Watchmen star Jean Smart on the surprising contents of Laurie's briefcase
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the third episode of Watchmen, “She Was Killed by Space Junk.”
After two episodes, viewers finally met Jean Smart’s Laurie Blake on Watchmen Sunday night. Thirty-five years after the events of the comic, the former vigilante known as Silk Spectre and the Comedienne became an FBI agent who now hunts vigilantes. In tonight’s episode, her job took her to Tulsa to investigate Chief Crawford’s murder, and she ended up butting heads with the masked local law enforcement, especially Detective Angela Abar (Regina King), a.k.a. Sister Night.
Even though Laurie is clearly contemptuous of masked vigilantes (and her past as one), the situation is more complicated than that. Not only did she spend half the episode telling Doctor Manhattan an extended joke via a payphone that can reach Mars, but it was also revealed that she carries around a briefcase that contains, well, a Doctor Manhattan sex toy and a copy of an Esquire cover she did several years ago. She definitely hasn’t moved past her past as much as she wants people to believe.
After watching the episode, EW hopped on the phone to chat with Smart about playing one of the characters from the original comic, the surprising contents of the briefcase, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After Legion, were you looking to do another comic book TV show?
JEAN SMART: No, I wasn’t. It’s funny you asked that because when [Legion creator] Noah [Hawley] asked me if I could do his new show Legion, he didn’t really tell me what it was about specifically, which was fine with me because after doing Fargo with him, it was just sort of, “You tell me when to show up, I’m there.” But I felt stupid because I was doing a couple of interviews with journalists and they were saying things like, “So you’re going to be in a superhero show. That’s wild. Have you ever done that genre before?” And I said, “I don’t know. No, you must be confused. I’m not doing it.” You know, made a complete fool of myself. But to answer your question, no. And I was not familiar with Watchmen at all. But I am now.
You’re one of the few actors playing a character from the comics. When you joined, did you go back and read the comic, or did Damon Lindelof give you a breakdown of who Laurie was?
I didn’t have much time before we started shooting, so I didn’t have time to read the book until after we started, and I started working my way through it. Also I met with one of the writers and she gave me a major crash course in Laurie Juspeczyk and her background and her relationships. That part was intense, but that’s the only advantage really of playing a character that’s 34 years later, you know, so that it kind of gives you a lot of freedom. I loved the script so much and the way the character was written that I just went with that.
Once you started reading the comic, did that inform your performance in any way?
It didn’t change the way I approached the character because I liked the way the character was written, and I trusted that that is what Damon wanted and he seemed happy. But it certainly gave me background information like, for instance, her relationship with her parents and what she knew about Adrian Veidt and Nite Owl. It certainly [gave] me some good historical background, but it didn’t really change the way I approached the character because I just felt like she was so well written that I kinda figured out certain things about her. She’s such an incredibly private, lonely person, and carrying a torch for a guy who lives on another planet for 30 years. I mean, that’s an interesting person.
Yeah, there was this palpable sense of loneliness in her extended phone call with Doctor Manhattan. But also some defiance at the end of her joke, too. What did you make of her jokes?
I know the joke is very strange. You could interpret it in so many ways. She acts like she’s trying to make him laugh or amuse him or something. But yes, there’s obviously her in that story. I’m still figuring some of that stuff out, and I’m still going back to the book sometimes and looking at certain scenes again and I kind of have to remember, “Oh now, who was that? When was that? Who did what to whom?”
Have your feelings about the joke changed between shooting the scenes and now?
It probably has subliminally. I haven’t tried to psychoanalyze it too much. I think sometimes with certain things you can analyze something to death, and that just kind of doesn’t work very well. I think it always has to have stuff that’s kind of bubbling under the surface. I think it’s more interesting if you’re not entirely sure what it means.
After we meet Laurie for the first time in the episode, she returns home and opens a briefcase that contains a blue light, but we can’t see what it is. When you got that point in the script, did you already know what was going to be in there, or did you not figure it out until the end?
No, I did not know until I got to the end of the script. I was so excited, because I’m going, “I’m definitely going to say yes to this offer because I really like this script, I really like this character. Oh s—! Oh God…” Yeah. That didn’t thrill me, but it worked out okay. [Laughs]
It’s obviously funny, but it also speaks to her complicated relationship with her past.
It’s just kind of pathetic. Here’s this person who likes to think of herself, I think, and acts as if she’s in total control and has every situation figured out and can intimidate anybody she wants, who’s obviously still incredibly vulnerable in a lot of ways. What does that say about a woman? She obviously doesn’t deny herself human interaction when she really wants it, but she still leads a pretty lonely existence. She only has black suits in her closet and a pet owl. That’s kind of sad.
As you said, Laurie thinks she can intimidate anyone, but then she meets Angela, who doesn’t respond to that —
Ooooooh, I know! And you don’t see it coming. It’s like, “Oh snap!” [Laughs] She’s going, “That didn’t go the way I thought it was going to go,” to put it mildly.
What was it like to dig into that material with Regina, and where does that dynamic go from here?
It’s fun to watch how the relationship changes. It kind of goes up and down and up and down, and you can see how in other circumstances these women could be friends, or certainly co-workers that really respected each other. But it starts out in such a bad place because first of all, Angela is a masked vigilante. Laurie knows that and figures that out almost immediately. And also the fact that she’s one of the lead murder suspects when Laurie gets to Tulsa. So it’s interesting to see how that goes. I think she figures out pretty quickly that that’s probably not the case, but she knows that there’s a lot that Angela’s not telling her.
Laurie has all this contempt for masked vigilantes, but she still behaves like one in some ways — like how she puts three bullets in Mr. Shadow’s back and kills the Rorschach.
Both she and Angela are not exactly model law enforcement. [Laughs] That’s the thing that’s great: Even our heroes are not really heroic all the time in the show, and you always feel like even they are on shaky ground, that you wouldn’t be surprised if anything bad happened to them, either. They always feel like they’re just kind of fragile in a funny way. But yeah, I think she’s got such resentment for her mother, resentment for the Comedian. Her excuse is that they forced her into the life, but I think she actually did like it and enjoy it, and it was a very exciting time for her life. That’s when she met Doctor Manhattan and fell madly in love with him, and she was so young. She’s probably still a little bit jealous and misses that a little bit, but I do also think she thinks at the same time that they’re ridiculous and dangerous, which they kind of are. I think there’s tiny bit of mask envy.
Watchmen airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.