How Creator Damon Lindelof Updated 'Watchmen' for 2019

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“I think that it’s time to start really asking the question, ‘Why are all the superheroes white dudes?’” he said at Monday's premiere event.

HBO’s Watchmen creator Damon Lindelof has a rule. In order to create art outside his comfort zone, he doesn’t work with the same actors twice. He’s only made one exception: Regina King. After working with her on The Leftovers, he knew nobody else could play the leading role in his new series but her.

“She’s one of the greatest living actors in the world right now,” Lindelof told The Hollywood Reporter at the Watchmen series premiere Monday night. “Rules aside, I convinced myself she would never want to do this. We were in the writers’ room, and every time I was talking about the character Angela, I kept saying Regina. And the writers were like, ‘Just ask her already!’”

As Lindelof joined the cast and crew of the Watchmen on the carpet at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, King’s face loomed on dozens of posters behind him.

“Seeing Regina King on that poster is the greatest thing ever,” he said.

For King, seeing herself on that poster feels special, too.

“Look at that,” King said, pointing to the poster. In it, King stands tall, dressed as masked vigilante Sister Night, behind the name Watchmen in bold, yellow letters. “It says Watchmen, and it’s a woman. And it’s a black woman. That’s fucking huge.”

The show, which takes place 30 years after the events of the graphic novel, follows a new generation of antiheroes in 2019 Tulsa, Oklahoma, where police officers must wear masks to protect themselves from a white supremacist group known as the Seventh Kavalry.

For Lindelof, it only made sense that his expansion of the Watchmen universe would include a more diverse cast.

“If you think about what superhero culture was in the mid ‘80s when Watchmen initially dropped and what superhero culture is now … I think that it’s time to start really asking the question, ‘Why are all the superheroes white dudes?’” he said. “We’re really proud of the fact that there are some incredibly strong women who are not just in Watchmen, but are actually leading the charge. I just felt like their time was due.”

This development of the Watchmen universe attracted many of the actors to the project, including Tim Blake Nelson and Andrew Howard, who take on two new heroes alongside King’s Sister Night.

“To have the temerity to project an iconic narrative 30 years into its future and have that be our present in an alternate universe is so gutsy that it just intrigued me a lot more than a retelling of the graphic novel actually probably would have,” Nelson said. 

Howard agreed, adding that he hopes this version of the story creates more of a talking point than a traditional adaptation might have. “In terms of the way Damon drew from the ’85 novel and spat us into 2019 … it’s a piece of genius,” Howard told THR. “Cops are being shot, and the public are being shot, and we need to try and fix it."

Watchmen premieres Oct. 20.