“He ended up becoming, at least in my strange career, one of the more restrained characters I’ve ever played, with more quiet, more subtlety, more delicacy, fewer words, fewer gestures than I’m normally asked to play,” he explains. “That’s a great relief for me because I’ve always wanted to play a character who needed to do less.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Nelson above.
HBO’s groundbreaking sci-fi hit “Watchmen” is primarily set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in an alternate reality 2019 where embattled police wear masks to protect their identity, a nefarious white supremacist cult terrorizes the city, a select band of officers wear face coverings as they mete out vigilante justice and otherworldly forces threaten all of their very existence.
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. While “Watchmen” contended as a drama at various awards earlier this year, winning numerous prizes across the board, HBO later re-classified it as a limited series for Emmy contention after Lindelof decided not to proceed with a second season.
The series stars Oscar winner and three-time Emmy champ Regina King, Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, Emmy winner Jean Smart and Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. Nelson co-stars as Detective Wade Tillman, a.k.a. alter ego Looking Glass, who covers his whole head and face in a mirror-like reflective mask when interrogating the white supremacists of the nefarious Fifth Cavalry cult. But at his core, he is a deeply troubled cop haunted by his traumatic past.
Nelson was keen to join the cast primarily because of his admiration for Lindelof’s previous work. “I knew from ‘The Leftovers’ that he had an iconoclastic approach to narrative on television, meaning that he wanted to create a show in which you couldn’t predict not only what was going to happen next but how the story was going to be told. I had no idea the extremes to which he would go,” he explains. “I look at this show almost like a cubist piece of art, in which you get everything you need but not on the expected planes of reality and in the way that you’re normally accustomed to seeing stuff.”
The actor is reflective about the show’s uncanny parallels to the convulsive state of American society in 2020, crediting Lindelof for his ability to tap into the zeitgeist. “It’s not only sensitive to the time when we were shooting it, but also prescient,” he says. “Damon has great antennae for what is happening in the culture. Not only do we have the tumult in the wake right now of the George Floyd killing and the horrific racial overtones of that and the exposure of the systemic racism of our country, all dealt with in ‘Watchmen’ in an incredibly sophisticated and sensitive way, but you even have more oblique and unexpected prescience in the show in that the police officers are wearing these masks that seemed to anticipate the pandemic.”
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