Jeffrey Dean Morgan is used to smiling in comic book films, but on April 23, the man once known as The Comedian will have a reason to be cracking up that isn't sadistic. Well known for playing the most vital supporting role in "Watchmen," the actor steps into leading man status with Sylvain White's Warner Bros. adaptation of "The Losers" – the Vertigo comic series by Andy Diggle and Jock. And as ex-spook Frank Clay, Morgan gets a chance to carry a film for the first time with the ensemble action piece.
The actor spoke with CBR while on the film's Puerto Rico set about how this fast-paced action movie compares to the highly stylized "Watchmen," what other comic book character he'd like to play (hint: picture a Main Main), why he's getting ready to leave his stunt work in the hands of professionals and whether or not he'll return to "Supernatural" in the near future.
CBR: What has shooting "The Losers" been like? We see a little bit of bloody makeup on your forehead.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan: That's not makeup - that was a head-butt that went awry. It's been awesome! Other than the unrelenting heat that you're now experiencing. It's been a really great shoot and a really great cast. It's fun getting to work every day unlike "Watchmen" where I worked once a week. I'm here every day, and that's a lot of time to interpret this character and have fun with it. It's good.
Ouch! What was the scene that you were shooting just now?
We were filming a moment when [Zoe Saldana's character] Aisha confronts Clay. It's kind of towards the end of the movie and there's kind of a big, final showdown. I just escaped this van being held by guards. We come around the corner and Aisha is on my tail and she confronts him about the killing of her father and asks me if I did it. So we have a little tense standoff there. You'll have to see what happens. It's a good movie, you guys. I see every fucking movie there is, like you guys do, and the script just reminds me of the scripts that I loved when I was a kid. The good, old-fashioned action movie. It's a popcorn movie in every sense of the word. It has a little bit of everything.
How awesome is it firing all these guns and doing all this action?
It's super-fun. The guy that's training us is named Harry Humphries. I don't know if you've every heard of him, but he did all the Bruckheimer and all the "Die Hards" and that type of stuff. He's an amazing dude and he's got all the stories. I was talking to him the other day ,and we were talking about something hurting on my body. I think we were doing a fight sequence and he said, "Well, it doesn't hurt as much as getting shot three times." He's just that guy. It's awesome. It's fun as hell. Shooting guns and fighting are two of my most favorite things to do at this point.
Tell us a little about your character.
Frank Clay is a special forces colonel, [who is in command of] this group of guys who kind of get set up and it's the story of revenge and I'm the leader. There's a lot of kicking ass. A lot of explosions. A lot of fights. A lot of all the stuff that we go to movies for. What this is is Joel Silver doing what Joel Silver became Joel Silver for doing with the "Die Hards" and the "Predators." It's very much a movie reminiscent of those old kind of action movies. There's some tongue-in-cheek humor and a little sex. All that stuff that we like. All the stuff I like.
Coming off of "Watchmen," another comic-based movie, how is this character similar or different to playing the Comedian?
This guy [Clay] has a real, actually much better sense of humor than the Comedian did. He's not nihilistic. It's completely different. This is much lighter. A much lighter load for me. There's also kind of room for me to interpret this as a project where, in "Watchmen," you had to – look, I was playing the Comedian in the most revered comic book ever written. I was confined to that. In this, I could fine-tune a lot of what I thought Frank Clay is and get to play with it a lot more. In "Watchmen" I didn't want to change an ounce of the dialogue. For this, I could play around and have more fun. It's more freedom as an actor to just mess around with stuff. It's very refreshing.
Are you able to riff off-script at all, or is everything pretty tight?
No, no. I get to ad-lib. Not a lot, but if there's something shooting that day and I come up with something, generally whatever my idea is, it can be worked in because I put enough thought into it. You just check with people first. You don't just throw it out there. You don't want to ruffle too many feathers. But they were real good on letting me kind of run with it.
With "The Losers" being a PG-13 movie, we heard that there's a bit of a competition to be one of the two people who gets to say "Fuck."
That's so true. You know, the funny thing is, everybody says "fuck" in every scene. Every scene, someone is saying "fuck" in the hopes that it'll make it into the movie. I'm waiting. I know when my "fuck" is going to come. I have it in my head. I know my "fuck," dammit, and I'm choosing it! I sort of called the producers and said, "Look, if I'm going to be the lead in this movie, you have to give me one of the 'fucks.' I don't even care about the money thing. I just gotta say 'fuck.'" It's funny, though, in a PG13 movie. I never even thought about that before. You know, on "Watchmen" you didn't even think about stuff like that. You forget and then you start to get into the scene where it's going to get jumbled up. Invariably, you want to say "fuck." Especially in the middle of a fight or one of these action sequences. That's just kind of the natural reaction. There have been a lot of "fucks," and none of them are going to make it. My "fuck," though? It'll be there.
In the comic book, Clay is kind of the guy who takes what happens with Max most personally. How do you work that reaction into being the leader and the guy who has to pull things together for everyone else?
As a character? He does take the stuff with Max exceedingly hard. Harder than everyone else. He probably makes a lot of bad decisions along the way. I think a lot of this movie has to do with Clay not coming to terms with the fact that he's not doing what's best for his team.
Coming off of "Watchmen," were you concerned about doing another graphic novel adaptation?
No, I love it. We talked briefly about that. There's so many, now. It's kind of an untapped world, this comic book world. I read the same scripts over and over again, and comic books are just apt. There's this big, wide universe out there. If you've seen the stuff that has come out and the stuff that they're making, it's a trend that's going to continue for a while. I'm happy to be in this world. I'm loving it. I love this. I could do comic book movies forever.
Are there any other comic book properties in particular that you have your eyes on?
You know, they're making "Lobo" right now. That would be cool. "Lobo" would be very cool. I don't think that I'm as big as Lobo is, but if you could, like, transplant Mickey Rourke's body on my head, that would be just great. But I don't know. It's an untapped world for me as well. Every time I kind of hear about something, I go out and get the book or I look it up on one of your guys' sites. We'll see. You're always looking for material that's kind of smart and fun, and this seems to be where it is right now. The studios are really gravitating towards it. More than I've ever seen them gravitate towards anything in a long time. Comic books are really the thing right now, and I don't see that going away for at least the next couple of years.
Well, you do have an in with Joel Silver doing this and doing that.
That's true. And I think that Akiva Goldsman is doing it as well. So I do have an in. I'll be elbowing somebody soon.
This is the first big movie where you're really carrying the film. What is that like for you, playing the leading man on a film like this?
I have to be a lot more serious and on-time. Set an example. No, you still do the same character work. You just don't have a lot of down-time. On this movie, I don't know how long we've been here. I think two months. I think I had one day off, and that day off I spent on the set. I think that's the one thing that changes. It is different. That's only kind of a joke when I say that you have to set an example. That's kind of the job of anyone who is in the kind of position that I'm lucky enough to be in right now. I am in every scene, and you want to make sure that you know your job and do your job right and don't fuck around too much. I want a studio to take a chance on me after this movie, as well. Joel and Akiva and Warner Bros. have put a lot on me and given me a lot of trust. A lot of that has to do with coming off "Watchmen." It's just a big deal for me. I hope that we're making the movie that I think we are making. The stuff I've seen is awesome and I'm exceedingly proud of it. I think it's going to be a really great, fun movie.
Was there anything in the graphic novels that really helped you identify with your character, or did it all come from the script?
No, I enjoyed the graphic novel a lot. I think that Andy and Jock did an amazing job. It's a very smart graphic novel, and it has a certain flow to it that really moves. I think that's a trend in the graphic novels that have come out in the last five to ten years. I think that the way it moves is unlike comic books as they were when I was a kid, which I'm sort of used to. But, certainly, as I did in "Watchmen," it's a great place to kind of jump off and start going into this and having all the initial meetings. There were all sorts of conversations about the changing of the wardrobe. I'm always a stickler. I was like, "the guy wears a black suit. That's all he wears. He's got one, maybe." That's it. It doesn't matter the situation. Having a graphic novel like that is, like "Watchmen," just such a great foundation. Then, as an actor, there's more that you can bring to it and pile on. But I always go back to that. In my trailer, I've got big posters of Clay and other characters. Clay is a hard man and I think that what I've brought to him is a little bit more of a sense of humor. A little bit more of that "Lethal Weapon" kind of sense of humor. That kind of buddy thing. We're trying to do that and I think we're accomplishing it very well.
We're hearing a lot of invocation of "Lethal Weapon," "Die Hard," etc. in terms of describing the tone of The Losers."
Yeah. Originally, when I first met with Joel and Akiva, it was kind of the template and the pace we wanted for this movie, to be very reminiscent of those films, which got me very excited. It was really the kind of movie I wanted to make. If I'm going to do this and go on to be a lead in a studio film, that's what I gravitate towards, those types of movies. This is, I think, Joel's movie to bring him back to the movies he made 15, 20 years ago. That's the movie we all wanted to make.
How do you expect fans of the graphic novel to respond to your take on the character?
The script's great. Jamie Vanderbilt who wrote it is an amazing writer. I think the only thing that might be... well, no because there's a sense of humor in the graphic novel as well. Clay, in the comic, doesn't have maybe as much as a sense of humor as I do in the movie, but even then I play it pretty straight. I play it pretty fucking straight. It's maybe not as accurate as, say, the Comedian was, but I'm having a little more fun with it. I think people should be real happy. Fans of the book are going to like the movie because it's really fast. There's no time for getting bored. "Watchmen," I understand a lot of people's reaction and why they didn't get it. If you weren't a fan of the graphic novel, you weren't going to get it. Anybody can see this movie. It'll make fans of the graphic novel happy and people who have never seen the graphic novel happy.
Did you go into any comic book stores when you were research for "The Losers?"
Yes. I went into a comic book store in New York ,and there was Comedian shit everywhere. It was pretty amazing. I didn't even get the graphic novels. The comic book store I went to in New York didn't have them, so I've got about 50 loose comic books.
When you were buying it, were they just sort of smiling?
Yeah, I actually signed a bunch of shit for them. I ended up signing a bunch of Comedian dolls and said, "Good luck trying to get a couple extra bucks on that."
What did you think the first time you saw your image and the "Watchmen" merchandising everywhere?
It was awesome. I mean, who doesn't want to have a little doll that looks like them?
Will you get action figures for this one?
I don't know [To publicist] Are we gonna have action figures for this one?
Publicist: I don't know. I hope so.
Although I will dress like Clay for Halloween every year now. It's an easy costume.
Did you have to fight for this role?
No, I didn't. I read this script initially almost four years ago. Pete Berg had written it and was directing it at that point. I had just started a movie called "Accidental Husband," and this script somehow came to me. I don' t know why. I loved it. It was the one movie that I kept track of for three years. They had initially talked to me about wanting to do "Jonah Hex," and I sat down with Akiva. Warner Bros. really wanted me to do it and Akiva was also attached to this. We started talking about it and I said, "This is the movie I really want to do." By chance, I sat next to Pete Berg on an airplane and I was like, "Hey, man. I really love your movie 'Losers,'" and he was like, "I'm not directing it anymore. But I might stay on as a producer."
Well the next day, literally, I landed in LA and met with Sylvain. We had lunch, and we talked about it and that was it. That was all it took. It's always been a really good script. We've just tweaked it, and Jamie Vanderbilt is awesome. Every rewrite has only gotten stronger and better and faster. I was thrilled the minute I got the call. Then, there was a chance that I wasn't going to be able to do it because of the other movie I was doing. I was freaking out because, really, I was wanting to do this movie for so long. I love this character. There was a lot of "Why is he doing this after he just did 'Watchmen?'" But they're totally different characters. Just because they come from the same genre of graphic novels, otherwise they're completely different. I think the best stories right now are coming from that world. I'm just happy my foot's in the door. Like I said, I am not scared of a graphic novel. My agent'll say "Well, it's another graphic novel." I don't care. It's better writing than anything else that's out there. The characters are much better.
How did you work on "Watchmen" actually help you as an actor in this film, if it did at all?
The training we did on "Watchmen" was so intense. I remember talking to you guys about the fight sequences and all the training we did. I had no time to do the training before this film. I came straight from another movie and started working immediately. All the training I did was actually with a lot of the same stunt guys. I was able to walk right in and know what I was doing. So that helped. All the exclusive fight training for "Watchmen" helped a lot with this one. I fight a lot in this movie, too.
It seems like one of the big differences between this and "Watchmen" is that Zack Snyder does everything so stylized and "The Losers" seems so fast. Is that a splash-of-cold-water kind of change?
With "Watchmen," we took like nine days to film an opening fight scene. That fight scene, I can't remember, came out to, like, two minutes long. We shot a longer fight scene than that in two days here, and it was all of us. Yeah, I got a little spoiled with the Zack Snyder way of shooting an action sequence. You shoot one punch and it takes half a day. It's not the real deal. And by the way, he makes you train like you're going to be in fights, but he shoots them so stylized and different. Sylvain is a much, much different director than that. We also don't have 120 days to make a movie. We're shooting this in 50 days. You feel that. My body feels it. I'm ready to take a nap and ice for a while after this scene.
For you, what has been the most challenging of these action-based set pieces?
Well, everything's a lot harder as you get older. I'm like 43 now. The pavement gets harder. Take two. Take three. I can't get up anymore. Even getting out of bed in the morning is now an effort. Any of the fight stuff. I don't know if you've talked to Zoe yet, but any of the big fight between the two of us the last couple of days. It's in a hotel room and it's burning around us and, by the way, it really was burning. I like to try to man up, especially when there's girls around and they're going to be hitting you with stuff. You want to take those hits. You say, "Oh, sure. You can hit me with that chair. You can throw the TV at me." Because you don't want to be a big pussy. Let me tell you something: until you get by a TV four times, or a chair – which is balsa wood by the way, but the cushion is still steel – I got a bruise from here to here that looks like a two by four. You know, it's not cool anymore. I'm not going to be a man anymore. I'm just going to sit in my trailer and cry and let stuntmen do it.
It's the fighting stuff. Any of the hand to hand stuff. We had a sequence that was out in the jungle, and we were running after a helicopter. It was maybe a 75 yard dash. I ripped my hamstring because it was the five of us, all the guys. We're in our jungle gear with all our weapons. We're loaded up. We had 60 pounds of extra stuff on us on a 150 degree day. We're just sprinting and, of course, your ego gets you and it turns into a race. Halfway through, it doesn't matter what order you were in anymore. You're just trying to beat the other guy up the hill. I'm way too old for that stuff, trying to chase Chris Evans up a hill. He's just 25 years old. I ain't gonna win, and I ripped my hamstring. Everything gets harder as you get older, man. I can't really pick out one thing that's difficult. It's all hard.
How does that affect filming, when you injure yourself in that way?
Well, I haven't missed a day. I've had to go to therapy every morning. I have a therapist come and run electrodes through my muscles and ice up a lot. You just keep working. You work through it.
We've seen how quickly you're shooting today. Does that help you, as an actor, keeping moving like that?
I like it. I feel like if you shoot one scene all day long or you take two days to do a scene, that scene is going to be stale. My feeling is that the first two takes are going to be the takes that you want. Those generally, in my experience, are going to be the best takes. Then you're just hoping that the camera got it. A lot of why we're doing scenes more than one or two times is because the camera went out of focus, or we have to be in a different spot, or they caught something that maybe they didn't see in the rehearsal. So you do a lot of that. Also, you're trying to shoot a movie in 50 days, so you just inherently have to move faster. You don't have the luxury of shooting a scene in a day. A three page scene, in some movies, you can shoot in one or two days, depending on if there's action or non-action. Even if it's just fucking sitting out talking. In this movie, we're ripping through it. Big action scenes are being shot fast. That's rare. We're blowing shit up. There are three to four cameras going so that helps.
Do you have any plans to go back to "Supernatural" after this or are you too busy with films?
I don't know. I just read somewhere that [creator Eric] Kripke wants me back. That guy, I think he's probably lying, but if it is, in fact, their last year, I'd like to come back. If it really is going to be cancelled after this year, I'd like to come back. I've been saying for the last four years that that storyline got cut out too soon. I'd love to go back for at least one episode or something. I love those guys. I love Jared and Jenson so much. We'll see. No one has contacted me.
I've heard that he's planning on wrapping up the arc that started with season one this season and possibly doing a new kind of thing.
I heard that, too. Getting new actors and everything. Jared and Jenson wouldn't even be in it. Just to fulfill his seven years. I don't know if that's even allowed and, by the way, I can't imagine Warner Bros. saying,"Yeah, that's cool. You can get rid of Jared and Jenson." They were going to, like, take on secondary characters, maybe. I just don't see that happening. If you take out Jared and Jenson, you're going to lose 90 percent of your audience, probably. I can't imagine them doing that, but it makes for a great radar if you say that kind of stuff. I can't imagine that. Warner Bros. is just like, "Yeah, whatever dude. We'll see you next year." But yeah. I'd love to go back. I don't know how I'd find the time, but we'll see.
What is the story on this dog? You saved a dog while you were here?
I did. The first week of filming. He was hanging around basecamp and was just a pup. He was maybe four months old and somebody hit it. They were like, "We have to put this dog down" and, instead, I paid the vet bill. There are so many strays. They're everywhere.
What's his name?
His name is Bandit. Or Bandito while we're here.
So this is a permanent addition to your life?
I think it is. Well, yeah. After paying the $4,000 vet bill, he better learn to be my good dog now. Because he's not very good at this point.
You've been shooting for a number of months. Are you thinking about a break after this or are you thinking about just jumping back in?
I'm jumping back in. I go to work on something about ten days after I've finished shooting this. I don't know if I can say. It's a remake of a movie that I love. "Red Dawn." I just love that fucking movie, ever since I was a kid. I guess I'm more or less the old Powers Booth character. There's all the kids and Powers Booth is the pilot that lands in the film and kind of helps them take down the bad guys. Blow communism away. It's a really good, young cast. I'll be the old guy in it, which is cool. The guy who is directing it is Dan Bradley, who is the second unit director on all the Bourne movies and the Spider-Man movies. He's the real deal. A real good, action director and apparently a really good, stylized director with actors. Anyway, I'm very much looking forward to it. But I'm going straight from here to Detroit which I can't imagine at this point.
Does Bandit get to come along?
I think Bandit and Bezo, both my dogs, get to come along for that one, yeah.
"The Losers" opens April 23, 2010.