This post contains plot details for the November 3 Watchmen episode “She Was Killed by Space Junk.”
“She Was Killed by Space Junk” is the third episode of HBO’s Watchmen sequel series—and the first featuring Jean Smart as Laurie Blake, one of the central figures in the original graphic novel. Laurie was the former Silk Spectre, a costumed vigilante debuted by her glamorous mother Sally Jupiter. In the comic—which takes place 30 years before the series—Laurie’s romance with Dr. Manhattan, the most powerful man in the world, is upended by an affair with Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl.
Neither man makes an appearance, exactly, in the new show. But “She Was Killed by Space Junk” is Watchmen’s closest engagement yet with its source material, drawing in Dr. Manhattan’s communications with earth, Nite Owl’s actual owl (Laurie feeds it a mouse, deadpanning that its name is Who), and with restrained characterization, sketching out how her character has spent the last three decades. Smart crackles from the minute she steps onscreen; twice, in just this episode, her crack shot aim fells an assailant before he can retaliate against innocents.
In the original Watchmen, writer Alan Moore seemed to not know what to do with Laurie outside of her romantic entanglements. She’s a young character—Malin Akerman played her in the 2009 film adaptation—and by the time she grows and changes, the story’s over. The new Watchmen introduces a markedly more competent woman in Smart’s Laurie—one who immediately butts heads with Angela (Regina King), who moonlights as Tulsa’s heroine Sister Night.
I spoke to Smart on the phone about her character’s first episode. Smart, who cackled with mirth throughout our phone call, assured me that she might not be able to answer all my questions. “I don’t have a clue” about the backstory, she laughed. But the show’s decision to turn real-life celeb Robert Redford into the nation’s latest celebrity president tickled her fancy. “Is that the Sundance Kid?” she recollected asking, seeing his grainy photo on set. “If he’d wanted,” she told me, he really could have been president. “But I’m sure he never did.”
Vanity Fair: Tell me a little bit about doing this role that was such a major one in the comic.
Jean Smart: You have a responsibility, you know, toward the source material and everything. But something like 34 years have gone by since we last saw her, so—she’s changed. She acts like she’s got everything under control—like she’s got the jump on everybody. It’s interesting to see how she’s dealt with this kind of lonely existence she has.
It’s fun to try to characterize that—someone who’s got that smart-ass sense of humor, but is often kind of using it as a way to keep people away.
She’s been through a lot…. She’s obviously got a lot of anger and pain. And you think, why on earth would she still be waiting for this man who’s kind of superhuman?
But she does miss Dr. Manhattan.
I mean, you never get over your first love. But, come on, Laurie!
The little pay-per-call phone booths to Mars were an incredible detail. As is, of course, that huge blue Dr. Manhattan dildo.
Oh, my god. They sent me the script and when they offered me the part and I’m reading, going “Oh, this is so fun—oh, my God! No, no, no, no, no, no, no.”
That was one of the first things I asked Damon [Lindelof, showrunner]: “Okay, what have you got in store for me?” He was like, No, no, don’t worry, don’t worry…. Then I thought, You know what? It’s a good thing my parents are gone. That’s all.
When I saw that thing I just about died. It’s one thing to read it, and then when they show it to you…. I’m sorry, the thought is painful.
Did you read the comic to prepare?
No, I had never heard of it. I didn’t have time to read it before we started shooting. But they gave me a copy of it and I started making my way through it on my way to New York last week—I went to Comic Con and did a press junket. I got it out again on the plane. It’s a lot. Where was that? Now, who said that?
I literally didn’t have time to read the book. But they gave me as much background as they could, and I met with a couple of the writers who kind of gave me a crash course on Laurie and her relationships.
To me, the script is always what you go with when you look through your guide—research is great, but not if it conflicts with the script. And I just felt like [Lindelof] gave me so much in that first episode. It was one of the best introductions to a character I can imagine. A beautiful gift-wrapped package.
In just this episode, your character has multiple moments where she walks in and commands the whole room. The scene with Looking Glass is amazing.
So. Fun. Tim [Blake Nelson] and I have become buddies. I just adore him. He’s such an amazing actor. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life too. That was our first scene together, so that was sort of fun getting to know each other that way. He’s great.
We know Laurie started out as a vigilante herself, but when we first see her, she’s in full cop mode—and turns out to be prosecuting vigilantes. What happened?
Obviously, she’s got a lot of personal issues…She’s got a great deal of resentment toward her parents, who are masked vigilantes. I think her truth would be that they sort of forced her into the life. But at the same time, it was a very exciting time of her life. She probably misses that a little bit—she was sort of a minor celebrity.
Now, of course, she locks up vigilantes and has very little respect for them or anybody who wears a mask. The whole theme of wearing a mask in the show is very interesting. We find out later why she and how she actually ended up at the FBI. Which we find out in a scene with Jeremy [Irons, who plays Adrian Veidt], actually, toward the end of the season.
He seems like he’s having a great time.
I think he had a really good time. I was very impressed. I didn’t know anything about Jeremy other than about his career, obviously. But that beautiful shot in Wales where he’s galloping across the field. Oh, my God, that is so cool. It’s not all the time you get to shoot in Wales.
I was told he was quite happy to do all the riding. Somebody told me he was actually considering going to the Olympics when he was younger. He’s quite at home on a horsey. [Laughs.]
Viewers have been kept in the dark about what happened to Nite Owl. Is he dead? When did they break up? How did Laurie get his owl?
I don’t really know the answer to most of those questions. I’m hoping we might resolve that a little bit in…season two! Hint, hint!
Laurie’s romances continue into the present too. At the end of the episode—after a brief tease that she might hook up with the senator (James Wolk), she goes for the junior agent Dale Petey (Dustin Ingram), the historian who knows all about her past.
I don’t think anyone saw that one coming.
And he even has a mask! He’s wearing it when she wakes up next to him!
[Laughing.] I know! It was subtle, it was so subtle. His little Lone Ranger mask. I could not stop laughing.
She probably made him wear it! “Hey, before we go any further, where’s that stupid mask you had on the plane?”
After that horrendous day she had, to put it mildly, I think she needed a warm body. Also he was the young guy who kind of idolized her a little bit. And that couldn’t be so bad either. But, oh my God, she was so terrible to him.
[Ingram] is another actor I just fell in love with on the show. I loved all my scenes with him. I mean, actually everybody. Oh, my God, Regina’s incredible.
Your characters don’t like each other.
It was always just a delight. Our relationship kind of changes over the season. At first she’s just sort of a murder suspect, I begin to see that it’s a lot more complicated than that. And then I think I have a bit of a grudging respect for her. And then it almost becomes maybe—could they be friends? No, they’re not going to be friends. [Laughs.] She’s so amazing, we just had such a good time.
Can you tell me anything more about the season?
People are going to be so shocked at the way it ends.
The first episode taught a lot of people about a forgotten piece of history by depicting the Greenwood massacre in Tulsa. What do you find relevant about the series?
The whole idea of fear and fear-mongering. How you can control a population with fear—all the despots and tyrants throughout history have known that. You find what people are frightened of, you’ll have their hearts.
The post Jean Smart on Playing Watchmen’s Hard-Boiled Laurie Blake appeared first on Vanity Fair.