‘Watchmen’s Tom Mison on That Mr. Phillips Reveal & His Mysterious Storyline
[Warning: This article contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1, Episode 2, of Watchmen, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship.”]
HBO’s Watchmen continued to pose questions in the October 27 episode, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship,” but some mysteries also became a bit clearer. Among those clarifications? The roles of Tom Mison‘s Mr. Phillips and Sara Vickers’ Ms. Crookshanks in “The Lord” (Jeremy Irons) storyline.
Below, Mison (Sleepy Hollow, Four Weddings and a Funeral) fills us in on the development of his peculiar character, and shares what it was like filming with Irons in Wales. Be forewarned, many spoilers are on the horizon.
Mr. Phillips is quite the character, how was the role first introduced and described to you?
Tom Mison: I was told very, very little. Damon [Linelof] and I had a long chat when I was offered the gig and he explained a fair bit about the show as a whole and our little corner of it, and I immediately shouted yes at him. That said, even during the pilot —the first time we shot it, which was in Atlanta on a green screen with the intention of reshooting once we arrived in our Welsh castle — there were vagaries as to the how and what and why of Phillips and Crookshanks.
Damon was on set throughout and assured us that our performances were on the right track. After that assurance it was quite nice not knowing, because we played the scene with the same curiosity as the audience. And then the surprise when the show was officially greenlit and a mini-script with all of our scenes arrived was such a thrill. If anyone guesses what the story is, they’re more clever than I am and deserve a prize. But everyone’s in for many thrills as it plays out.
In the premiere, viewers knew something was off with Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks — from the horseshoe for cutting cake to the fur-wrapped watch. What is their consciousness level and understanding of the world they are inhabiting?
Before we went to Wales for a month to block-shoot our scenes, Jeremy, Sara, and I sat around a table with our director in a church hall in West London and spent an entire day discussing the nature of consciousness, morality, and horseshoes. It was wonderful. Phillips and Crookshanks know the world and really want to make Master happy.
What was your reaction to learning there would be multiple versions of your character in the show? Were you surprised?
I’m profoundly arrogant, so I was delighted.
How does filming a scene like that work? Do you have to film from each spot in the room or are special effects at play?
We tried a few ways. Initially, there were going to be supporting artists wearing Tom Mison masks, but it looked absolutely terrifying. Like Leatherface in a tailcoat. So the masks never made it to set. Instead the SAs all had spots painted on their faces so Erik Henry — one of the best VFX supervisors in the world — could stick my face onto them.
So I had about 30 3D maps of my face pulling different expressions that he could manipulate accordingly. But Erik wasn’t 100 percent happy with how that looked (a bit too computer-gamey, I believe), so Sara and I spent two days in front of a green screen in Atlanta, matching every character in every shot so he could do a very advanced version of cutting and pasting our heads. I was happy with this method because it means that all the performances are actually ours (from the neck up anyway).
Phillips has a refined look while in uniform, but he’s shown in various ways within this episode, including blue body paint and casual attire. What was the overall makeup process like for creating your looks? Especially since it was such a departure from how fans knew you to look in Sleepy Hollow.
It was a fun exercise to find ways of making all looks the same but different. Little visual clues as to the unique life of each one. And the blue make up isn’t actually me — there wasn’t time in the schedule for me to have my whole body painted, I could only be painted from the chest up. So all close ups are actually me, but blue full body shots are a double.
All of the servants with your face go by different names, such as Alfonse and Montrose. Is there a particular importance to being called Mr. Phillips in this strange setting?
Being the personal butler is the top job. So when one of the chaps is promoted, the Lord of the Manor finds it appropriate to dub him “Mr Phillips.'”Go figure.
The Lord’s play – The Watchmaker’s Son – depicts Dr. Manhattan’s origin story. What is the fixation with that? And are Mr. Phillips and Ms. Crookshanks aware of the superhuman?
Phillips and Crookshanks are only aware of Dr Manhattan because of what the Lord has told them. As to the fixation… well, it’s a good yarn isn’t it?
Moving forward in the series, what can you say about Mr. Phillips’ role in the Lord’s storyline?
Without being murdered by lawyers? Nothing. Other than you’ll never guess what’s going on until Damon wants you to know, and I promise you’ll love every minute of it.
You filmed in Wales, but what can you say about the location in which this storyline is set?
Without being murdered by lawyers? Nothing. Other than it’s shot in Penrhyn Castle, which is well-worth a visit should you find yourself knocking about in Bangor.
This storyline within Watchmen is certainly strange. Is it as fun to film as it is to watch?
I’ve never had so much fun on a job. It was the gig I’d always dreamed of, and I’m so proud not only of our corner, but to be in involved with such a brilliant and unique show. I can retire happily now and get a proper job.
Watchmen, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO