Entertainment

Jovan Adepo on That Big 'Watchmen' Scene: 'You're Supposed to Feel Uncomfortable'

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Adepo as Will Reeves | Mark Hill/HBO
Adepo as Will Reeves | Mark Hill/HBO
This article contains massive spoilers for "This Extraordinary Being," the sixth episode of HBO's Watchmen. Also see our interview with episode co-writer Cord Jefferson.

It's exhilarating to watch Watchmen Episode 6, "The Extraordinary Being," which crams about ten revelations into one hour of television. Why have we been in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this whole time, instead of, I dunno, a big city like New York?? As it turns out, it's the birthplace of Hooded Justice, the very first costumed adventurer who started this alternate America's obsession with crimefighters in masks. And who is Hooded Justice? He's Will Reeves, the mysterious old man in a wheelchair (played by Louis Gossett Jr.) who we now know is definitively the grandfather of Angela Abar (Regina King).

Actor Jovan Adepo, who plays young Will when we catch up to him in the past, tells Thrillist in an interview that he's psyched for his single-episode surprise appearance. "It's such an interesting character," he says. "We're talking about somebody who was dealing with a lot of early trauma in his life, and getting to see that trauma manifest itself in his life in different stages of it, and how he uses it to become a really special figure."

Lindelof-heads may recognize Adepo from The Leftovers, where he played Michael Murphy, the son of Regina King's character, although he'd bulked up for his role in Netflix's When They See Us and was practically in the gym preparing to lose it all again when he got tapped for Watchmen. "Damon called me," he said, "which is not the most extraordinary thing to happen because he keeps in touch often, so I'm used to talking to him. He's like, 'Don't slim down, I want to keep you solid-looking,' and I was like, 'What the hell are you talking about?'"

Lindelof started talking through his idea for the show, the Tulsa Massacre, and the bare bones of what he was planning to do. "It was an hour conversation, but within, like, the first five minutes I knew that I wanted to do it," says Adepo. "I had this really deep appreciation for him because he gave me my first job, and just because he's a phenomenal writer and storyteller, so it was really a no-brainer to want to come in and get to work with him again."

watchmen
Hooded Justice arrives | Mark Hill/HBO

Adepo hadn't read the comic, but wasn't unfamiliar with how Watchmen's parent company liked to get gritty with their superhero tales: "I was already a fan of DC Comics in general, just because I really like the way DC is not afraid to tell stories from a really dark and traumatic place in the heroes' lives. It's nice to see that a lot of these heroes become heroes out of trauma, and out of necessity." Naturally, he wanted to find out everything he could about Hooded Justice after his talk with Lindelof. "His identity was already so hidden in the graphic novel," Adepo explained. "Just getting to know the key things about him that people do know for sure, and being able to blend that in with Damon's version of Watchmen -- I think that was really just expert execution on their part." 

Hooded Justice was always the most mysterious of the Minutemen: though we know he'd had at least one homosexual relationship with a fellow hero, he never revealed his identity even after all his comrades retired, and many believed him to be an East German circus strongman whose murdered body was found mere months after Hooded Justice finally disappeared for good. Never would anyone have suspected that he wasn't a white man. 

"That was the easier way for people to accept it," Adepo said. "They had every right to think that, because in the comic he was always identified as a white man, built like a thick wrestler type." (Even in Watchmen's show-within-a-show, Hooded Justice is played by blue-eyed Ryan Murphy mainstay Cheyenne Jackson.) "The sweet thing about his identity just never being confirmed in the graphic novel was that Damon and the writers were able to find a way to make that story fit into their universe." 

watchmen
Adepo as young Will Reeves | Mark Hill/HBO

Adepo described Will's journey over the course of the episode as "heartbreaking." Nothing he tries works out: his fellow police officers commit heinous, terrifying violence against him, and his fellow superheroes downplay everything he cares about. "He got a bit of a rude awakening finding out that the Minutemen were serving as almost like a gimmick for people to dress up as 'costumed adventurers.' Will was like, 'Costumed adventurer? What the fuck? I'm trying to do something good here. I'm not trying to have adventures. This isn't a game for me.' And you and I both know what lifestyle he was hiding other than his being a black man: being a young black man who was bisexual. He could barely get away with being black in the 1930s, but being gay as well?" 

Though it's set in an alternate universe pretty far removed from our own, Watchmen pulls no punches in tearing through America's racist past and present. "A lot of the audience who's going to be seeing the massacre, they're going to be seeing it for the first time, especially when you're talking about people who were born after the '90s, who just aren't getting exposed to this in school anymore," Adepo explained. "It was our responsibility to tell this moment in history with sincerity, and to not be afraid of the uncomfortable, because telling it in all of this ugliness and all of this truth is the only way to really do it." 

To that end, the most shocking moment of the episode comes pretty early on, when a group of Will's fellow policemen throw a noose around his neck and string him up from a tree in a moment of horrifying cruelty. (Given Hooded Justice's costume, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense.) "I don't think I've ever seen that on TV, or in a movie, even," Adepo said. "I don't think I've ever seen a bird's-eye view of someone getting lynched. I think that's gonna fuck a lot of people up. You're supposed to feel uncomfortable. This isn't supposed to make you feel jolly at the end of the day. We're trying to have something to say." 

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.