INT: Jackie Earle Haley
If there was ever an instance of surprisingly perfect casting it has to be the choice of Jackie Earle Haley to play Rorschach in WATCHMEN. This former Bad News Bear has grown up, and buffed up, to become the living embodiment of arguably the best loved character from the graphic novel.
The really crazy thing is that Haley comes across as the nicest, most gracious guy you could ever want to meet, yet he's playing the role of one of the most violent vigilantes in American pop culture. Gotta love it! Of course, gracious doesn't equal informative, but if you want some good workout tips, read on.
Jackie Earle Haley
In that jail cell we saw you lifting those weights, and those things are really heavy?
I gotta admit. I saw ya'll standing there, so I got these styrofoam weights. And then I went around this thing and drug these heavy ones out, set 'em down and got a coffee. Kidding.
[laughter around the room]
We heard you've been training for awhile for this.
Can you talk about the training process?
Sure. Once Zack chose me, and I can't tell you how thrilled I am about that, but I just realized that I needed to start trying to gain some weight and lift some weights. So I started out on my own with my crew, my buddy Jason Clay and we were doing some isolated stuff. And my karate crew would kinda work out together.
Then when I got here I started working with Clay, who is also our still photographer, and actually started to really learn a lot of great stuff about working out. A lot of it has to do with diet and eating. Zone diet-ish type stuff. I discovered that I was basically eating wrong. Way too many carbs, not enough protein. The concept of low fat doesn't work real well, for us anyway. And this program that we've been working on is incredible because these guys know how to get a full workout in under 30 minutes.
So I really discovered that I could, it's a really kind of high impact, y'know you're getting cardio and everything. It's also a core training. It amazed me. When I got here I had a feeling these guys were gonna be all about, "Alright, we're making a movie. We gotta get those arms really big. It's all isolated stuff. It's all about that." And they really weren't too worried about that. They figured it would take care of itself. It was more core training. Which I love talking about. I'm kind of obsessed right now.
But what's interesting about it is just, I've learned a lot of stuff, a lot of the isolated stuff we do like bench press or curls, those aren't real world moves. So I'll get a good looking bicep, and [in that movement range] I'm fine, but as soon [as I move out of that range] to actually pick something up and move it, I might rip something or tear something.
A good example of core training is instead of doing an isolated bench press for the chest area, you put your feet up on a chair with some weight on your back and do a pushup. Now what's happening is I'm still getting [the chest] area, but I'm also getting abs, legs, and everywhere. I feel like ten years younger. Now on Saturdays when it's time to go do something I feel like I could go hike up a mountain, ride a bike. I've got all this strength. It's awesome.
You also have to maintain it though. Do you hope when filming is done to continue that diet?
Yeah, 'cause it's not really a diet, it's more a way of eating. It kind of gets all complexy. But what happens is, our whole society has this low fat thing going on, and when that whole thing started then they just started to increase all the carbs. What happens is the carbs burn real quick. That's why when you eat a banana in the morning you crash.
One of the things that stuck in my head, because I was playing Devil's Advocate for awhile, and Clay saw me eating a banana and told me to go eat some protein and fat with that. And I looked over at Damon, the stunt guy and asked "Do you eat like this?" And he was like, "Yeah, if I didn't I'd crash in an hour."
Think about it. When you eat that little carbohydrate thing in the morning, an hour later you're kinda going uhhh. It's a real simple thing. Carbs break down real quick and they burn for like an hour. Proteins take about an hour to break down and then burn for two or three hours. I don't have these numbers exactly right, but this is the basic idea. While that's breaking down, it takes that long for the fats to break down and then they kick in.
So when you get that right balance of stuff you're fueling up and you're keeping your insulin level at an even keel and then you're able to burn a lot longer. I discovered when I started to eat this way, I would do these workouts and I'd still have energy. Which wasn't the case before. You kinda finish a workout and you're like uhhhhh, where's the Gatorade. Which is the worst way to do that. I learned a lot about this and it's really neat. When this movie is over I will keep eating like this and continue to workout.
And put out an exercise tape? The Rorschach workout?
There's a line where Rorschach is talking to the prison psychiatrist, and he says that before that kidnapping case he was Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach, and then after that it is just Rorschach. How do you do that? How do you divide the character like that?
How do I divide the character?
In the flashbacks how is he different before the kidnapping case with the dogs vs. the way he is in '85 and present day?
Pretty much like what you see in the book. I don't know how to answer that. Except for that I feel like the character is Rorschach. There is no Walter Kovacs. And I think that everything conspired to make him that way. This guy has never had a chance. He is just one messed up individual. I think every bit of vigilante work that he does is protecting that inner child. It's striking out. Smacking his mom in the face every time.
I think some kids can grow up in an environment like that and somehow survive it. Become a normal, adjusted person to a degree. Function in society. And I think some people just get a little more twisted by it. And I think little Walter Kovacs didn't stand much of a chance. And as he started to grow older, those examples of grey, complexity, justification, started to mount to the point where it was all just a bunch of bullshit. There's right and there's wrong. Y'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 this responsibility. I'd imagine that mom's justification is "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 has basically fucked his life up totally. I think somewhere in his life he recognized that. That the reason to justify the behavior is the gray.
And you can have the reasons, and it's usually fueled by, even if it's not self-centered, it's still her choices in that justification, complexity, life isn't simple y'know, which I believe that. Life is very gray. I think we all want to make life black and white. Watch the news. Look at the left. Look at the right. Look at any class in argumenting. It's all let's fit it here. Really it is a world of grays. We have a lot of complex behaviors. And they are explained and justified through complexity, through ambivalence, through uncertainty.
For adjusted people we can look at that and accept it as the way life is. But for Rorschach, who is completely a victimized, irreversibly messed up mentality, a victim of that gray and that complexity. He's just like "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 in the end it's all bullshit. And in a weird kind of way sometimes the kid is right. Sometimes he's right.
Can you talk about playing beneath the mask? Some of the F/X guys said that the mask you wear actually shows your eyes. So during these scenes are you letting your eyes play?
We're doing a little bit of everything and it depends on how far away from the camera [we are]. Sometimes I'm wearing a mask with little tracking dots and then my eyes are exposed. And sometimes I'm wearing a full Rorschach. It's kind of fixed and it's very dark. I could still see you guys, but it's like throwing a neutral density filter up. But it is an interesting aspect of the character.
As an actor, the vast majority of my role in this movie I'm wearing a sock on my head. So that's different. When you look at - externally there's also Jackie looking back at this character and how it will look in the movie and I've got a sock on my head. But when I look at it from the character's standpoint, it's kind of this cool, empowering, character discovering process.
I do find that when I'm with the makeup people and hair people and wardrobe design, when you're going through that process it's an incredible source of discovery and finding 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 I kind of had a whole helmet on my head, and it looked like a whole helmet on my head. So that wasn't working out. But we kept tweaking and dialing it in.
And one night I was doing the cemetery scene, and it was one of my first Rorschach nights. It's cold there, it's this light drizzle, but they've got rain machines out there to make big drops and it's coming down. And there's a shot where I'm getting ready to walk up to the grave and I'm standing back with a huge light behind me, and I was casting this perfect shadow on the ground. And I'm like oh wow. Look at that. Jeez man. It was like I was in the cartoon. I was in the comic book. The lines were so perfect. And then they started clowning around and put a light behind me, and a wall here and just shot the silhouette with still cameras.
That's pretty empowering when that all starts to come together. My minds able to get a little deeper into the guy because it's happening. It's also like walking onto a set. 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 becomes more of a reality and you dive into it. That was a pretty cool process. And this whole redhead thing. It's a cool transformation.
Fighting is OK in the costume?
It's working out.
Were you familiar with the original graphic novel. Were you a fan?
No. I've never been a huge comic book fan. When I was growing up a lot of my friends were really into comics, and for some reason I discovered reading a lot later. But I do kind of recall always seeing the characters. I had heard about it. About 3 or 4 years ago, I saw this thread, I think even before I started back acting, people were suggesting me for this role, this was on the internet. And this was awhile back and I guess nothing was really going on. I think I actually flipped through an actual comic book, not the graphic novel. I'm not sure.
So I kind of knew it then, and of course as it became a reality I really dove into it. And fell in love with it. Now I want to read more graphic novels, because reading it was really cool. The first pass is like, wow this is really good. Now let's read it again, and it's like WOW this is REALLY good. I started to get the whole depth. At a certain point I had to let it go so that I could just focus on the Rorschach stuff. Because the book is full of such amazing depth and symbolism. On that second read all that stuff you see that ties together with characters, that mean something later, that on first pass I didn't see it.
Rorschach is the most popular character in Watchmen. And it's kind of interesting because he's also this psychotic murder who lives a squalid lifestyle and is kind of a lunatic. Do you think it's because of the way he gets rid of [life's] complexity. What is it that you think people react to so much in him?
I don't know. Maybe it gets back to we all know we live in this complex world, but it'd be neat if it were more simple. I think a lot of times the complexity is in the eye of the beholder. So often for people who have a third party perspective it's a lot more simple. It's like, "No you should do this. It's clear to us over here." Maybe it's that.
How's it been working with Patrick [Wilson] again?
Awesome. Awesome. As a matter of fact we were doing our first scene together, and it was in Veidt's place. When we get there and we're looking around. That was our first scene together. And there I am in my sock. And there he is in his goggles. And we're standing there y'know, "Who would guessed this shit about two years ago?" And we started laughing.
After not acting for awhile, is it weird to be in the 100 million plus epic film?
This has been going on for three years since I started back into acting. The things that have happened since then seem like unbelievable, crazy luck. It's gotten a lot more real in the last three years. Meaning when I'm doing the work that's very real, and I'm about the work, I get it. But it is weird to me that still after three years I will find myself in my apartment or my trailer and I will find myself with these flashes of, "Oh my God, I'm really doing this again."
It's a cool feeling, but it's still hitting me. Three years ago this seemed impossible for me to even get back into acting. It's getting more real, but it's still blowing me away. I'm still pinching myself. And since Little Children I've done some work and it's been great working on a few things. But winning this part, when Zack chose me for this, it felt like when [I got Little Children] and that was just a huge break and oh my God I get to do this again. This is really special. The size of it, the parameters. How Zack's doing it? The production design. It's huge and feels overwhelmingly cool.
One of the things that I'm noticing, is we go into these sequences, shot after shot, I'm seeing so many angles on things that are just right on the book. I almost feel like I'm watching this movie, I'm seeing it coming together. And each one of us is like I can't wait to see this movie.