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Patrick Wilson masters 'Watchmen' role with flaws and effect

Patrick Wilson has appeared in every kind of movie except a blockbuster, although Lakeview Terrace opened strong last summer.

The Alamo and The Phantom of the Opera faded faster than expected. Though the former St. Petersburg resident's work in Little Children and Hard Candy was critically praised, such defiantly nonmainstream films don't make a lot of money.

Wilson's box office fortunes will likely change Friday when Watchmen debuts. Based on Alan Moore's revered graphic novel, the super(anti)hero flick already has a built-in audience ready to camp in line. It's possible that more moviegoers will see Wilson play Nite Owl II in Watchmen than in his previous 12 movies combined.

Wilson recently took time away from promoting the movie in Europe to chat with the St. Petersburg Times about Watchmen, a cringing similarity among his recent films and his first-ever movie merchandise.

Big difference between promoting Watchmen and indie films like Little Children or Hard Candy?

It's really phenomenal. What's interesting is to have this huge fan base that's dedicated and very protective but also very specific. Outside of comic book fans, I don't think people know what Watchmen is. That's exciting, not only to give the fans something they're excited about but also to bring in a whole new audience that wouldn't necessarily go to this type of movie.

Is it true that you didn't know much about Alan Moore's graphic novel when the role was offered?

I had heard of it. I wasn't a comic book fan growing up, but one of my best friends is a die-hard. We were roommates 17 years ago and he would go out every Wednesday to buy comics. Every time I would get a comic-based screenplay over the past few years — and there have been a few — I would call him and ask: "What is this comic like, and what does it mean to the comic world?"

As soon as I got (the) Watchmen (screenplay), he said: "Oh, God. If you're ever to do a comic book movie, this is the one to do." So, there's a sense of excitement about it, and also nervousness because fans take a lot of pride in this. I read (the script) and was blown away. Then I started studying the graphic novel and understood it really pulls the rug out from under every other comic. It's the deconstruction of the American superhero.

How is Dan Dreiberg — Nite Owl II — different from previous superheroes?

He's a slightly overweight, down-on-his-luck Clark Kent who doesn't fit into society anymore because masked avengers were outlawed in the 1970s. He has a real struggle with his identity and what the Nite Owl suit means to him. Dan is the most human of all these characters, the most sensitive, the most real.

He's also impotent, physically impotent, so the role goes to the base of what it means to be a man; what makes you feel empowered and masculine.

There's a trend in your movies: In Hard Candy your character believed he was being castrated, Little Children had Jackie Earle Haley doing that to himself, now Dan's impotence. Are you trying to tell us something?

You mean, is it some sort of sexual dysfunction? No, I'm proud to say that as the father of a beautiful boy, no, everything is in order.

Please, not only did I do Watchmen, but I did Barry Munday (coming in 2009), where the character actually has, um, "them" removed. There has just been a theme of emasculated men. I love complex characters and it just so happens that in the past several years there's been some kind of sexual dysfunction. Not the same topic, so at least I can vary it a little.

Superheroes typically become action figures and lunch boxes. But Nite Owl gets his own coffee?

Man, I can't say enough about the coffee. Not only does it taste great but half the proceeds go to charity. We joked about it during shooting because Nite Owl drinks a lot of coffee. Clay Enos, our photographer, said we should do Nite Owl coffee. I thought it was a great idea. Six months later he says: "I got it. We're going to do it." I was blown away.

I talked to Dad (WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor John Wilson) today and he asked if it's real coffee. I said, yeah, it's great coffee, organic and a great blend. So, buy your Nite Owl coffee, drink it and save the can.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365.

Patrick Wilson masters 'Watchmen' role with flaws and effect 03/04/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 5, 2009 6:40am]

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