Watchmen' experience

Tim Blake Nelson was eager to work on Poker Face, and found a surprising connection to Watchmen along the way.

By Matthew Jackson
Tim Blake Nelson as Kyle Owens in POKER FACE Season 1 Episode 7

Tim Blake Nelson is one of the most celebrated character actors of his generation, with a wide range of roles covering everything from O Brother, Where Art Thou? to Old Henry to Watchmen. This week, he added Poker Face to that list with a role in Episode 7 of the acclaimed Peacock series, and for Nelson, joining the mystery-of-the-week series was a no-brainer from the start.

"I did the show originally because of Natasha," Nelson told TV Insider about his time on the series. "I directed Natasha years ago in a film called The Grey Zone. Then we acted together in a film called My Suicidal Sweetheart (a.k.a. Crazy for Love). I’ve been an abiding friend to Natasha for almost 25 years now. We leap at the chance to work together whenever possible. It happens seldom. And then when you add into the mix that I could be a part of the Rian Johnson world, it was a situation in which I would’ve played, uh, a doctor, a lawyer, or a thief. And then I love cars and racing."

RELATED: Poker Face showrunners on channeling their inner Smokey & The Bandit in 'The Future of the Sport'

Nelson's episode, "The Future of the Sport," required him to dive deep into the world of racing to play a veteran driver caught up in a rivalry with a young upstart which has the potential to turn deadly. To get the character of racer Keith Owens down, Nelson had to spend some time doing what he called "learn[ing] the car," familiarizing himself with his character's vehicle of choice to the point that it looked like he'd climbed in and out of it thousands of times. Then, of course, there was the mystery of it all, as Keith found himself caught up in a sabotage scandal which caught the attention of Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne). It's a great face-off of two great actors, but it's also, as TV Insider pointed out to Nelson, a kind of role reversal for him after working on HBO's Watchmen.

In that series, Nelson played Looking Glass, a detective whose on-the-job persona allowed him to wear a reflective mask over his entire head. Using the mask, as well as his own skills of detection, Looking Glass became an expert interrogator, drilling down to the truth no matter what a suspect was trying to hide. But for Poker Face, he had to sit and be the interrogated, facing down Charlie and her finely tuned bull***t detector. 

"It was indeed a complete reversal of what I was asked to do in Watchmen with Natasha as the Looking Glass character," Nelson said. "Right. And with me as the perp. So yeah, that was pretty interesting. I felt like I was a specimen with a pin in its thorax, and Natasha’s character was just watching me flail my legs around."

New episodes of Poker Face air Thursdays on Peacock, and the series has already been renewed for Season 2.