‘Watchmen’ EP Nicole Kassell on That Dr. Manhattan Action Sequence & What’s Next
[Warning: This article contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1, Episode 8 of Watchmen, “A God Walks Into Abar.”]
HBO’s Watchmen is approaching its end and after the revealing penultimate episode, the desire to learn what’s next has never been stronger.
Recounting the love story between Angela (Regina King) and Dr. Manhattan (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the installment titled “A God Walks Into Abar,” also offered a glimpse at the Seventh Kavalry’s “evil” plan as well as Adrian’s (Jeremy Irons) continued escape attempts.
Below, executive producer and episode director Nicole Kassell offers insight and some answers as to what viewers can expect heading into Watchmen‘s final chapter.
We learned a lot in this episode, especially about Angela and Dr. Manhattan’s love story. Has their relationship really reached it’s tragic end, or are we going to see a little bit more with them before the series is through?
Nicole Kassell: Oh, I can’t answer that. You’ve got to tune in and watch. That’s a great question that I think people will be asking.
What kinds of exciting challenges did you face directing this episode since it is the most special effects heavy?
I’ve been asked that and I actually hadn’t thought of it that way, I guess partly because many of episodes have very complicated visual effects. Then I realized that I’m not sure people are aware, when [Dr. Manhattan]’s blue without the glow, that’s actual special effects makeup. It’s not always via visual effects.
Because it’s always him that part was easy to prep for because that was going to be all done in post, and we could put him in real environments, whereas there’s other sequences where it’s all entirely green-screen… But for me, the challenge of the episode truly was 25 pages of two people in a bar sitting at a table without being able to show one of their faces. So it was almost like the more simple the scene seemed, the harder it was to achieve the cinematic sequence to make it visually exciting.
I bet. And speaking of the bar, is it another person sitting across Regina King in those scenes or is it actually Yahya Abdul-Mateen II?
It’s Yahya playing a different Dr. Manhattan and he just killed it. He did an amazing job.
That is amazing. He sounded so different in those sequences.
Yeah, I’ll say the closest you come to seeing [his face] is when he’s narrating that story of going to Europa and creating what was meant to be a paradise. You kind of see him in the background and that’s the closest to you ever see [that version of] him.
Is it safe to say after this episode that Adrian’s timeline is a little bit different than the present-day Tulsa story?
And we got our first post credit scene of the season. Will that play a role in the finale as he continues his escape attempts?
Great question. You’re going to have to tune into Episode 9. You’re asking the questions we want people to be asking.
In an earlier episode he told Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison) he didn’t “need it yet,” referring to the horseshoe that shows up in the cake at the end of this episode. Did Adrian know all along then, that he would need one in order to make his escape?
That’s how I read it. I’m going to answer as a fan, and I’d say again, tune into Episode 9 but I’m glad you heard that, [the answer to that question] will be delivered.
There was also mention of “a little elephant” during the scene between Dr. Manhattan and Adrian. Could he be referring to Lady Trieu (Hong Chau)?
I’m giving a deliberate long pause of silence [Laughs]. I can’t answer that. So, I’m not going to, but again, great [question]. This is the fun of watching people watch the show, just the questions and hypotheses going out there. You’re following all the breadcrumbs really closely and picking up on things we want you to be picking up on.
This show handles transitions between scenes so beautifully. As the director of this episode, did you get to choose how those transitions occurred, or was everything scripted?
That’s truly a collaboration. I’d say there’s some transitions that are totally scripted and others that I put forward or pitch. For an example in this episode, when Dr. Manhattan holds up his hand to Angela to show, [how he created paradise on Europa], that’s a transition I came up with, I think. It’s truly collaborative. The writers feed us some great ones and then our job is also to find them as well. And that’s one of the strongest or most important mandates of these episodes was finding these match cuts.
You’ve had the cattle battle in Episode 1, the Nixonville riot in Episode 2 and now the neighborhood shootout with Dr. Manhattan. Do you love directing action sequences and what kind of conversations do you have with Regina before diving into a scenes like that?
I do enjoy filming action. I’m very cautious about putting violence on screen — by even putting it on screen, are you therefore glamorizing it? I did American Hero Story in Episode 2 which is absurdly, awfully, insanely violent, but it was a blast to do. It’s like kids — when we’re prepping and we’re all acting out parts — that’s what this group of adults is.
I want it to kick ass cause there are so many amazing action shows or scenes out there that the bar is really high. So how to make this awesome is our number one goal and keep it true to character is an equal number one. For this [episode’s sequence] it was all really based in character, Angela has this drive, this need to get to the weapon and destroy it. She has a very clear destination. So in any of these action scenes, I absolutely do talk to Regina in advance.
I work very closely with the assistant directors and the stunt coordinator and we storyboard or photo board and previs so that I can actually show Regina the sequence. So that dialogue is essential, just, because the physical stuff is very hard and tedious and a lot of it is with the effects. You’re pretending you’re shooting a gun, there’s not the real gunfire. If they’re really going to sell that it’s real, it’s all acting, there’s no give or take. So a lot of the time it’s just me or somebody else yelling, [mimics shooting sounds] and it’s painfully rudimentary, so it’s hard. And Regina is an amazing actor and person to work with, and as long as it’s character based and true to story, she’s always right there with you.
As the show approaches its end, would you consider signing on for a second season if HBO wanted more?
Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. I’ve loved every inch of this and as for what the future holds? I wish we could be Dr. Manhattan, but I’m not.
Watchmen, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO