Jeremy Irons on His Enigmatic ‘Watchmen’ Character & Relationship to Comic Books

     December 1, 2019

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From series creator Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) and based on the iconic graphic novel created by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, the HBO drama series Watchmen is set in an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws and the police conceal their identities behind masks to protect themselves from a terrorist organization, known as the Seventh Kavalry. It’s a story that is equal parts challenging and thought-provoking, as it looks at so many of the modern issues that plague us today, and questions who the true heroes and villains really are.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Jeremy Irons (whose character, Adrian Veidt, is also referred to as the Lord of a Country Estate and the Smartest Man in the World in the show and in the graphic novel) talked about the fun of playing an enigmatic character, knowing about the world his character is in without knowing what else is going on, whether or not he’s a fan of comic books, what’s surprised him most about making Watchmen, and much more.

Collider: You must be having so much fun playing this character.

JEREMY IRONS: He’s interesting to play because he’s enigmatic. Maybe for the audience, he’s fairly difficult to compartmentalize, and that’s always a lot of fun.

How much were you told about him, before doing this? How were you able to figure this guy out, when he is someone who is so mysterious?

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Image via HBO

IRONS: I, of course, knew who he is and I knew what he’s up to. I didn’t know what else was going on because he’s somewhat cut off from the rest of what’s going on, so I had to put up with that. But in my little world, it was all quite clear, what I was up to, even though, maybe for the audience, it’s fairly slow that they learn what he’s up to.

Do you feel like you have a real sense now of what that bigger picture is and how he fits in with all of that?

IRONS: I do, yes. And you will, eventually.

One of the really fun things about this show is that those are layers that you get to peel back, as you keep watching.

IRONS: That’s right. It’s always a lovely way to tell a story and it’s very nice for the actor, when he has secrets and lets things out slowly. A lot of the great characters in literature, in film, and in theater have that, and I appreciate that. Enigmas are great place to play because it means the audience has to do a bit of work. It’s not laid out in trials before them.

What is your own personal relationship with and feelings about the comic book genre? Was it something that you were a fan of, at all, prior to doing this?

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Image via HBO

IRONS: No, it’s something I was not aware of, at all. As a kid, I used to read The Eagle, The Beano, The Dandy, and all of those, but I never went on to graphic novels. It was only when I was asked to do this that I thought, “Well, I better read Watchmen,” and that brought me, for the first time, into that world. With eyesight not getting better, I prefer the printed word. I find it a way of reading stories that I prefer to the graphic novel because the print is a bit bigger. So, I wouldn’t now go through the whole genre.

What did you think that of these comics, and what do you think of how the show translates that world?

IRONS: I think it does so rather well, in that there are flashbacks and flash-forwards, and bubbles of story, like mine, where you wonder, “Where does that fit in?,” rather like you have in the graphic novel. I think Damon [Lindelof] has been remarkably true to that spirit of storytelling, and I admire him for it.

What would you say has surprised you most about making this show, that you weren’t expecting?

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Image via HBO

IRONS: Well, of course, I was never aware of the massive fan base for Watchmen. I was delighted with how much fun we had making it. Big television shows can be a bit grim sometimes, but we have fantastic producers and directors, and Damon, himself, is a lot of fun. I’m always surprised when I get to the end of a job and think, “Well, that was a load of fun.” We enjoyed each other and we were very well supported by HBO, which was nice because it’s not a cheap show. It was a very pleasant experience, and I’m now, like you, enjoying watching the outcome. There were great areas of the story that I was not involved in, so it’s a lot of fun to watch. It’s not only fun to watch, and with great performances, but it stirs up a lot in you. There are a lot of questions which are addressed. They’re not necessarily answered yet, but they’re addressed. What more can one hope for, from a bit of entertainment?

Watchmen definitely brings up these big themes and ideas, and it makes you start comparing this world to our own world, but then it balances that out with the eccentricities of all of the characters, which also gives it a bit of a sense of humor.

IRONS: Yeah, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but like anything worth having in life, there is a seriousness about it.

How does the sense of isolation that your character is living in affect things for him?

IRONS: Well, he’s a bit bored with his situation and he’s trying to create excitement and maybe change his situation, in a way that we all do, in life. We may not like everything about our lives, so we try to jolly it along a bit and maybe try to change it. He’s no different from many of us.

All of these characters are so mysterious and it seems like there’s so much more to them than we’re aware. Do you think this guy is just biding his time, and that he has a master plan?

IRONS: I think we might find that out, in the future. Hopefully, Damon will satisfy you in that feeling. The interesting thing about relationships is that what you don’t know about a person is what fascinates you, and not what you do know. You’re always trying to make sense of people. In a way, it’s true to life in some respects, at least in that regard.

The longer that you played this character and got to know him, what did you grow to appreciate about him, that you didn’t necessarily realize was there, in the beginning?

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Image via HBO

IRONS: That we all just probably try to do the best we can, in our situation, and make decisions, some of which we might regret, but we live with them because we made them, at the time, for a reason that seemed to make sense. So, I appreciate, in a strange way, how human he is, even though you might look at his behavior and think, “This is a bit odd.” But once you see the whole picture, there comes an understanding that, like most of us, he’s just trying to do the best he can.

It’s interesting that, at least in the first few episodes, he’s never really referred to by name, except for people outside of his own little world. When you were figuring him out and playing him, did you always think of him and refer to him, for yourself, by his name is, or is there a fun in playing a character who doesn’t seem to care about what his identity is?

IRONS: Yeah, there was fun in that. I called him The Blonde Man, and he was called The Blonde Man. To a certain extent, a name carries with it a lot of baggage, so I really didn’t want to carry that too much. I thought it was useful that we slowly become aware.

He’s also not surrounded by any personal relationships.

IRONS: Yeah, and there are a lot of people like that in life, who don’t really interact. They’re on their own path. They know what they want to do, but they don’t give much of themselves away. I suppose it’s perhaps a way of feeling more powerful.

There are some odd things that happen around him, like constantly being brought a cake and being sung to, and having people act out plays for him. How does he feel about all of the repetition?

IRONS: He gets a cake every year, on his anniversary. It’s a very sweet cake. It’s something they feel they have to do, and it’s not really appreciated. They’re not a load of fun, sitting around and talking to them, that pair. You can’t spend many evenings with them.

Watchmen airs on Sunday nights on HBO.

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