Interview: Billy Crudup on 'Watchmen' and Playing Dr Manhattan

"It was a strange thing to try and find"

Billy Crudup as Dr Manhattan in 'Watchmen.'
Billy Crudup as Dr Manhattan in 'Watchmen.'. © Warner Bros Pictures

Actor Billy Crudup's experience on the set of Warner Bros Pictures' Watchmen (directed by Zack Snyder and based on the bestselling graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons) was different from his fellow cast members. For one thing, he's completely blue. Crudup (Stage Beauty, Big Fish) wore a skintight performance capture outfit in order to play the all-knowing superhero Dr. Manhattan in the 2009 film.

Crudup's character starts out as physicist Jon Osterman, a hard-working man who'd just fallen in love with a beautiful co-worker when he's involved in a horrifying accident in a nuclear lab. The accident transforms him into this immortal, powerful blue being (named Dr. Manhattan by the government) who can manipulate matter and has the ability to see the past, the present and the future all at the same time. About.com spoke to Crudup at the Los Angeles press junket for Watchmen.

On the two-fold purpose of his "elaborate pajamas":

"One was motion capture and the other was to try to light the other characters with the blue light that Dr. Manhattan is supposed to emanate. So I had a suit that had a bunch of blue lights on it and a battery pack -it was pretty hot - and dots on my face. They were attempting to capture all of the nuance of a performance too, not that there was really anything to capture, but they were going to try to capture it if it was there, mistakenly.

The way that they did that was with a bunch of dots on my face, and then they shot it with high definition cameras and then sent it to leprechauns somewhere. I have no idea what happens after that."

On the motion capture used to record his performance:

"There was about 140 dots on my face and each of those dots corresponded to the exact replica of me that was made in the computer that was Dr. Manhattan.

The way that they made that replica was with high definition photographs and a laser scan of my face. So it's a computer version of my face that's built into that Dr. Manhattan. So basically, I was just moving the puppet version of me with those dots. It's, for better or worse, my performance."

On the rest of Dr. Manhattan's body:

"The 6'4, 240 pound ripped version was not me. I think that guy had like 48 inch shoulders."

On playing the dual roles of Jon Osterman and Dr. Manhattan:

"Other actors that I've worked with like no rehearsal at all because the immediacy of discovering something for the first time is for them the most valuable part of their work. But I find that I do my most, I don't know, interesting work for me when I'm very well rehearsed and when I trust the director and the other actors in our combined articulation of a scene. So I really like to know what we all think about the material, what we all think the event of the scene is. Then I like to go about trying to create that."

On finding the right voice for Dr. Manhattan:

"The good part was, again, it's totally my performance so it is me moving that puppet. The problem is though that the body is so vastly different that a body like that would resonate different than a body like mine.

So the placement of the voice was a little bit harder to find and I think when we first saw it, or when I first saw parts of it during ADR where you're kind of looping over stuff, I was like, 'We need to tweak it a little bit and maybe change the placement of it a little bit.' Some of it was trial and error, but in terms of the sort of philosophy behind the voice, Zack [Snyder] had some really great ideas about how someone with that kind of ability would try to calm the people around him with not too intimidating a voice. So we tried to find a placement that was not too Greek god-like."

"Part of it was that, and part of it was just the nature of somebody who is distracted. He was not too interested in the conversations that were happening around him. He was interested in watching particles interact.

So it was a strange thing to try and find. It was never totally solved, but always kind of a process."

On Crudup's voice becoming his signature attribute:

"One of the reasons I was doing voiceovers was because I thought I would fly under the radar. When you start off as an actor, it's wise to take the sort of shotgun approach because it's a very difficult way to make a living. You end up talking to the half a percent of actors who have and are making a living at it. There are 99% of them out there who are looking for work and doing other things to eek by. But what I tried to do was audition for any voiceover, any commercial, anything I could get that would allow me a little bit of income while I was trying to pursue other roles in theater and stuff. It turns out the MasterCard campaign I got because I'd worked with one of the producers from the advertising agency on a demo of something else. So I was working on something not for the residuals, just for the $200 paycheck for the half hour studio fee. So when I went in to do the MasterCard, it was the same kind of thing. I went in for the demo because McCann Erickson was trying to win the account. So when they won the account, MasterCard just said, 'Use whatever person you used in the demo.' It has become a real blessing for me in my career."

Edited by Christopher McKittrick