Jackie Earle Haley On Set Interview – WATCHMEN

     February 16, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

As you might have already read, in October of 2007 I got to visit the set of “Watchmen” when the film was about half way through production. I left thinking director Zack Snyder had done the impossible and was actually going to make a kick ass movie from Alan Moore’s “unfilmable” graphic novel. Because as a lot of you already know, many had tried and failed to bring “Watchmen” to the big screen.

But that’s another story…let’s get to the reason you’re here.

While I was on the set with a few other online journalists, we all got to interview the stars of the movie and the one you’re about to read is with Rorschach…I mean Jackie Earle Haley.

During our interview, Jackie talked about how he prepared to play the role and a lot more! But what’s really great about the interview is since they were in the middle of filming, you get to hear the enthusiasm he feels towards the material and how excited he is to be there. That’s what is so great about on set interviews, you get to hear the stories as they were just happening…

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. And if you missed my set report, I definitely suggest reading it for a lot more on what I saw and did while on the set visit.

Question: So I have to ask, in that jail cell, we saw you lifting those weights, and those things are really heavy…

Jackie Earle Haley: I have to admit, I saw you all standing there, so I got these styrofoam weights, I was walking past you guys, and then I went around this thing, tried these heavy ones out, set them down and then I went and got a coffee. I’m kidding…

Q: We’ve heard you’ve been training for a while for this.

Jackie Earle Haley: Yeah.

Q: Can we talk about the training process?

Jackie Earle Haley: Sure! You know, once Zach chose me, and I just can’t tell you how thrilled I am. . . still thrilled I am about that. But, you know, I just realized that I needed to start trying to gain some weight and, you know, lift some weights and stuff like that. So I started out on my own with my crew. My buddy Jason Clay, I was training with him doing some isolated stuff, we also . . . they are my karate crew, we kinda work out together and stuff like that. And then when I got here I started working with Clay who is also our Still Photographer, and I actually started to really learn a lot of great stuff man, about working out. And a lot of it has to do with diet and eating, which is kind of it’s own dietish type stuff. I discovered that I was basically eating wrong, like, way too many carbs, not enough protein, and the concept of low fat doesn’t work very well, for us at any rate, and this program that we’ve been working on is incredible ‘cause these guys know how to get a full work out in, in like, less then thirty minutes. So I really discovered that it’s really kind of a high impact . . . you know you’re getting cardio and everything, it’s also a core training, which really it amazed me. When I got here I had a feeling these guys were going to be all about “All right, we’re making a movie, we’ve got to get those arms really big,” you know, “it’s all isolated stuff, it’s all about that.” And they really weren’t too worried about that, they figured that would take care of itself, it was more core training, which I love to talk about because I’m kinda obsessed right now. But that’s interesting about it is just, I’ve learned a lot of stuff, you know, a lot of the isolated moves that we do, like if you’re doing bench press or curl, those aren’t, like, real world moves. It’s all, like, build up, I’ll get a good looking biceps, as long as I’m looking for something like that I’m fine, but as soon as I go like this to actually pick something up and move it I might rip something or tear something. And so what we do, I guess a good example of core training is instead of doing isolated bench press for the chest area you put your feet up on a chair or something and add a weight or something on your back and do a push up. And now what’s happening is I’m still getting this area but I’m also getting abs, legs and everywhere so I can, you know, I feel like ten years younger after doing this for this long. It’s like now on Saturdays when it’s time to go do something I feel like I could go, you know, hike up a mountain, ride a bike, I’ve got all this strength, it’s awesome.

Q: But also you still have to maintain it too, even after the filming is done you still have to maintain it and the diet if you want to continue looking that good. So do you hope to kinda continue that on?

Jackie: Yeah, cause it’s not really a diet, it’s really kinda more a way of eating. And it kinda gets all complex-y, but what happens is we’re. . . our whole society is just got this whole low fat thing going on, and when that whole thing started then they just started to increase all the carbs, and what happens is the carbs burn, like, real quick. That’s why when you eat a banana in the morning you crash, and one of the things that really stuck in my head, I was playing devil’s advocate for a while and Clay was like, he saw me eating a banana in the morning and he says, “go get some protein and some fat with that.” And I looked over at Damon, the stunt guy, and says “you eat like this?” And he looked at me and says “Yeah! If I didn’t I would crash in an hour.” Think about it, when you eat that, low carbohydrate thing in the morning, an hour later you’re kinda going “eeerrngh.” It’s a real simple thing; crabs break down real quick and they burn for like an hour, proteins take about an hour to break down and then they start to burn for like two or three hours. I don’t have these numbers exactly right because this is just a basic idea, but while that’s breaking down it take that long for that fats to break down and then they kick in and they start burning. And when you get that right balance of stuff, you’re fueling up and your kinda keeping your insulin level at an even keel and then you’re able to burn a lot longer and I discovered when I started to eat this way, I would do these work outs and I’d finish and I’d still have energy. And that wasn’t the case before. You know, you kinda finish you’re work out and you’re like “uuuhhh, where’s the Gatorade?” And it’s just the worst way to do it. So I guess what I’m saying here is just I’ve learned a lot about this and it’s really neat, so I think when this movie is over I will keep eating like this and continue to work out ‘cause I like to work out.

Q: You going to put out an exercise tape?

Jackie: Come on everybody, Get Schachy!!

Q: There is a line were Rorschach is talking to the prison psychiatrist and he says that before that kidnapping case it was Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach, and after that it is just Rorschach. How do you sort of do that, divide the character like that?

Jackie: How do I divide that character like between . . .?

Q: In the flashbacks, how do you play. . . . how is he different in the past before that kidnapping case with the dogs versus the way that he is in the 85, in the present day?

Jackie: Pretty much like what you see in the book. I don’t know how to answer that except for I feel that the character is Rorschach and there is no Walter Kovacs. And I think that everything conspired to make him that way. You know what I mean, this guy is, never had a chance, he is just one messed up individual. I think every bit of vigilantly for that he does is protecting that inner child, is striking out and smacking his mom in the face every time. I think some kids can kinda grow up in an environment like that, somehow survive it, become a normal adjusted person, to a degree, and function in society. And I think some people just get a little bit more twisted by it, and I think little Walter Kovacs just didn’t really stand much of a chance, and I think as he started to grow older, those examples of grey, complex, justification started to mount where it’s all just a bunch of bullshit. Right, and there’s wrong. You know, Mom needed to raise her kid, she needed to do certain things so that she could make money, so that she could feed this child and bring him up. But in so doing, she was resentful of him, forcing her to have to have this responsibility, forcing . . . I would imagine that Mom’s justification is that “life is complex Walter, sure I did some things that weren’t wonderful but I had to do this and this and this, and this justifies what I was like.” And that justification basically has fucked his life up totally, and I think somewhere in his life he has absolutely recognized that, that that justification is . . . That the behavior, that everything . . . The justification, the reason to justify the behavior is the grey. And you know, you can have the reasons, and it’s usually fueled somehow by, even if it’s not self-centered, it’s still her choices in that “justification, complexity, life isn’t simple you know,” which is, you know, I believe that, life is very grey, I think we all kind of want to make life black and white. I mean, watch the news. Look at the left, look at the right, look at ay class in augmenting, let’s all fit it here. Really it is all a world of greys, we have a lot of complex behaviors, and they are explained and justified through complexity, though ambivalence, through uncertainty. And I think that for adjusted people, we can kinda look at that and recognize it and accept it as the way life is, but I think for Rorschach, who is completely victimized, irreversibly messed up mentality from that, a victim of that grain of complexity that has always surrounded him, he just, you know, “fuck this, this is the way it is. It’s either this or this, you can dream up all your excuses, you can do anything you want but it’s all bullshit.” And in a weird kinda way that’s need recognizing complexity, sometimes the guy’s right, sometimes there’s just. . . the guy’s right.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you went about finding and exploring Rorschach’s voice?

Jackie: Yeah. . . in about a year.

Q: Not giving it to us but sorta the process you went though trying to figure out how it should sound, where it’s coming from?

Jackie: Sorry, this is me being kinda hedgy, trying to figure out what to say. At this point and time I’m not sure what to say about it, so . . .

Q: Can you talk about playing “Meet the Mask?” We were talking to some Visual Effects guys and they said that the mask that you wear shows your eyes, so during these scenes are you letting your eyes play?

Jackie: We’re doing a little bit of everything, it kind of depends on how far away from the camera, what’s going on, sometimes I’m wearing a mask because of little tracking dots like this and then my eyes are exposed and then sometimes I’m actually wearing a full Rorschach that’s kind of fixed. And you know, it’s very dark, you know I could still see all you guys but it’s kind of like throwing a neutral density filter up. But it is really an interesting aspect of the character ‘cause as an actor there’s a vast majority of my role in this movie I’m wearing a soccer ball head, so that’s kinda different when you look at it externally. There’s also Jackie looking back at this character and how it will look in the movies. I’ve got a sock on my head. But, you know, when I look at it from the character’s standpoint, it’s kind of this cool, empowering, and character discovering process. In a weird kinda way this related to your earlier question as well, but talking from this side it’s like I do find that I’m with the make-up people and hair people and wardrobe design, when you’re going through that part process, it’s an incredible process of discovering and finding things out about the character. I was telling this story yesterday, but it was really neat watching Rorschach get built, the thing we did wasn’t the first try, at one point in time I kinda had a whole helmet on my head, and it looked like a whole helmet on my head, so that wasn’t working out. But when all of this was said and done, you know, we kept tweaking and dialing it in, and one night I was doing the cemetery scene and it was kinda one of my first Rorschach nights and it’s cold out there, even though we’re here and it’s raining in Vancouver and it was like this light drizzle, they’ve got rain machines out there to make big drops and it’s just coming down, and there’s this shot where I’m getting ready to walk up to the grave and I’m kinda standing up. . . . you know the camera’s way over there and I’m standing back like this, and there’s this huge light behind me and it wasn’t defused or anything and I was casting this perfect shadow on the ground and I was getting ready to go and I kind of . . .“Oh wow, oh god jeez, look at. . .” You know? It was like I was in the cartoon, I was in the comic book, and the lines were just so perfect. And I ran over to Michael and I was like “what, look!” And then they started clowning around and put a light behind me and a wall here and shot the silhouette with still cameras and stuff, but that’s pretty empowering when that starts to come together and all of a sudden you got. . . . My mind is able to get a little deeper into the guy because it’s just happening. It’s also like walking onto a stage set in the middle of . . . you know it’d be one thing doing it all against a green screen, which you can do, it’s great, but when you walk into a set like this the world starts to come around you, it starts to become more of a reality, the reality starts to surround you a bit more, dive into it. That was a pretty cool process. And then this whole red head thing is a cool transformation.

Q: Do you like your costume, with the trench coats and masks, do you like the way Rorschach looks?

Jackie: Yeah I love it. They nailed it, absolutely nailed it.

Q: And the fighting’s okay in it?

Jackie: It’s working out.

Q: How familiar were you with the original graphic novel? Where you a fan?

Jackie: Actually, no, I’ve never been a huge comic book fan. When I was growing up a lot of my friends were just really into comics. And for some reason I discovered reading, just, a lot later, I was around more like 15, and for some reason I just started reading a lot more. But I do kind of recall always seeing he characters. So I had heard about it, because I do recall about three or four years ago, somewhere I read a thread, I think it was before I even started back acting, people were suggesting me for this role, you know, like on the internet and stuff. This was a while back, and I guess nothing was really going on, I saw it and then I went and looked at it and recalled “oh yeah I’ve seen these guys before.” I think I kinda flipped through a comic book as opposed to the graphic novel, not sure. So I looked into it then, and then of course when it started to become a reality I really dove into it and fell in love with it. Now I want to read more graphic novels, ‘cause reading it was really cool. It’s like, the first pass is like, “wow, this is really good, now let’s read it again.” And then it’s like, “wow, now this is really good!” And I started to get, like the whole, the depth. I bet you that if I started diving into . . . at a certain point I kinda had to let it go so I could then just focus on the Rorschach stuff. Because the book is just so full of amazing depth and symbolism, and just on that second read, all that stuff that you see ties together with characters that mean something later that on first pass I didn’t see it, there was all sorts of stuff I didn’t see on the first pass.

Q: So Rorschach is, without a doubt, the most popular character in Watchmen, and it is also interesting cause he’s kinda also this psychotic murderer, this fallen lifestyle, and he’s kind of a lunatic, but he’s the most popular character. Do you think that’s because, as you said before, he kind of gets rid of the complexity? What is it you think that people react to so much in him?

Jackie: Oh, I don’t know. . . You know, I don’t know. I think maybe it kinda gets back to what I was talking to you before, you know, we all know we live in this complex world, but it’d be neat if it were a bit more simple. Because I think a lot of times too, the complexity is kind of in the eye of the beholder, the people who are experiencing it. And so often to other people, who have a third party perspective, that’s not attached to whatever’s going on, it’s a lot more simple. It’s like, you know what I mean, their complex is “no you should do this, it’s clear for us over here.” Maybe’s it’s that. I don’t know.

Q: How’s it been working with Patrick Wilson again?

Jackie: Awesome. Awesome. As a matter of fact we were doing our first seen together and it was in Veidt’s place where we get there and we’re looking around, and that was our first scene together. And you know, there I am in my sock and there he is in his goggles, and we’re standing there and I go “who would have guessed this shit about two years ago?” And he started laughing ‘cause, think about it, there would have been no way to guess that one. “Hey in two years from now we’re going to be standing in these outfits looking at each other.”

Q: After not acting for a while what’s it feel like being in this hundred and something million dollar movie, just this epic film?

Jackie: You know, I . . . this has been going on for three years since I start going back into acting, I mean the things that have happened to me since then, it just seems kinda like just an unbelievable, crazy luck. And it’s gotten a lot more real in the last three years, meaning like, when I’m doing the work it’s like that’s very real, you know, I’m a part of the work, and I get it and all that. But there’s this . . . it is weird to me that still after three year I will find myself in my apartment or my trailer or wherever, with just these total flashes of “oh my god, I’m really doing this again.” And it’s a cool feeling, and it’s still hitting me like, “god dang.” It’s just, three years ago this seemed impossible for me to even get back into acting, and it’s still kinda, it’s getting more real but it’s still blowing me away. And since “Little Children” I’ve done some work and it’s been great, working on a few things and wow, it’s like I’m working. But winning this part you know, when Zack chose me for this it, it felt like when Steve Zallian called and that was just this who break, “Oh my god I get to do this again.” And then there’s . . . it just feels like this is really special, the size of it, the parameters, what going on in to it, how Zach’s doing it, putting it together, production design, just all of the design departments. And it’s just huge, it just feels overwhelmingly cool.

Q: Have seen the Owl Ship?

Jackie: Oh yeah! I’ve been all over the place.

Q: Well, obviously there’s been a lot of internet interest in the film and a lot of hardcore Watchmen fans sorta tapped back into what you were talking about, about feeling good about getting back into acting. You’re probably the only character, casting wise in this, that’s been universally seen as a home run. So…

Jackie: Wow, I didn’t know that.

Q: Yeah about everywhere you look you see “That guy’s perfect.” Even people were like “I didn’t think of it, that’s perfect.” I haven’t seen anyone who’s like….

Jackie: Let’s just put it this way, I sure hope they feel that way with the movie comes out.

Q: What does it day about you that they think you make such a good psychopathic murder.

Jackie: Short, runty, ugly looking…

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