HBO’s Watchmen is a sequel to the legendary graphic novel, moving the entire world of Watchmen forward to the present day. It brings with it new characters who reflect our political climate, just as Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan, and the Comedian were a product of their era. Central to this new story is Detective Angela Abar, played by Regina King. As most superheroes do, Abar leads a double life, spending time in costume and tracking down bad guys as Sister Night.
That is, of course, an oversimplification. And we all know nothing is that simple in the world of Watchmen. The original comic detailed how the presence of superheroes changed the world as we knew it in 1985, while the TV version puts the focus on issues that resonate in 2019. While the Watchmen book dealt heavily with matters of foreign policy, particularly the tensions of the Cold War and America’s standing in the world after a decisive victory in the Vietnam War, the HBO series from executive producer and writer Damon Lindelof zeroes in on the racial tensions that continue to bedevil America. Watchmen executive producer and director Nicole Kassell says that these particular issues are “a way to specifically respond to what’s happening now while still paying homage to the spirit and tone of the source material.”
Regina King is aware of the balance between tackling such weighty issues in a show that uses superhero imagery to tell its story. “I hope when people are watching and they see some of the real life historical events that actually took place that we are reenacting, if you will, [it’s] a reminder of how far we haven’t gotten as far as our regard for humanity in our country,” she says. “I mean, I also want them to be entertained. You know at the end of the day we are entertaining. It’s a bit of everything in this story that was like a gumbo of genres.”
King is playing a brand new character to the world of Watchmen, but she hadn’t read the book yet. “I only heard of it when Damon reached out to me and said ‘I have this amazing project that I want you to be a part of,’” she says. “I think for both of us, if Damon is on board and is saying that he wants us to be on board, just that alone makes you excited.”
With all superhero castings come a certain level of secrecy. And while King went into the project knowing her character, that might not have been the case for the entire cast. “Other actors came to set not knowing,” Kassell says. “That was fun.”
King’s Sister Night has a distinctive look, that of a mysterious (and ass-kicking) nun. The costume is a striking choice, and it affects how she approaches the different sides of her character.
“I feel powerful in it,” King says. “I would guess that every actor that’s had the opportunity to wear a costume [and] play a hero can attest to the feeling of how it changes your whole body language. I do feel like when I’m Angela, there’s different body language and then when I’m Sister Night, there’s body language that’s totally different. But that’s also part of the masks…and how we change when we have certain masks on.”
Those masks aren’t always literal, either. “The person that I am when I’m at my son’s school is much different than the woman at home, [and] that’s much different than the woman that’s at the precinct,” King says.
As you would expect from a superhero, Sister Night is a physical role that brings another set of challenges with it.
“I like to say I stay ready, so I don’t have to get ready,” King says. “I’m always pretty fit and ready to pounce. But we have a great stunt coordinator, Justin Riemer, that we worked with on The Leftovers. So he was already aware of my ability. With my stunt double’s ability, they would choreograph things that played to both of our strengths so it could be this seamless in and out between us throughout all of our sequences”.
Don’t expect a superhero origin story for Sister Night or any of the other new characters in that first episode, though. HBO’s Watchmen, like its source material, drops the audience right into its world, and then teases out information and backstory on its characters as the story unfolds. But Damon Lindelof promises it’s coming, hoping to serve “a delicious meal” to the audience. “I love mystery storytelling and I’ve experimented many times over the course of my career with delayed gratification,” Lindelof says. “Sometimes it turns out, too long, sometimes turns out, too soon. And so you’re constantly trying to get it just right…The good news is there’s nine episodes of this season of Watchmen, and by the ninth episode, you’re going to get the resolution to every single question that the show asks. That’s important to us as storytellers without sort of frustrating the audience.”
“The book is in Damon’s DNA as a storyteller and whether you look at Lost or The Leftovers or this, the way he drips out information is totally deliberate,” Kassell says. “He doesn’t drip anything that’s not going to get delivered. Unless he just wants to totally tickle you.”
Watchmen hits HBO on Oct. 20. You can read a spoiler-free review of the first episode right here.