“It’s eerie and profoundly disturbing,” declares director Nicole Kassell about the uncanny parallels between real life events and HBO’s “Watchmen.” In our recent webchat, she adds, “The opening lines of ‘Watchmen’ are ‘trust in the law… The whole story is really about what happens when someone can’t and the generational pass-down of that trauma. And here we are making TV shows about it and watching it in real time.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Kassell above.
In “Watchmen,” masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws by government agencies in an alternate reality 2019 where actor Robert Redford is the President of the United States and cities are deluged by storms of squid falling from the sky. They band together to fight a nefarious white supremacist cult and other otherworldly forces led by Oscar and three-time Emmy winner Regina King, who plays Angela Abar (a.k.a. Sister Night), a Tulsa Police detective by day and nun’s habit and balaclava wearing crime-fighter by night. Acclaimed writer/producer Damon Lindelof (“Lost” and “The Leftovers”) developed the series for TV based on the 1987 DC Comics series created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which debuted late last year to rave reviews from critics and fans, a decade after the Zack Snyder film adaptation of the same name.
“Watchmen” contended as a drama at various awards earlier this year, with Kassell winning Best Drama Directing at the Directors Guild for the pilot episode. The series also won Best New Series at the Writers Guild and the Critics’ Choice Awards for Best Drama Actress (King) and Best Drama Supporting Actress (Jean Smart). HBO has since re-classified it as a limited series for Emmy contention as Lindelof has seemingly decided not to proceed with a second season.
Kassell is amazed at how prescient “Watchmen” has been about recent events that took place months after Watchmen aired. “When Covid first hit the States, I said to Damon, I feel like we’re living in a mashup of all three of his shows. We’re ‘Lost’ on our own islands, we’re grieving hundreds of thousands of people we’re losing and now everyone’s wearing masks and the way that masks are altering the way people behave is stark and striking and then the events of the last week, which are beyond harrowing and horrific.”
Kassell reveals that she will submit the pilot episode, “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” for Emmy consideration this year, which is a very good call because pilot episodes are often recognized by the TV academy. The director is proud of her work on the episode because it deftly sets the scene for the following eight episodes of the series and particularly because it dramatizes the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, an often forgotten chapter in American history.
“It was the hardest thing I have ever done technically and emotionally to actually recreate this historic massacre that has not been taught or shown before,” Kassell recalls. “The responsibility felt enormous to be truthful and do the story justice but also how to take care of the cast and crew, both physically and emotionally in the filming of it because we’re asking people to recreate these horrific events.”
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