From show creator Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) and based on the iconic graphic novel co-created 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, Academy Award-winning actress Regina King, who plays Detective Angela Abar, a.k.a Sister Knight, talked about why she immediately wanted to be a part of Watchmen when it came her way. King also spoke about why she enjoys collaborating with Lindelof, whether she’s a comic book fan, some of the shocking visual imagery, finding the look for Sister Knight, the “gift days” she shared with co-star Jean Smart, who plays FBI Agent Laurie Blake, and more.
Collider: I have to say that I had no idea that I needed this buddy team-up with you and Jean Smart, until this TV series happened.
REGINA KING: I know, right?!
I’m loving absolutely every second of it.
KING: I know! She and I felt the same way.
It’s fantastic, and I just want more of it.
KING: Yeah, it’s really great. I’m such a fan of our work, so to be able to find out that the person’s character matches their talent, is a fun gift. You call those gift days, or gift moments.
Well, I love this show and I love this character. Angela Abar is a bad-ass character. When this came your way, what was your reaction to it? Did you immediately want to do this, or did you need some convincing?
KING: Yes, I immediately wanted to do it. No, I did not need convincing. It’s one of those things, when you’re already a fan of someone’s work and you’ve worked with them before, so you know their work ethic, and they reach out to you, with a script with a note attached, saying that they want you to be on this journey with them, you’re almost like, “Well, I don’t even really need to read the script. Just tell me when to start.” And then, I read the script, and I was just blown away. I was like, “How did you pack all of this into 60 plus pages?”
And this show really does dig deep into so many social issues, too. It’s obviously hard to watch something like this, and not draw parallels to what we’re currently living through.
KING: Absolutely! It does it so brilliantly.
What is your own personal relationship with and feelings about the comic book genre? Is it something that you were a fan of? Is it something you feel like you’re a fan of now?
KING: I wouldn’t say that I’m not a fan, but I wouldn’t say that I’m a super fan. I’ve never really read comic books. I liked cartoons. One of my favorite cartoons, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, happened to be one of the really beloved comic books, but I didn’t know that. I just loved the cartoon. I found out that it was a common book years after the cartoon was on, but it wasn’t until I was at Comic-Con, a couple of years ago, and one of the people in the audience asked everyone on the panel, if we were to cosplay, what character would we be? And when I said Firestar from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the whole place erupted and I was like, “Okay! That’s a good thing.” So, I would not categorize myself as being very knowledgeable in the comic book world, but I am a fan of Damon’s, and Watchmen just is part of his DNA. That graphic novel played such a big role, in him being the type of writer that he is.
How much were you told in advance, when it came to the arc of the show and where your character would be going? Did you have a sense of that, going into it, or have you also been learning about it, layer by layer?
KING: I definitely learned about it, layer by layer. Whenever I had questions, he would definitely give me enough information, so that I could feel like I wasn’t falling into any pitfalls. But there were things that I was learning, along the way.
What has surprised you the most about making this show?
KING: I don’t know if it was a surprising thing, but the writing team was able to combine so many different genres in one show. There’s sci-fi, there’s real-life history, there’s alternate history, there’s comedy, there’s drama, there’s romance. When you say all of that, it sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does. I was just in such awe of every episode. Every time we would get a new script, I was like, “Gosh, how are they doing this?” I could not wait to get to the next episode.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to shoot a scene where your scene partner is hanging from a tree, or where you have to come face to face with a Klan hood. Do you have to wrap your brain around those moments, or are those moments part of what made you want to tell a story like this?
KING: Both. There are some moments that I can’t speak about right now because [those episodes haven’t aired] yet, but they were very, very emotional, for all of us. When I say “all of us,” I mean the crew and everything. There’s one episode that was transformative, for all of us. There were some moments in there where we just had to sit quietly after some of the scenes were shot. It’s shocking to see the visual, and shocking to feel it and be in it. It’s big.
You’ve talked previously about how, on this show, you’ve conquered fears that you didn’t know you had. It seems like this has not been just another job, but that there are so many other layers to the experience of making something like this. What has that been like, to be a part of?
KING: The thing that’s crazy about it, is that it’s hard to talk about because I can’t. To give a true perspective of it, I’d have to share certain moments, and I can’t, so I can just talk about it amongst the people that I lived it with. But there were quite a few things that I didn’t even know that I was emotional about, until they became part of the play. The subject matter that we’ve talked about and touched on, just throughout our lives, for years, it didn’t hit me, in certain ways, until we were exploring it here. As an actor, I just did not think my 120-pound body would be able to operate, non-stop. I was promoting [If Beale Street Could Talk] while we were shooting Watchmen, so I was going 21 or 25 days without a break. You don’t know what you can do, until you’re doing it.
Obviously, it’s fun to put on a costume and kick some ass, but there’s also a really interesting balance of unusual, surprising and unexpected quiet moments, including sitting at the dinner table and having Don Johnson sing to you.
KING: I know! Wasn’t that so charming? It just gives you another quiet before the next storm, which I think is the best type of storytelling. If you just go, go, go, it gets exhausting. All of us experience that, sometimes, as audience members. People say, “Well, did you like it?” And you’re like, “I did, I think I’m just so tired.” You’ve gotta give the audience a break to recover from what you just hit them with, and I think Damon does a really good job of that.
Are you someone who personally finds yourself more comfortable dressing up for awards season, or do you find yourself more comfortable like putting on your Watchmen costume and going out and kicking some ass?
KING: I’m probably more comfortable in the Watchmen costume because the lines are written. I already know what I’m gonna say, and I know that are certain rules and laws to this world, so that I can operate within them. With the glam of it all, on the red carpet, you don’t know what’s gonna happen. You don’t know if a zipper is gonna bust, or you’re gonna drop lipstick on your dress.
How much of the Sister Knight look was pre-set, and how much was a collaboration to find something that you could feel comfortable and move in?
KING: We went through a lot. There were so many different iterations of the costume. Sharen Davis, who was our wardrobe designer on the pilot, went through a lot of different layers of it with me, until we landed on this. Damon was obviously involved in making all of those choices, and as we continued shooting, Meghan Kasperlik became our designer, for the rest of the season, and there were all of these discoveries that we’d come across, that did not work with the costume, when we would be doing the fighting scene. She was constantly making alterations to the costume, to breathe more and to be more flexible when I was fighting. So, we were making changes on the costume, probably all the way up until like the fourth episode.
Are you hoping to see people dressed up and doing cosplay, as this character?
KING: I’d be lying if I said that wouldn’t be a cool thing to see. One of my girlfriends already found some hooded sweater thing online and she sent me a picture saying, “They’re already starting to duplicate you.” So, let’s see. I think that would probably would be the ultimate compliment, for all of us.
How have you found balancing the physicality of this show with the family dynamic, whether it’s her husband and her own family, or discovering her blood family? What’s it like to get to explore that side of her?
KING: I thought that it was pretty fantastic because it was an opportunity to just be reflective on the fact that most of us, especially black people in America, don’t know their history because we were taken away from our history. And so, to go on this journey with Angela speaks to that in a lot of ways. It was just fascinating and exciting, as an actor, to decide how to make sense of the choices that Angela has made, and try to intellectualize it. You have to keep it real because this is a character that’s supposed to be an actual human being and her eyes are the audience’s window into the story and into her story. As an actor, you have to make sure you make that interesting enough that it’s a journey that the audience wants to go on, and it doesn’t feel like you’re just throwing stuff out and seeing what sticks. You want to actually go on a journey, where you’re either rooting for her or connecting with her. When I first read the pilot, I felt like she was a perfect representation of just every human being. We all wear masks, and we are switching our masks, all the time, to either adapt or to protect ourselves, but we’re giving different versions of ourselves. In just that pilot episode, you see three versions of her, and everybody does that.
Watchmen airs on Sunday nights on HBO at 9/8c.