Meet J.R. Killigrew — aka David Bowie in ‘Watchmen’

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Note to readers: Nerdvana presents an interview with J.R. Killigrew, the actor who plays David Bowie in a brief but key scene in the upcoming feature film based on the graphic novel “Watchmen.”

By Jayson Peters, Tribune

Part of the Watchmen mystique is that it’s set in a world of superheroes, but also in the world as we know it — gritty, real and obsessed with celebrity. The existence of costumed crimefighters has changed the outcome of some events (like the Vietnam War), but by and large the Earth they inhabit is rather depressingly like our own.

Familiar faces you can expect to see mingling with the likes of superhero Ozymandias and crew when Watchmen debuts March 6 include the Village People, Mick Jagger and David Bowie in a scene set in 1977 at Studio 54. The party has no counterpart in the graphic novel, but it’s used in the opening of the film to mesh the real world with the Watchmen world, according to director Zack Snyder in an interview late last year with MTV Movie News.

Bowie (whose name was once attached to rumors of a Watchmen opera) is played here by J.R. Killigrew, who sums up the experience with one word:

J.R. Killigrew, left, as David Bowie
J.R. Killigrew, left, as David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust in WATCHMEN

“SURREAL.”

“I had got a call from my manager on a Tuesday afternoon saying I had to be at Warner Bros. in Burbank by 4 p.m. and I was up for the role of Ziggy Stardust in the new film Watchmen. So I rushed home, checked my e-mail and saw the breakdown (casting notice) and it didn’t say much except for ‘Ziggy Stardust — please use picture as reference.’ I then found some old pics of David Bowie as Ziggy and watched the music video for Life on Mars and decided to go all out and dress up in a similar fashion. I hustled over to the thrift store and pieced together the best version I could find, along with some blue eye paint and blush and drove over to Warner’s. It was funny when I pulled up to the gate and the security guard did a double take then laughed and said ‘Watchmen.’ After that I walked into the casting office and the assistants got a kick out of my dedication and so did the casting director. They called my manager two days later and I was off to Vancouver in early December 2007 for about five days.”

QUITE AN IMPRESSION

In a movie filled with larger-than-life personalities real and imagined, Killigrew’s brief role nonetheless made an impression on the set.

“I had known and really enjoyed his music but didn’t quite grasp the experience and impact of David Bowie until I showed up on set in the full outfit,” he says. “The crew got so pumped up. I would have loved to spend more time as the character and the freedom it brought me. My walk changed, my whole demeanor. It was incredible.”

Working on this small part of the movie was the actor’s first exposure to the Watchmen phenomenon.

“After I was cast, I quickly picked up the graphic novel and read it. I was blown away with such a well-orchestrated, as I would say, social commentary story that turned the “superhero” myth upside down (along with the hysteria of a nuclear arms race). I think it’s important to look at any type of story from many different angles even if they go against the grain.”

GETTING IN THE GAME

The Wellesley, Mass., native will already be familiar to many video gamers even before Watchmen debuts: Last year he starred in a mock IGN trailer for a fictitious movie based on The Legend of Zelda. It hit the Internet on April Fool’s Day and had many who saw it believing a film based on the classic Nintendo game was — finally — close at hand.

Killigrew as ZELDA's Link

“Zelda. Zelda. Zelda. That was quite an experience,” Killigrew says. “I had met with the director a couple of times and after he cast me, he said ‘Hey, we’re going to make a trailer for a potential Legend of Zelda adaptation.’ But I did know from the start that it would be an April Fool’s joke. It was tough because once it came out and I saw how many people were jumping out of their chairs at the prospect of a LOZ film, I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news. I mean, my brother and I would always fight over the Nintendo back in the day to play the game.

“I got some interesting responses but by and large, the gaming world went nuts over it. A lot of positive feedback and I received e-mails from people around the world remarking how cool and well-done the trailer was.”

Even though the trailer wasn’t teasing a real movie, a lot of time and money went into the production — including a tidy sum for horseback riding lessons and stunt combat training for Link’s climactic battle with the evil Ganon.

“We trained our asses off to make sure we stayed true to the movements from the game, especially Link’s. It’s a little harder than it looks but the stunt coordinator Vinne Fatato was excellent. By the time we started shooting all the combat/fight scenes, I was loaded up with 30-something pounds of chainmail, so flying around wielding a sword and dodging imaginary creatures was quite a task but it was so cool. It’s Legend of Zelda. I was honored to be a part of it.”

ANOTHER KIND OF “WATCHMEN”

Actor J.R. Killigrew
Killigrew the filmmaker

In a project that’s more down to Earth, Killigrew wrote, co-produced, co-directed and starred in the short film drama Manos Partidas (Split Hands), which will play at the Phoenix Film Festival April 2-9 at the Harkins Scottsdale 101.

He calls the film “a wild but incredible journey … a story about a young man who is caught between his faulty relationship with his embittered father and his blossoming love for an illegal immigrant.”

The story was inspired both by Killigrew’s love for a classic film and his own experiences growing up in a region rife with cultural conflict.

“It came about after I got back from Vancouver (shooting Watchmen) and probably earlier than that. I was following the immigration debate in late 2007 and since of my background in Spanish and having lived in Mexico during high school, I always had a keen interest in the subject. It’s such a difficult and sensitive issue that I wanted to find a way to examine it in a different light than what I had seen in other documentaries and feature films.

“I started researching and ultimately I found two mentalities which pretty much split the U.S. down the middle when it comes to immigration.”

Killigrew says he can’t wait to attend the Phoenix Film Festival and show off Manos Partidas.

“Aside from the research, I have always been inspired by the great Paul Newman film Hud of a strained relationship between a father and son. All these factors lead me to script a short about a father and son who are divided over their views of immigration but somehow end up at the border every week to watch it, as volunteer border watchmen.”

WHAT’S NEXT

Killigrew stars in the feature film Philip the Fossil directed by Garth Donovan, coming late summer/early fall. Shot in Boston, it’s a “mix of the films Kids and Bully smashed into one,” Killigrew says. “It’s dark but a great story.”


SEE ALSO:

ZELDA movie? April Fools can be so very cruel …

See the ‘Watchmen’ that’s not in ‘Watchmen’

GET OUT: Phoenix Film Festival information

A ‘Star Wars’ fanboy reviews ‘Fanboys’

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