Damon Lindelof is a tremendously talented storyteller. That’s evident in Lost, it’s evident in The Leftovers, and it’s definitely evident his most recent work, the brilliant HBO limited series Watchmen. But it’s also abundantly evident when you hear him talk, which I recently did for over an hour as part of an exclusive, extended interview in a new installment of our Collider Connected series. Lindelof loves a good yarn, and throughout our wide-ranging conversation he was colorful, candid, and passionate as we ran through a variety of topics and spoke frankly about Watchmen’s approach to race and how it tackles the Tulsa race massacre.
We spoke pretty extensively about Lost, the groundbreaking series that first put Lindelof on the map and set him on a course to be writing on and for some of the biggest franchises around. Because the “origin story” of the show is so well known, I asked Lindelof what it was like for him and his team to be entering the show’s second season – after getting through Season 1 by the skin of their teeth, they now had proof the show was a hit. Lindelof, eager to talk about an aspect of Lost that gets touched on infrequently, discussed their approach to answering questions in Season 2, and how adding new writers to the room impacted the stories they were telling in the show’s swell second season.
But I was also curious about Lost’s endgame. Not whether they “had it all figured out” (which Lindelof reveals they actually kind of did), but how exactly Lindelof and Co. were able to convince ABC to let them end the series. He went in-depth on the difficulty in convincing the network to end something that was a hit, and admitted that ideally the show would have only run three or four seasons – which makes it all the more impressive how good, on the whole, that show is.
We also discussed Lindelof’s jump to working on massive feature films like Star Trek and Prometheus and Tomorrowland, and what he learned from working with folks like Ridley Scott and Brad Bird. Indeed, Lindelof claims he learned he’s better at working in television, and when he touched on the amount of world-building he and Jeff Jensen did for Tomorrowland, I noted that film could have been interesting as an expanded limited series instead of a two-hour story – a note to which Lindelof agrees. And we talked about the phenomenal (and underseen) three seasons of The Leftovers.
But the bulk of our conversation centered around Watchmen. Brilliant, ambitious, and absolutely striking. Lindelof had been offered the opportunity to make Watchmen before, but only finally said yes to HBO when he was struck by a unique idea. What if Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ source material could be tackled in a way that felt fresh and new, not just from a story perspective but from a thematic perspective? The nugget of that idea was setting this new Watchmen in Tulsa, Oklahoma and steeping the nine episodes in the trauma of the Tulsa race massacre, a real-life historical event that had been hidden away from most history books. In 1921, Tulsa was home to one of the most affluent areas of Black businesses in the country – Black Wall Street it was called. And over the course of two days, it was entirely destroyed and hundreds of Black men, women, and children were murdered by a white mob.
HBO’s Watchmen opens with a re-creation of this event, which provides a jumping off point for the series to tackle themes of systemic racism, inherited trauma, and yes, policing. We discussed all this and more in our interview because Tulsa just so happens to be my hometown. It’s where I was born and raised. And I was never taught about the Tulsa race massacre in school – nor were most of my Oklahoma-born family and friends.
Watchmen didn’t “fix” the Tulsa race massacre, and Lindelof is the first to admit the show was the most collaborative thing he’s ever worked on – he assembled a writers room that was incredibly diverse, and had many difficult conversations as they began to tackle issues relating to policing and systemic racism in the show’s episodes. But Watchmen did “put Tulsa on blast” so to speak, and spurred many to seek out information on the event on their own. And for that I’m grateful.
This interview is truly wide-ranging and hopefully insightful, and below I’ve listed out everything we discussed, but I do highly recommend at least tuning in to hear what Lindelof has to say about Watchmen and race, because this is a TV series that delivers on the superheroics, delivers on telling a great love story, and delivers on building on the existing Watchmen in a unique way. But first and foremost, it’s a TV series that speaks directly to the moment America is living through right now, and that I believe is what makes it a piece of art that will stand the test of time.
Check out the full interview above. To learn more about Greenwood Rising, a museum being built in Tulsa that will talk about Black Wall Street before it was destroyed, (and to donate) click here.
All episodes of Watchmen are now available on HBO On Demand and HBO Max.
- When did he first know he wanted to be a writer?
- What was the experience tackling Season 2 of Lost, knowing the show was a hit and that it was working? And how did it feel to win the Emmy?
- Goes in-depth on the negotiations to end the series, and how they had been talking about ending it while making the pilot.
- How they came up with the idea for the ending of Lost and the final season, and how that influenced the structure of Season 4 and Season 5.
- Was it refreshing to work on films like Star Trek and Prometheus after having run a TV show for seven years? Talks about collaborating with Ridley Scott on Prometheus, and the adjustment to not being the “showrunner” anymore and deferring to the director.
- The original Jon Spaihts script for Prometheus and how the film changed when he signed on. Trying to find the balance between the horror movie and the “deep-thinking, philosophical hard sci-fi” while also appeasing the studio’s franchise interests.
- How Tomorrowland would make for a really exciting anthology TV series. Talks about working with Brad Bird.
- Making The Leftovers and being upfront about never revealing where the 2% went. Talks about collaborating with author Tom Perrotta and their creative “tug-of-war,” and admits he asked Perrotta where the 2% went.
- How The Leftovers evolved over its three seasons. Working with Mimi Leder and that cast.
- Watchmen and the Tulsa race massacre. Talks about how the event had been somewhat “forgotten” (and purposefully ignored by many in Tulsa), and being inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and the Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations” that mentions the Tulsa massacre.
- How he approached combining the Tulsa massacre and Watchmen, with Will and Angela being orphans of Tulsa serving as the first big idea.
- How the show tackles systemic racism and policing, and how the show was borne of “the most collaborative writing process” of his career. Reveals they almost had to reach unanimous consent on every idea for it to get out of the writers room.
- Threading the needle between telling a Watchmen story, a race story, and a love story. Says it took 15 months on and off to write these nine episodes, and goes in-depth on their writing process.
- Why he was nervous to ask Regina King to star in the show, and her reaction to reading the first script.
- Why he doesn’t think he should be the one to make Season 2 of the show.
- Does he think the finale ends on a hopeful note?
- What Tulsa is doing now, in the wake of the show, to shine a light on the race massacre.