TV

She co-stars in a new HBO show. But at 7, she often has to watch it with eyes covered.

HBO’s new fall TV series “Watchmen” — a sequel of sorts to Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ seminal ’80s comic book series — features masked “superheroes” fighting right-wing extremists in an alternate version of 2019 America that at once can seem fantastically dystopian and, on some level, uncomfortably familiar.

It’s violent and profane, it’s dark and weird, and it’s very, very complicated. There’s a lot to unpack in any discussion about it.

But you’ll have to forgive the Charlotte-based actress who has a recurring role on the show for being much more interested, right now, in demonstrating her talent for doing back bends and front walkovers.

“Oh, and watch this,” 7-year-old Adelynn Spoon crows, plopping down into a split in the middle of her family’s living room, with her left foot forward.

“And this,” she says proudly, jumping up and practically leaping straight into another split, with her right foot forward this time.

Her mother, Ashlie Spoon, shakes her head and laughs. “She loves to perform,” mom says, while Adelynn, now standing, keeps her leg arrow-straight as she pulls it up against her cheek.

But before we get too distracted, we should probably explain:

In “Watchmen,” which airs Sundays at 9 p.m., Adelynn plays Emma Abar — the youngest of three children adopted into the family of Cal and Angela Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen and 2019 Oscar winner and four-time Emmy winner Regina King). Angela is the series’ de facto main character who moonlights as a black-masked, trench-coated vigilante justice-seeker known as Sister Knight.

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This production photo of HBO’s “Watchmen” features Dylan Schombing as Topher Abar, Yahya Abdul-Mateen as Cal Abar, Regina King as Angela Abar, and Charlotte’s Adelynn Spoon as Emma. Mark Hill HBO

Adelynn first appears on screen in the Oct. 20 premiere with King and Abdul-Mateen, briefly, following a bizarre scene in which small squid rain from the sky during the middle of afternoon rush hour. Even more bizarrely, the residents of this fictional version of Tulsa, Okla., react as if this isn’t the first time they’ve been in such a downpour.

“Did you hear me say, ‘We’re cleaning up the squids’?” Adelynn says, then offers this critique of her performance: “It was, like, such a baby voice then.”

“‘Cause you were 5,” her mom says. “You were 5 when you said that line, believe it or not.”

But perhaps even more difficult to believe? The fact that Adelynn’s audition for “Watchmen” was her first audition ever.

‘The biggest ice cream cone’

In a lot of ways, Adelynn — the middle child of Charlotte natives Steve and Ashlie Spoon — is a pretty typical 7-year-old.

Among the activities she enjoys: dancing, singing, piano lessons, soccer, karate, drawing and coloring, and playing with her 4-year-old sister Hadlie and her 9-year-old brother Steve III.

She likes L.O.L. Surprise! toys and JoJo Siwa on Nickelodeon; doing cartwheels in her front lawn and bouncing on the trampoline in the back; and Quaker Instant Dinosaur Eggs Oatmeal — for breakfast, of course, but for dinner, too, if her parents will let her get away with it.

But when she was 5, Adelynn went from typical child to up-and-coming actress practically overnight, after asking her mom if she could try acting.

(She was following in the footsteps of her brother, who had popped the same question a year before her; he can currently be seen in a Food Lion commercial and is enrolled in acting classes. For what it’s worth, their parents had no background in acting and “didn’t even know how to get started,” Ashlie Spoon says. “I just wanted them to have fun.”) What do the parents do?

Almost immediately after she went on the rolls with the same talent agency as her brother, in the spring of 2018, Adelynn got the opportunity to audition in Atlanta for a role in a TV series that was referred to throughout the production phase as “Brooklyn.”

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Adelynn Spoon, the day she learned that she was cast in “Watchmen.” And she’s had other opportunities to celebrate: Since taking up acting, she’s also been cast in multiple commercials and the forthcoming TNT drama “Tell Me Your Secrets.” Courtesy of Ashlie Spoon

Initially, HBO’s involvement wasn’t apparent, nor were any ties to DC Comics or “Watchmen.” But it would become clearer — to those familiar with prestige television, at least — that this project was a big deal when Adelynn was invited to a callback in Atlanta and found herself in a room with producers Damon Lindelof (“Lost,” “The Leftovers”) and Nicole Kassell (who has directed episodes of critically acclaimed shows such as “The Killing” and “The Americans”).

By the time she got the offer, the Spoons knew what they were getting into, and King and co-stars including Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson and Louis Gossett Jr. also had officially been announced as cast members.

Those adult actors, however, probably didn’t celebrate the same way Adelynn did.

“I was like, Yes! Yay! Yay, yay, YAAYYYYYYY!” Adelynn recalls, jumping up and down and throwing her fists in the air.

“And what did Thom tell us?” her mom asks, referring to her Atlanta-based agent Thom Milam. “He said you had to go get what? ... The biggest ice cream cone you could find.”

“Oh yeah!” Adelynn says. “And it was about as big as my head. ... I got three scoops.”

It doesn’t sound like her getting the role was beginner’s luck, either.

“My God, she’s amazing and adorable and we have to cast her — definitely,” says Kassell, when asked what her first impressions of Adelynn were. “Damon really strongly responded to her. We all did. I think she might have been the first one (of the three children who play members of the Abar family) that we were like, ‘We have to have her.’ She was just so frickin’ cute.”

Going wild over ‘Watchmen’

Not long after Adelynn was cast, in June 2018, she was in the Atlanta area shooting scenes for the “Watchmen” pilot opposite King, Abdul-Mateen, Johnson and others.

She would return to Georgia several times — stretching over a period of about a year, from right before her sixth birthday to right before her seventh — to film her arc for the planned nine-episode first season.

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Adelynn Spoon in her trailer on location in the Atlanta area during filming of “Watchmen.” Courtesy of Ashlie Spoon

(While the IMDb page for “Watchmen” suggests Adelynn’s “Emma” will appear in seven of those episodes — making her one of a handful of characters with that significant a recurring role — both the family and Kassell are very careful in interviews not to give anything away about how future episodes might involve the child.)

So, not surprisingly, “Watchmen” has become increasingly top of mind in the Spoon household.

For a party celebrating Adelynn’s seventh birthday this past July that doubled as a celebration of her sister Hadlie’s fourth, Hadlie requested a Paw Patrol-themed cake and Adelynn wanted a “Watchmen”-themed cake done up with yellow frosting and a smiley face, a nod to an iconic image from the comic books.

Then two Sunday nights ago, some 50 people packed into the Spoon’s house for a watch party on premiere night, for which Ashlie Spoon made batches of “Watchmen”-themed cookies — Oreos dipped in yellow candy melt, with smiley faces drawn on them.

Of course, there are certainly some potentially awkward moments, since “Watchmen” bears the TV equivalent of an R rating and features a simulated sex scene and a frightening nighttime battle in which a herd of cows get turned quite literally into shredded beef by a .50-caliber machine gun.

But her parents have managed it as gracefully as they can.

‘Fingers crossed, right?’

Ashlie Spoon acknowledges that most of the show goes over Adelynn’s head, but says she and her husband, Steve, have tried to help her navigate the complex, culturally relevant themes the show tackle in kid-friendly terms.

At the premiere party, the only children in attendance were their own, and since Ashlie had already seen the episode at an event in L.A., she knew when to distract them. She says the plan for the run of the show is for her and her husband to watch each new episode on Sunday night when it airs, then they’ll re-watch it with Adelynn, with age-appropriateness in mind, and — her mom says, laughing — “I cover her eyes quite a lot.”

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Ashlie Spoon says her daughter Adelynn is “doing what she loves, so watching her be able to pursue these dreams ... that she has, it’s a great feeling as a mom. It truly is. ... At the end of the day, as long as she’s having fun, that’s my goal.” Xavier Tianyang Wang xwang@mcclatchy.com

As for those smiley faces on the cake and cookies, and the yellow pins, the yellow stickers, the yellow balloons and the yellow shirts that have cycled through the house?

They’re all free of the blood spatter that decorates the original image, which represents the pin an original “Watchmen” character named The Comedian was wearing when he was murdered. (It appeared on the cover of the very first issue of the comic book series, and then popped up repeatedly in subsequent installments.)

And there could be a lot more where that came from.

“Fingers crossed, right?” Ashlie says to Adelynn, when the conversation turns to the possibility of HBO doing a second season.

“Uh, maybe a third one, too?” Adelynn says.

“Hey, yeah, we’ll keep going,” Ashlie says, laughing. “Four, five, six, seven, eight. Tell Mr. Damon, ‘Keep writing!’”

Adelynn beams and throws her arms in the air. “9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15! ... I just think it’ll keep going.”

“Yeah, you can just grow up on the show, right?” Ashlie says, still laughing. “Then you can become a superhero.”

Adelynn pauses for a beat. She crosses her arms, smiles, and says, matter-of-factly:

“I would rather be a little kid, though.”

Not two minutes later, she announces that she can do a back bend and asks if anyone wants to see.

As soon as she is given the OK, Adelynn leaps down from the sofa onto the living room floor, rubs her hands together, and gets ready — once again — to perform.

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Théoden Janes has spent 12 years covering entertainment and pop culture for the Observer. He also thrives on telling emotive long-form stories about extraordinary Charlotteans and — as a veteran of 20-plus marathons and two Ironman triathlons — occasionally writes about endurance and other sports.
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