"I didn't really realize how much I cared until my heart started racing," the showrunner says.

It's perhaps only fitting that the TV show with the most Emmy nominations in 2020 is about people who wear masks.

And having covered-up characters is just one way HBO's racially conscious update of Watchmen was ahead of the cultural conversation this year. On Tuesday morning, the limited series racked up 26 Emmy nods — including Outstanding Drama Series and acting nominations for Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jovan Adepo, Louis Gossett Jr., and Jean Smart.

Showrunner Damon Lindelof spoke to EW about his reaction to the news, as well as how all this Emmy love impacts his previous statements that he's looking to step away from Watchmen rather than try to double down with another season.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you had to expect some nominations this morning, but were you surprised at how many there were, particularly how many members of your cast were honored?

DAMON LINDELOF: The honest answer is yes. I expect nothing in this day and age, and I think that it's hard to put too much stock and invest in award shows. But at the same time, we all have to acknowledge that they mean something because it's our peers. I didn't really realize how much I cared until my heart started racing. The first nomination that I saw them read off was Jeremy Irons, and my wife and I both shrieked out loud. It was all great news from there. The best part of it is not how many nominations, but it's all these people that I worked with over the course of two years, my creative partners, whether they worked in the camera department or the sound mixing or they were composing the score or doing the costumes. Obviously there's a disproportionate amount of attention that's put on the storytelling and the acting, but for so many people who put so many long hours and weekends into this, they really cared about this show. But we haven't made an episode of Watchmen in a year now. So the most wonderful part of the day is just having the excuse to call other humans up and not say, "How are you doing in the midst of a pandemic?" But to actually say, "Hey, congrats on this incredible work that you did." It's really been wonderful.

Credit: Mark Hill/HBO

Was there any nomination in particular that you felt particularly moved by?  

Every single one is one that I am deeply appreciative of. You know, Lou Gossett Jr. getting nominated was really emotionally impactful just because I've worshiped him from afar as just a lover of cinema and storytelling since I was a kid. He bowled me over, and he did such incredible work. And then like Liza Richardson, who was our music supervisor, who worked on The Leftovers. I really feel like just the music supervision is an art form, and it was just great to see her sort of singled out and recognized for that.

And of course I have to ask if all this has the potential to impact the calculus in your head about whether you're truly done with Watchmen. I could see it going either way. Because on one hand, I'm sure WarnerMedia is now going to be knocking on your door every day, if they're not already, for another season. But on the other hand, you could feel like, "Now I even feel more like I got it right the first time, so I'm done."

If anything, I've gone back and I've checked the calculus and it checks out. I'm so proud of the work that we all did. But this show only worked because other [writers] told the story and I got out of the way, and that was not easy for me. I'm not saying this because I'm being modest; I'm a narcissist, for sure, but in the case of Watchmen, the magic occurred and that could never be replicated. So many of those storytellers have now gone on to run their own shows and to other projects. Even Regina is directing and producing her own movie. So there's not going to be an Ocean's Twelve. The big incentive for me would have been not to do more Watchmen but to work with that same group of artists, and they've all scattered to the wind. So I hope there's more Watchmen. It's one of those rare comic books that transcends what people think when you say "comics." The idea can hold real cultural conversations or deep dives into American history, or criticisms of, of law and order — those things are evergreen. I really feel like that space is now open for others to come and play in, and I really look forward to what they do with it.

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