How did you get involved with this movie?
When the studio called me they were like, ‘We have a script for a movie called Watchmen, it’s going to be interesting, we think it’s based on a graphic novel, could be really cool, you should check it out.’ And the script was good, but it was updated to modern times, and the mean bits were gone. I pretty much knew at that point I was going to try and subvert the process a little bit, and I let them know that I was going to try and do it a slightly different way. I said, ‘Look, I’m going to go back and comb the source material and really try and do it like it is in the graphic novel.’
They wanted it PG-13?
Absolutely, it was PG-13 all the way when I got it,
Could you have made this movie your way without the success of 300?:
No way. No way in the sense that the studio has been super supportive of me, even after I hijacked their giant cool franchise superhero movie and turned it into a weird art movie. When we made 300, we were pretty sure we’d made a boutique movie that no one would want to see, aside for fan boys and a couple of people who like action movies, because when we made it the immediate response was middle America is not going to like this movie, it’s got a bunch of naked guys giving them a history lesson, that’s the last thing they’re going to want to see. And I said, ‘Look guys, we made the movie we made, and it is what it is, I can’t change it.’ And they were like, ‘Okay, we’re just going to get behind it and see what happens.’ I think the same thing is true of Watchmen in a lot of ways. It’s funny because in some ways it has the exact opposite politics of 300. People would always ask me, ‘Is 300 your politics?’ And I’d say, ‘300 is Frank Miller’s book, and Watchmen is Alan’s book; and I’m not going to censor their opinions.
Can you talk about the lawsuit that came up where Fox said the project belonged to them and couldn’t be released – what was going through your mind?
Part of me thought it would be really cool if the movie got shelved for all time, because I thought it would just make the movie cooler. At that time only 20 or 30 people had seen the movie, so I thought those people could go on a lecture tour and describe the movie they’d seen for two hours. Each of them would have a specialty scene that they really tried to remember well. It was funny, because I thought cooler heads will prevail, Warner Brothers is going to spend $100 million and then do nothing? But then at Christmas when the judge issued that one order [saying] Fox does have the rights to this,’ I was like, ‘Wow, they may [stop] the movie [from being released], and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome.’ And then I got nervous, because then I thought, ‘Okay, it’s not funny now. No more joking.’
Did the studio encourage you to get bigger stars like Tom Cruise?
Oh yeah, I think there was a bit at the beginning, the idea it might be cool to have an Ocean’s Eleven version of Watchmen. The problem is there’s very few big studio actors that would just hand themselves over to a movie, it just doesn’t work that way, and it had to be that way for this film. This is what we’re doing, and I need you for a long time, and I need to you do what we’re doing. Patrick Wilson was the first actor that I hired, and it kind of set a tone I think for where the movie was going. My argument was, in 300 nobody knew who Gerry [Butler] was then really, the movie is the thing hopefully. All the guys in this are amazing. Everyone asks, ‘What’s the acting like in the movie?’ They act like cartoons a little bit, and that’s particular, we could have done a naturalistic version of Watchmen with hand held camera, but it just didn’t make sense at all to me. We treated the comic book like an illuminated text.
Are you surprised when the public enjoy a movie that’s complicated and violent?:
I love it when mass culture doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do. It means they’re not going to go quietly to the boardroom movie, and I think that that’s scary too in some ways. The cool thing that the studio has done, which I think is interesting, is they’ve acknowledged that there is a place for an unusual movie, a movie that doesn’t tick all the boxes, because there is such a thing as people getting worn out by that same old thing. They don’t want to go again to another Fantastic Four movie; their brains won’t let them go. A giant superhero movie that’s unconventional and bizarre, it’s a formula that sucks for them, because it’s not repeatable. And like I say, Warner Brothers has been amazingly supportive. I made them a difficult movie, and they’ve been nice about it.