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Monday, March 02, 2009

Watch this space

My feature on the movie Watchmen, which is released nationwide this Friday. Article originally appeared in Day and Night in the Irish Independent on February 27.

Matthew Goode is positively giddy about his role in the long-awaited movie Watchmen - so much so that he’s even proudly talking about it to random strangers in airports. I know this for a fact, because I was one such random stranger.

There I was on a Tuesday morning, sitting in the departure lounge in Heathrow, reading my copy of Watchmen while waiting to board my flight to Los Angeles for the movie’s promotional junket, when this guy sitting opposite me asks: “Are you enjoying it?”

“Yes, very much,” I reply, obvlious. “Have you read it too?” He smiles and replies: “Well, I play the character of Ozymandias in the movie.” Bewildered, I stare at him for a moment, before embarrassment sets in, and I start srcambling through my brain for his name. Just as I’m about to stammer something in reply, Matthew Goode hops up off his seat and joins the queue to board the plane.

Two days later, Goode, sporting scruffy stubble and clad in casual shirt, jeans and a beany hat, is just as excited, bouncing into a hotel room in the Hilton in Beverly Hills. He sits briefly in his chair, before he jumps back up, grabs a cookie off a nearby refreshments tray, and heads towards the terrace.

“I’m going to be a bit cheeky and have a sneaky fag before we start,” he says, and for the next three minutes, he leans out of the window, puffing into the glorious LA sunshine, all while gabbing excitedly about his girlfriend back home in London who is about to give birth (“to my baby, which is frightening”) and what it was like to “suck face” with Colin Firth for three weeks while making the forthcoming A Single Man (“I loved every minute of it”).

The 30-year-old British actor has every right to be this cock-a-hoop. His role as the charismatic billionaire Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias) in the big screen adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s iconic graphic novel is Goode’s first foray into the world of mega-budget blockbusters – and this is a doozy of a one to be associated with.

First published as a series of 12 comics in 1986-87, before being edited together into a grapic novel that later made Time magazine’s list of the best books of the twentieth century, Watchmen is set in an dystopian, alternative America in 1985, where a draconian government headed by Richard Nixon (entering his fourth term on the back of winning the Vietnam war) has outlawed once-beloved costumed superheroes from acting as vigilantes.

When one such retired hero, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is brutally killed, his former comrade, the masked Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley), takes it on himself to solve the murder, assembling the reluctant ex-crew of Watchmen to help him, including billionaire Ozymandias (Goode), the Night Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Ackerman) and, the only one with real superpowers, the atomic, blue-skinned Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup).

It’s a complex, multi-layered, uncompromising graphic novel, and the movie (which was 20 years in the making) is suprisingly faithful to the source. While that will no doubt please the original’s fanboys, it carries the risk of alienating the uniniated or the moviegoers expecting an easily-accessible Spiderman-esque franchise.

“It is a concern,” Goode says. “It’s such a visual feast, and made with so much affection for the source, that I can guarantee that there will be people who come out saying, ‘I f*cking hated it, I didn’t understand it’, but hopefully that will encourage other newcomers to see it and make up their own minds.”

As he speaks, his co-star in the movie, Billy Crudup, come into the room. Classically handsome (he wouldn’t look out of place on the set of Mad Men), the tanned and relaxed Crudup jokingly throws his eyes up to heaven as Goode finishes his point, lunges for more cookies off the tray, and nips back out for another cigarette. “Kids,” he quips.

Crudup, an award-winning stage actor who has made an impressive leap into movies with roles in Almost Famous, Stage Beauty and The Good Shepherd, is virtually unrecognisable on screen, disguised as he is under heavy CGI to affect Dr Manhattan’s atomic glow and God-like physique.

Indeed, the character of Manhattan is all set to become an usual sex symbol, especially as he is frequently seen on screen fully nude, his impressive, er, instrument hanging out for all to see. Crudup smiles as I raise the topic. “This is a character with enormous power who refuses to accept the social constraints of a culture he couldn’t give a crap about,” the 40-year-old says.

“What’s really fun about it now is observing how people can’t really deal with his nudity. I would say that this topic has occupied 40 per cent of all interviews I’ve done for this movie. Sociologically I find that really interesting, not the least of which because the penis itself is fabricated.”

Ah so, it’s not modelled to scale? “I’m just saying that, like the rest of Dr Manhattan, it’s fabricated,” he replies with a smile. “It’s interesting that this movie has some pretty pornographic violence, and themes of holocaust and doomsday, and yet it’s all about the blue dong.”

At that point Crudup is whisked off, and in comes the strapping Jeffrey Dean Morgan, best known for his role as heart patient Denny Duqette on TV sensation Grey’s Anatomy, and for wooing Hilary Swank with a dodgy Irish brogue in PS I Love You.

“I was very conscious of that accent during filming PS,” he later tells me. “It was a challenge, but I had a great time making it. I filmed and stayed in Wicklow. Man, I could live there. I loved it.”

Dressed in a black suit, with open-necked white shirt, and bedecked in several silver skull rings and blingtastic bracelets, Morgan is sporting a grey-flecked beard, which seems to disappoint two of his adoring female fans in the press corp. “I’ve been off for the past month, so this is me au natural,” he explains in his deep voice, lazily leaning back in his chair.

The role of The Comedian couldn’t be farther from Morgan’s hitherto nice-guy screen persona. In Watchmen, the 42-year-old plays a ruthless, government-sanctioned killer and would-be rapist, who thinks nothing of shooting dead a Vietnamese woman carrying his own child. Morgan’s devoted Denny Duquette brigade are in for a real shock.

“Oh I reckon those fans are just going to have to live with it,” he laughs. “Like Watchmen, Grey’s has its own fans who are very specific and they feel very protective of the characters. It will be interesting to see those worlds collide. But I think a lot of those fans wont see it because they will know what kind of movie this is, and what kind of badass The Comedian is, and realise that it’s not their thing.”

Morgan will playing another villain later this year, when he reunites with Hilary Swank for the thriller The Resident, one of five movies he has signed on for since wrapping Watchmen. “I like to work,” he states. “I spent 20 years not working and trying to get work, so I’m not going to complain. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

With that, Matthew Goode sneaks back into the room. I ask him about his forthcoming romcom Leap Year, which will see him filming in Ireland alonsgide red-hot red-head Amy Adams. “I still don’t understand why anyone wanted me, a British guy, to play an Irishman,” he laughs. “It must be because [Michael] Fassbender and the boys are very busy at the moment. It’s due to be filmed in Dingle and Dublin in the summer.”

As he moves to leave, I bring up our airport encounter. “Oh f*ck yeah,” he exclaims. “Afterwards I thought to myself, ‘What a dick. Did I just boast to a total stranger that I’m in that movie’. But I just thought it was so cool that someone was there in front of me reading Watchmen, I had to say something. That’s wicked. Maybe I’ll see on the flight back.”

“Something tells me we’ll be sitting in different sections of the plane,” I say back to him. Goode just laughs as he exits the room, too much of a sound gent to say what no doubt must have crossed his mind: ‘Too bloody right, mate. Too bloody right.’

Who’s who in Watchmen:

The Comedian: Anti-anti-hero and government-owned killer, brutally murdered in opening scene.

Ozymandias: Former ‘mask’ who made billions corporatising his superhero image.

Rorschach: Pyschotic but oddly moral vigilante with moving-inkblot mask

Night Owl II: Nerdy, flabby ornithologist who finds his wings once in costume.

Silk Spectre I: Retired, ageing hero, mother of Laurie Jupiter aka Silk Spectre II

Silk Spectre II: Lyra-clad scientist; lover of Dr Manhattan

Dr Manhattan: Formerly 1950s scientist Jon Osterman transformed into blue-toned superman by freak lab accident


Constant Motion said...

I have read the graphic novel several times over the yrs. I cannot wait for the movie and hope that it lives up to the hype so far. Blue dong is merely a distraction. :)

Declan Cashin said...

I liked the movie - but I think it's going to divide people. It's one that will be more appreciated in time me thinks.