In the world of Watchmen, there’s no more iconic character than Rorschach, the masked vigilante with a sadistic sense of justice whose investigation into a superhero’s murder reveals a far-reaching conspiracy. Yet playing an icon was a welcome challenge for the man beneath Rorschach’s always-changing headwear, Jackie Earle Haley. Now 47, Haley starred as bad boy slugger Kelly Leak in 1976’s The Bad News Bears. Two years ago, the actor earned a supporting-actor Oscar nomination for his role as a pitiable sex offender in Little Children. Could he get another Oscar nod for Watchmen? Our Brian Truitt talked comics and Rorschach with Haley so click read more for the interview, and check out an extended clip of him as the masked avenger below.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
After you reading the Alan Moore graphic novel, could you understand fans’ passion for Watchmen?
I think I could. I was never really a big comic book fan. As a kid, for some reason it was just something I never really got into. I got more into sci-fi and became a fan Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, and I went on this long jag of reading all of their stuff. At a much more advanced age, when I read Watchmen, I was surprised at how smart it was. Not only was it entertaining and fun, but it had a weight to it that I didn’t think was part of the comic book world. Since then, I’ve started to read more comic books — I’m kinda going through a little Alan Moore phase. I tell you, man, V For Vendetta amazed me. The book is phenomenal and incredibly thought-provoking.
What did you think of Rorschach upon first read?
He’s an awesome character. He is one twisted, sick individual but he’s still a fascinating character. There’s something sickeningly admirable about his absolutism, his sense of black and white justice and his remorseless violent approach to exacting that justice.
Some of the coolest visuals of the movie are the constantly changing ink blots on his mask.
Sometimes I would wear a mask that had a fixed Rorschach, if I was kind of in the distance. But a lot of times when I was up close to the camera, I’d be wearing just a white mask that had a big cut-out for my eyes. So I could see out, see what was going on, and also so that the computers graphics guys could see emotionally what was going on with me. It’s really hard for me to complain because even though I’d had this rain jacket and all of these layers and then you put the sock over your head, I’d kinda get warm and fuzzy in there.
There is a scene taken straight from the book where the audience sees Rorschach without the mask, he meets with a psychologist in prison and we learn about his background.
That sequence is one of my favorites in the book. It’s neat how all of a sudden we get to know this Dr. Long character, and there’s always been a parallel for Dr. Long and for me, because we’ve both had to stare into the abyss of this character to try to understand him. When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also.
Little Children got you an Oscar nod. What’s the aftermath been like in terms of jobs?
It’s been incredible. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some people just approach me for roles, and I’ve got a good team of guys who are also getting me out there for roles. For this particular job, we fought for it. I did an audition tape for Zack, and of course I basically had your Halloween costume Rorschach outfit. It was cheesy but it was fun, and the audition tape did its job. I tell you, man, there was no cooler call than the day Zack said, “Yeah, you’re the guy.”
So are you hitting the comic shop every Wednesday yet?
Nah, it’s not getting that bad. I can’t say I’m a comic geek, but I’ve become a Watchmen geek. Every time Zack has put out some sort of footage or trailer or something, I find myself first responding as a geek, and then as an actor. That first trailer gave me goosebumps. Zack’s visuals and sensibilities are just smokin’. I think he’s really rocked this thing.