Watchmen: The Billy Crudup Dr. Manhattan Interview

Watchmen’s Pentagon egghead Dr. Manhattan, alias Jonathan Osterman, can now add a third identity to his crimefighting resume: Billy Crudup. Switching it up from edgy sensitive guy characters to that glow in the dark gigantic gym body nuked superhero, Crudup stopped by to explain himself and his erratic personality choices on the big screen, and going through the process of geeking out on Watchmen lore. He also pondered the difference between cool and cold when it comes to nudity in movies, which in any case, is pretty much Greek to him.

You don’t exactly seem like a Dr. Manhattan sorta guy, what gives?

BILLY CRUDUP: Not as soon as you read the material, it’s right up my alley. Listen, I’ve been lucky to work, period. Your career is a construction of what people give you the opposite to do. So it’s not all from my design.

And I typically gravitate towards people I don’t fully understand. You know, characters in the midst of a transition. And they’re often morally ambiguous.

And there are things for me to learn about people and life in the process of learning about these projects. So I was flabbergasted there was something out there that so suited my taste.


Well, it was often hard to tell it was you, the digital effects were amazing.

BC: This is me the whole time. There is a puppet version of me in the computer that I’m manipulating. I did the motion capture. I stood there on a box and pretended to move matter, but that wasn’t my job. It was weird.

Here’s the thing, there is an exact replica of me in a computer that’s a different hue, and that I am mimicking what I was doing. They transferred it properly, they did an accurate thing. But the constraints of the character made it tough.

Were you cool with the nudity too?

BC: I thought it was a little diminished. But on Mars it was…cold!

Um, that’s the glib response. I don’t know what to say about this. In the novel he’s nude, so I assumed he’d be nude. Here’s the superhero again, but nude. It’s based on the Greek.

Is Manhattan’s issue that he’s been removed from humanity?

BC: His issue is that he has more important things on his mind, like the creation of matter. He’s interested in what’s irrelevant to us. We need to eat, be connected and stay warm, and none of those motivations mean anything to him. He’s distracted. And his discovery of it is, he finds love.

Were you one of those geeked out readers of the graphic novel?

BC: Basically, I’m not an actor who consciously references other material. Some actors are really good at using other source material to shrewdly or intelligently fold an ancient reference into their character. I use the script, and my imagination.

If there is any resemblance, that character serves as an interesting metaphor. What would a person in the form of a human be like in the absence of their own humanity. Alan Moore was quite cheeky about giving the guy with all the power in the world no humanity, for the vast part of his journey.

What about cultivating the quirky attitude?

BC: For sure, when you’re trying to figure out a character like Dr. Manhattan, you look for any nugget. It wasn’t just in the graphic novel, but in our script too.

Were you surprised when you found out what a huge following digs Watchmen?

BC: In any other form, a movie or TV or novel with few pictures, I’d probably come across it. But because it was a graphic novel, I relegated it to another category. When I read this script, I was so surprised there was this whole popular culture orbiting around that I had access to, and that now I feel such a kinship with.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.