Zack Snyder is a cheerful, ebullient, unrhetorical dude who's currently mounting one of the larger and more perilous assaults on pop culture in recent memory. If Watchmen, his extraordinary adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel about pot-bellied superheroes and the end of time, takes off — if it puts those asses in the seats — then Hollywood's image of us, and of what we can and cannot take, will be changed. Snyder, who previously directed a remake of Dawn of the Dead and the Spartan sex comedy (I think that's what it was) 300, spoke to a group of junketing journos in a conference room on the eighth floor of LA's Beverly Hilton last month. The pastries were out of this world.
You've been getting a lot of hostile attention from comic-book fans.
Ah, it could be worse. Every movie I've made, starting with Dawn of the Dead, has been, like, death threats. For real, I got death threats on that one. Really a lot of ire. Did I get protection? No. I was like, "Bring it! Let's see it!"
It was your decision, mainly, to set the movie in the Nixon era, as Alan Moore originally wrote it.
Yeah, I mean, at first there was some talk about updating it, making it about the War on Terror. And I was like, "I'm going to make a movie about the War on Terror? I'm going to comment on US foreign policy as it's happening? Why should anyone give a fuck about my opinion?" You know — Hollywood foreign policy. I wasn't into that.
How do you think audiences are going to handle the strangeness of this movie?
Well, there was the same conversation before 300 came out. You know, what is America gonna think of this? I've made a lot of commercials, and when you're making commercials, nobody cares how much of an artist you are. It's more like, "Here's this dog food. Sell it." And then it works or it doesn't. So I'm aware of that. And when we made 300, we were thinking, nobody's gonna want to see this movie. Middle America is gonna be, like, "A history lesson from a bunch of guys in leather bikinis? Really? You're high. Hollywood has lost its mind." But then we made a lot of money.
My point is only this: everyone has an awesome TV now, you can stay home very happily and not go to the movies and enjoy your giant 60-inch plasma and chill. But there's something about a movie which is just something else — challenging an audience, showing them something they've never seen, taking them to a world they've never been to. Everything in this movie is there by design. There's no mistakes. Not with these actors, and not with these technicians.
Having Malin Akerman play Silk Spectre II and Billy Crudup play Dr. Manhattan — these might be seen as some surprising casting decisions.
Well, with Malin — I mean, she's beautiful, she's got tons of personality, she's just out there. But with Billy, who's pretty intense and he's got his own thing happening, to say that he's gonna be in a superhero movie, that's gonna make people think. And having Billy do Manhattan is just . . . right. Like I said, everything is by design. I mean, I love tone — it's all about that for me. And I love a movie that's self-reflexive. Like Robocop, which does that in a really awesome way. Verhoeven's one of my favorite directors, and with Robocop you can say, "Oh, it's a cool movie about a robot policeman who goes and kicks some ass." Or you can think, "Oh my God! It's an anti-technology movie that's all about man losing touch with his soul."
The sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II is pretty great — the boots, the zips. And you've got Leonard Cohen doing "Hallelujah" over it.
Well, I originally had a different version of "Hallelujah" on that scene — it was the version by Alison Krauss, and it was really beautiful. Too beautiful, as it turned out, because when I showed it to my buddies, they were like, "Wow, you really mean this, this love scene." So I was like, okay, that didn't work. But with the Leonard Cohen, in that moment, it's a little sadder of a song, it's a little bit more twisted, it's a little more broken, which expresses to me what's going on in that scene, between those two characters.
So far, the most popular characters seem to be Rorschach and the Comedian — two of the most disturbed people in the movie. Why do you think that is?
Because people are dark fucking dudes, that's why!