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 Louis Gossett, Jr. (who plays the mysterious Will Reeves) talked about how little he knew about what Watchmen was when he signed on, how honored he was to be asked to be a part of this show, the brilliance of Damon Lindelof, why he’s so excited about this project, believing that everyone must drop the masks that they wear for our own mutual salvation, what’s surprised him about making this show, and how much he’s enjoyed working with co-star Regina King, who played Angela Abar, a.k.a. Sister Night, on the show.
Note: SPOILERS for Watchmen ahead.
Collider: Thank you for talking to me. It’s an honor and a pleasure to talk to you about this character, who’s just so fascinating. When this came your way, did you have any idea what this story was? Did you have any idea about the fan base this story has?
LOUIS GOSSETT, JR.: I had no idea. I just thought that this brilliant man (Damon Lindelof) saw fit to include me in his dream. I’m very touched by him. He’s a brilliant young man. He did all of it, and he wrapped it in a beautiful package for us to share. There are some great people that have been a pleasure to work with. I want more of that. I love the character that I’m playing. It’s a challenge. It’s not work, it’s a pleasure. This is my 61st year, and they’ve still got my name on a list.
You’re someone who’s been in this business a long time, you’ve had awards recognition, as far as most people are concerned, you’re an icon in the craft and, and you’re still doing material that’s interesting, different, thought-provoking and challenging. Are you still excited by the work, and are you surprised to still be excited by the work?
GOSSETT: Both of those things. I’m excited by the work. I’m excited about the inclusion that continues. I’m excited by the quality of the work and that my name is still on that list. The last thing I did at HBO, I was sick. They took me from the set, straight to the hospital. They figured out that there was some kind of bacteria in my body that was pulling me down. It’s not pulling me down anymore. I’m back. I’m very grateful that God is in my life, and that it was not my turn. This thing that we do, called acting, is better than working. This is not work.
I would imagine that you have become aware of what this fan base is like and just how much people love this story. What’s it like to be a part of a project like this, that does have that?
GOSSETT: I know. I think they’ll be talking about it for quite awhile. I think Damon has only just begun.
Obviously, you want the show to be pure entertainment, but are you also hoping that it does spark some deep conversations about the themes in the story?
GOSSETT: I have a foundation, called the Eracism Foundation, and you can go to www.EracismFoundation.org. It’s the same subject, about us wearing masks. We’ve all got to wear masks for our mutual survival and to keep the peace, and all of that. But I pray for the day, on a daily basis, where we all are able to drop the masks, for our mutual salvation, ‘cause we have to be more honest with ourselves and one another. It’s mankind. It’s not American, Russian, or Chinese. It’s mankind that needs to be saved. I think Damon agrees with that. He’s a brilliant man, and writes so brilliant. I’m very blessed to be in his presence.
The way that Damon Lindelof tells stories is that he only reveals little bits at a time, as the layers get peeled back. Are you someone who prefers to have more information upfront, or do you enjoy getting to peel those layers away, as you go?
GOSSETT: Well, school is never out for us, with the acting thing. I remember talking to all of the producers about me not knowing anything, and I told them that I had made a decision to stop reading and just look at the script. They were shocked that I didn’t read it all, but I stopped because it made me confused about how to play the character. I trust the process. They trusted that I could bring the character into the three-dimensional with the suggestions that they gave me.
What has really surprised you about making this show?
GOSSETT: Well, I didn’t know, until the scripts came to me, and they sometimes came to me only five or six days before shooting. I think they planned it that way. I was surprised that my first scene was putting my hands in the water and coming out and peeling an egg. And then, lifting out of the wheelchair and being stronger than I expected. And then, all of a sudden, he’s living with an Asian woman. It’s amazing how the character has grown to be respectful and very mysterious. That’s wonderful, for an actor like myself. Yeah. Now, I’ve got him in the palm of my hands. Between Damon and I, it’s something that’s very attractive. It’s a nice kind to character.
Do you feel like you have a real sense of who he is? Do you feel like you really know him now?
GOSSETT: So far, so good.
Does he feel like he still has some mystery to him?
GOSSETT: Yes, absolutely. And it’s great for an actor to have that. It’s wonderful to play that kind of character because you’ve got the audience in the palm of your hand.
These characters all have to have secrets for their own survival.
GOSSETT: I think so. There’s the mask, idea that everybody’s got to wear a mask, for one reason or another. My personal idea is that we’re not gonna be better, until we all have the courage to drop all of the masks, for our mutual salvation.
Would you say that there’s anyone in his life, who fully knows him and knows all of his secrets?
GOSSETT: The one that fully knows him is Regina’s character. That’s family.
What have you enjoyed about exploring that family dynamic?
GOSSETT: It’s difficult to be hands off, and yet teach, as a mentor, with anybody. As a family member, you have to be sensitive to all of that stuff, but smart enough not to put your hands in there. You want to effect a positive change in the person that you’re mentoring, and then you’ve gotta move on. There’s a lot of love there, but it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for we elders today to mentor these young people because they have so much different information. The challenge, for us as people, in this world, is that we have to do whatever it takes for us to drop our masks and cooperate together, for the salvation of us all.
What’s it been like to have someone like Regina King to explore this relationship with?
GOSSETT: I’m very proud of that lady. I’ve been looking forward to working her, since John Singleton got her, in the first place. I’ve seen her do all of these things, and I’ve watched her grow. It’s a pleasure to work with her. It’s nice to be around these actresses, who are very special ladies, and watch them as they start to elevate their careers for themselves and become great role models. It’s amazing to see the mutual love and respect, between myself and Regina. She’s quite a lady, and I wish nothing but the best for her. She’s already an icon, and she’s only just begun. I love working with that lady. It’s wonderful to work with her.
What have you grown to appreciate about this character, as you’ve gotten to know him better?
GOSSETT: It’s stimulated everything. You don’t go to bed as folded in. You’ve gotta do some work, and that helps you grow, when you do that work. It’s just like eating a good sandwich. It’s really good.
The Watchmen finale airs on Sunday, December 15 on HBO at 9/8c.