The season finale (and perhaps series finale) of Watchmen had quite a conclusion for James Wolk’s character, a dastardly Republican senator Joe Keene Jr.
Spoilers ahead: In the final moments of episode nine, “See How They Fly,” Keene gave a classic villains’ monologue, stripped to his skimpy black Dr. Manhattan-inspired briefs, stepped into a chamber in hopes of becoming an all-powerful god, and was liquified into a flood of human goop.
For Wolk (Shameless, Mad Men, Billions) the HBO drama represented the rare totally antagonistic role for an actor who’s best known for his easy charisma (well, Keene was charismatic too — just also a white supremacist megalomanic).
“This was such a joy to make this show,” Wolk says. “Everyone brought such a great spirit of collaboration and inclusivity. It felt like we’re making something really interesting and important.”
While seemingly one of the few main characters who did not have a costumed alter ego, Wolk points out that his character had a secret identity too. “Not to get too deep, but I’m wearing the mask of a really nice, affable Senator while the real Keene was a racist, bad person — so that was his mask,” Wolk notes.
Looking back on the season, Wolk says one of his favorite moments was his one-on-one scene giving a speech to Tim Blake Nelson’s captive Wade Tillman (a.k.a. Looking Glass). “My character does a lot of talking in that scene, and just watching what Tim Blake Nelson can do with silence — just his looks and totally experiencing the scene without talking. To have a partner in Tim and to be able to play off of him, I was able to really sink into the character with him.”
For the finale where he prepares to try to capture Dr. Manhattan’s powers, Wolk says he was relieved when he was told his character wouldn’t have to get fully nude like Yahya Mateen II’s Dr. Manhattan. “I knew that scene was coming and I was like, Okay, how is this going to work?’ And I was relieved when I was told I was going to be wearing the black Speedo. I mean that being said, there was a lot to bear with that, but I was grateful to have it.”
Wolk hasn’t settled on his next role yet, but hopes Watchmen brings more opportunities to play characters that contrast with his earlier work. “I’m just looking for something that’s really going to challenge me, like Watchman, so it’s not the same thing over and over again, and get the opportunity to show different sides.”