Of all of the expected 2020 Primetime Emmy nominations for HBO’s Watchmen, Jovan Adepo’s nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie emerged as the most surprising of the overall 26 nominations the show received. Not because he didn’t deserve it. Adepo’s performance in “This Extraordinary Being” as a young Will Reeves (played in later years by fellow nominee Louis Gossett Jr.) is an extraordinary feat of acting. Telling the origin story of legendary Watchmen character Hooded Justice, Adepo helped redefine the series’s narrative as one dealing with the racial sins of the past.
Adepo has dialogue in the episode, of course, but large stretches require him to express his heavily conflicting and traumatic internal emotions. Emotions and experiences that stem all the way back to the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. Adepo carries it off brilliantly, earning his first Emmy nomination despite vastly reduced screen time compared to his fellow nominees.
Here, Jovan Adepo dives into the experience and the weight of being in the Watchmen ensemble. He shares how he engineered those moments of intense rage. He also reveals what most impacted him as a part of this iconic limited series.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination! I know that must have been a huge surprise.
Jovan Adepo: Absolutely! A surprise and an honor to say the least. I have been really excited to share this moment with my loved ones. So, it’s been a really cool last couple of weeks.
AD: That’s awesome. How does it feel to know that you made such a significant impression on voters, particularly since you were in just the one episode “This Extraordinary Being” rather than across all eight episodes of Watchmen?
JA: Oh, it was an overwhelming feeling, but I knew that the episode was really well received almost immediately after the episode aired. As far as social media, as soon as that episode came out, I knew that a lot of people were really responding to it, but even then I still had no idea that the Academy would feel it was enough to give me a nomination. As I said before, it was a pleasant surprise, and it’s just really cool to get to share this nomination with my cast mates and with the other nominees.
AD: When I watched that episode months in advance of its premiere, I couldn’t wait for people to see it and to react to it. It was my favorite episode of the season, by far, because it’s just so brilliantly made and acted. It’s just perfection really, in my opinion.
JA: Thank you! I really appreciate it. And that was something that I felt even when Damon [Lindelof] first told me about the part. It was one of those things where, as an actor, we’re always looking for those strong narratives and those strong characters and complex characters. It’s almost like you know it as soon as you come across it. It’s either it’s there or it isn’t. Within the first five minutes of him explaining to me this world that he was creating and all of the characters and what he needed for me to be able to play this character, I just knew I was like, ‘Damon, you don’t have to sell me on it. Sign me up. Tell me when I need to be there.’ I was just ready for it.
It was such an intimidating task, but, I mean, that’s why we do it, right? If you’re going to play something that’s immediately like you or something that you feel is within your range all the time, then you’re not really pushing yourself. So, I was excited at the prospect of getting to play Will Reeves, aka Hooden Justice. So I was I was on board almost immediately.
AD: “This Extraordinary Being” is very seismic in terms of the impact on the Watchman universe – finding out who Hooded Justice was and having a confirmation of his relationship with Captain Metropolis. Did you have an idea or understanding just how critical that was to the Watchmen universe coming into this project?
JA: I was vaguely familiar with the material. I’d seen the movie, and I was just barely familiar with with the graphic novel. I thought it was interesting how they were able to add these details about Hooded Justice and about his backstory without without pissing off the hardcore fans. In actuality, a lot of the great detail about Hooded Justice was left to be conceptualized or to be assumed by readers and by fans. I think it was a responsibility and just a really clever way for the writers to take what was assumed and what was conceptualized about Hooded Justice and paint within the lines and add a little bit to it without completely turning on their backs on the source material.
I thought it was a really creative way to tell his story but also make it fit into the grand scheme of the Watchmen series. It was done responsibly and sincerely. As you can see, I feel like if it was a problem or if it was like a big issue, we would definitely hear about it from the Watchmen fan base, but I think people were like, ‘Wow, okay. I didn’t see that as being a possibility but it fits!’ So I think it all worked out well. Obviously, the people have spoken and are really accepting of the creative direction they took this character.
AD: Absolutely. So when we first see Will in the episode, he’s graduating from the police academy. That’s the first time that we’ve seen Will, in terms of chronology, since the Tulsa 1921 opening of the series. As an actor, when you’re stepping into that role, do you have a backstory for him worked out as to why he would seek to become a police officer?
JA: Absolutely. So from early age, he was already kind of seeing what he wanted to do with his life as far as fighting for justice and fighting for the greater good and the common man. So, what I did was after Damon gave me the spine of the trajectory in his timeline, I worked with Regina [King] and with Danielle Deadwyler, who played June wonderfully by the way, to kind of try to get an idea what our journey was like. And of course, we asked questions of all the writers and of Stephen [Williams, director] about what he thought our journey was because it’s a long way from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to New York as a child.
There are a lot of moments that you can create as far as him going through puberty and him trying to find and earn an education. There was so much that we were able to do, and we really could have taken it in a bunch of different directions. For the sake of time, we had to streamline and have base level conversations about really significant moments in his and June’s life and how that would inform the kind of behavior that you see when you first meet both of them. We took it from there and just played from that point.
AD: There are a lot of gut-wrenching scenes in this episode. One of the most difficult is the scene where Will is kidnapped by his fellow officers and hung in the tree. That’s followed by the scene where Will snaps, and that moment becomes the origin of Hooded Justice. How did you as an actor amp yourself up to get to that heightened emotional state to be able to so accurately portray that vengeance and that rage?
JA: Well, I think it’s always different with different parts that you take on, and I really don’t have like this formula as to how I get to those points. I can tell you that it feels really good to have filmmakers and creative minds who are bringing these products together. It feels good to have their complete faith and confidence in you and your performance. That was something that I received from Damon over the phone before I even accepted the job. So, this was coming from him saying I just know you can do it. Coming from that, it was just the level of confidence that I had going into this part. When you’re going into these suggestive scenes and these really, really traumatic experiences that are being captured on film, you just have to kind of let yourself go. There was a conversation that I had with Stephen.
The first day that I walked into the production office, he sat down with me and Danielle, and we went over the concept art. We talked about the scenes and why it was important that we were shooting them as raw and as intimate as possible. It’s because this is a learning experience for our viewers. We obviously have things in this story and in this show that are going to attract people to want to watch it, but what’s going to make them stay is because they’re going to feel like they’re seeing something really special. They’re going to see something that has not been watered down. You saw in the first episode, when it comes to the Tulsa massacre, there were so many people around the world that didn’t even know that that existed.
The reason why they were so open to receive it was because of the way that it was showcased to them and because we weren’t afraid to be raw and be real and sincere and truthful. I think Stephen wanted to get that message across to all of his actors in this episode. He wanted us to be patient, to be sincere, and to be honest with every action that you do in this in this episode. He told us if there’s any moment that you’re feeling uncomfortable, let us know, and we’ll do whatever we need to do to get you to the right point. When you’re ready, we’ll get it all captured on film.
AD: It must be fantastic as an actor to know that you’ve got that kind of support structure not only from your peers but also from the directors, the producers, and the writers who are all there to help support you every second,
JA: Absolutely! It feels great because these are all amazing minds. This was, I have to say I’m trying to sound as unbiased as possible, one of the greatest television series that I’ve ever come across as far as how it really hit people and how it really affected people on a mass scale. It’s not a gloating kind of moment that I’m trying to take, but this was a show that declared itself and told everyone we’re only gonna have one season. Across the board with the nominations, that means there is a level of excellence and a level of expectation for just hard work in every department from the show. Yeah, it feels good to say I was a part of that puzzle. We all took our time to make something beautiful.
AD: Yeah, it’s a really special project because it’s not every year that you get something that introduces an event in American history that the overwhelming majority of the American population had no idea existed.
JA: Right? It’s insane. It was almost like a domino effect because people started researching why it wasn’t mentioned in school books and why it’s not taught in universities. It became wildfire. It doesn’t happen in a lot of TV. We have a lot of television programs out there now. In 2020, there’s so much TV. There’s so much content that’s available. You can get lost in TV. I just felt really fortunate that I got to be a part of this labor of love. It’s been really cool to just see people latch on to it.
AD: So you have several intense moments within the episode. Of course, you had that support system there, but as an actor, what would you look back and say was the most stretching or the most challenging for you to take on?
JA: I would have to say the scene following the ambush by Will’s fellow officers. I mean, specifically that moment of walking down the alleyway only because it’s really difficult to do scenes when you’re not speaking. Trying to convey emotions and not having the luxury of words. I’ve been fortunate to have been given that task in multiple projects that I’ve done. When you’re kind of green in the industry, you’re counting your lines. But I kind of I was fortunate to learn from a lot of different actors – Michael Kelly from House of Cards who I worked with on Jack Ryan and then Mahershala Ali. I spoke to them about figuring out how I can be present and speak my truth as this character when there’s nothing on the page. Both of them expressed a similar sentiment.
Anybody can tell you how heartbroken, how in love, how angry, how whatever they are with words. We can all do that. It takes a certain type of patience and a certain type of care to be able to express how you’re feeling without saying anything. In that scene, the reason why it was difficult was because Stephen really, really needed to see the transition from victim to enforcer. To see while he’s recovering from this moment with the police and then seeing a couple going through a similar moment of fear. Will wanting to stop them from feeling that way. He didn’t want them to feel what he felt, that this was going to be the last time that they’re going to be able to live and take their breath. So he needed to do something about it. Stephen wanted to see all of that in a matter of 10 to 15 seconds. It was like a switch.
AD: Yeah, absolutely. It stretches you as an actor to try to take on moments like that too. You had Fences, of course, which you were great in. That’s a play, so it’s dialogue driven. Watchmen‘s Will isn’t necessarily dialogue driven. Yours is a very visual performance, so it’s a unique opportunity, I would think, as an actor.
JA: Absolutely. That’s something that you kind of notice, something you need to do. He had tons of things to say throughout the episode, but you can argue that he was his most true self when he was behind the mask. That’s something I had to convey through eyeholes. So again, it was something that was really exciting. Plus, the child in you always thinks it’s really cool to get to put on a cape and put on a costume and pretend to be Batman. I was a 30 year old living out my dream in that moment.
AD: Aside from the Emmy nomination, when you look back on this project, what is it that you’ll take away from it?
JA: I think just getting the opportunity to work with talented individuals, and I mean across the board, the cast and crew. Just getting to share this moment of excellence with the entire cast. Across the board, everybody was brilliant and even outside of the episode in which I participated. It was just a complete treat to get to watch each and every episode and just see everybody’s talent shine. I’m just glad that I could be a piece of it.