Watchmen Interview: Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan

If you're a Watchmen fan, then you already know who Dr. Manhattan is. If not, he's the buff-looking blue dude you've seen on billboards and magazine covers everywhere you turn these days. Underneath all that CGI glow is actor Billy Crudup, who adds surprising depth to a character who was essentially created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons to explore the reality of a Superman-type entity. If you possessed the powers of a god, could you relate to mere mortals? What kind of god-like pressure would you feel to direct the fate of the planet? And, finally, how long before you would have no mental choice but to abandon your hereditary species and its destructive squabbles for the intricate beauties of an emotionless universe? This is the Superman we've never been given, deconstructed and brutalized in the context of a Cold War where the United States uses him as a nuclear deterrent, and Crudup breathes complicated life into his atomic body. I spoke with the surprisingly self-deprecating actor recently about what it took to become a god.

Cole Haddon: So, Billy, Dr. Manhattan looked pretty damn ripped. But you look at you, man. You've really let yourself go since then, haven't you?

Billy Crudup: Take a gander [laughing]. As you can see, the 6-foot-4-inch, 240-pound ripped version was not me. That guy had like 48 shoulders.

CH: You looked good, though.

BC: Why thank you. I've trimmed down since then. You can't play that role for everything.

CH: Could you talk about how you were shot in this film? You had to wear some kind of VFX "Tron" suit to play the physicist turned atomic superhero, right?

BC: I did, exactly. They [were] kind of elaborate pajamas. There were two things they were trying to accomplish. One was motion capture, and the other was to try to light the other characters with the blue light that Dr. Manhattan is supposed to emanate. I had a suit that had a bunch of blue lights on it and a battery pack (that was pretty hot [laughs]) and dots on my face. They were attempting to capture all the nuances of performance, too. Not that there was anything to capture, but they were going to try to capture it, if it was there. The way that they did that was with the dots on my face, and then they shot it with high-definition cameras and then sent it to a leprechaun somewhere, and I have no idea what happens after that.

CH: Then what we're seeing onscreen is entirely your facial performance.

BC: What did you think about the performance, and then I'll tell you.

CH: You were great, but, then again, you always are.

BC: Then it was me [laughs]. I have another answer prepared if [needed]. There were 140 dots on my face, and each of those dots corresponded to the exact replica of me that was made in the computer. That was Dr. Manhattan. The way they made that replica was with high-definition photographs and a laser scan of my face, so it's a computer version of my face that's built into that Dr. Manhattan. Basically, I was just moving the puppet version of me with those dots. It's, for better or worse, my performance.

CH: Dr. Manhattan is essentially an omnipotent god and, as such, has become disconnected from humanity. Since so much of the character is CGI, how did you, the human actor, figure out how he should sound? There's a calmness to his voice tinged with great sadness, I think.

BC: The good part was, it's totally my performance. It is me moving that "puppet." The problem, though, is the body is so vastly different, that a body like [his] would resonate differently than a body like mine. So the placement of the voice is a little bit harder to find. So when I first saw parts of it during ADR, where you're looping over stuff, I thought we needed to tweak it a little bit, maybe change the placement of it a little bit. So some of it was trial and error. The philosophy behind the voice, [director] Zack [Snyder] had some pretty good ideas about how someone with that kind of ability would try to calm the people around him with a not-too-intimidating voice, so we tried to find a placement that was not too Greek god-like. So part of it was that, and part of it was just the nature of someone who's distracted. He was not too interested in the conversations going on around him, he was interested in watching particles interact. It was a strange thing to try to find. It was never totally solved, but always kind of a process.

CH: So when you finally saw your "performance" onscreen, were you like, "Great! That's exactly how I wanted that to happen"? Or did the end result surprise even you?

BC: I am not the most objective viewer of my own work. So I have different thoughts about my work. But I was pleased with the way the whole thing came together.

**Slight Spoilers ahead if you haven't read the graphic novel.**

CH: You and Malin Akerman share a pretty interesting sex scene, in which Dr. Manhattan, who has the ability to be many places at once, initiates his own version of a, um, four way.

BC: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah I did each of those guys.

CH: But Patrick Wilson, who plays Night Owl II, got to do his scenes with Malin "au natural," while you had to wear that uncomfortable Tron suit.

BC: I'm not saying I'm a fetishist [laughs], but it was interesting.

CH: Finally, were you familiar with Watchmen before being cast? Did it have much of an impact on you when you were younger?

BC: If I had been interested in comic books or graphic novels, it would have definitely fallen into my life. I was not into them, but it is my era. It came out in '85, and I was in high school at that time.

CH: In other words, this wasn't a lifelong dream for you.

BC: No. [But] to act in something like this [was].