The dark corners of the DC Universe are no place for the average mortal or superhero. Malevolent forces lurking in the shadows regularly wield arcane magic, possess bodies and rip souls to shreds. That’s where John Constantine comes in.
Based on the popular comic book character, the freshman TV series “Constantine” follows the exploits of John Constantine (Matt Ryan), a smart-ass Brit who reluctantly stares death in the eye for the greater good. A self-proclaimed exorcist and master of the dark arts, Constantine is hoping to find some redemption after a job gone wrong lands the soul of a little girl in hell.
“Constantine” executive producer Daniel Cerone recently spoke with CBR News to discuss bringing John Constantine to the small screen, how Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” plays into the first season’s arc, the show’s mythology and incorporating DCU’s mystical characters into the new television series.
CBR News: Congrats on getting more scripts ordered. It must feel extremely rewarding that NBC is displaying so much confidence this early on.
Daniel Cerone: Yeah, here’s the reality of the situation. Because we’re a later premiere, our production pipeline would dry up if we didn’t keep having scripts lined up. In other words, if they decide to order a back nine, we need to keep the scripts lined up so we don’t have to stop production. The good news is if they hated us, they wouldn’t have ordered more. If they didn’t like the scripts they were reading and the cuts they were reviewing, they would definitely have put a big pause on things. I do feel we’ve given them enough to get excited about.
Were you a fan of Constantine previously, or did this project come out of left field?
I’m a huge fan of Alan Moore. I discovered Constantine in “Swamp Thing” and was so intrigued by who he was. I dipped into “Hellblazer” from time-to-time. I’ve always found him to be a compelling and dark and edgy character. He’s more in keeping with the kind of comics I do like. I’m not so much of the capes and cowls variety. What I like about characters like Constantine, and what I enjoy about Neil Gaiman’s work, is they are so steeped in our world. I always felt like I could connect to him on a more natural and organic level. There’s a certain wish fulfillment aspect to him because he is so wry, and he is so cool and confident in his skin, and will say or do whatever he pleases and has no allegiances with anyone. It’s someone I’ve always felt a connection to.
Introduce us to the television version of Constantine. Who is he and why does he partake in these supernatural adventures?
That’s something we hope to explore in great depth. More than anything else, we’re trying to honor the character as he was laid out in “Hellblazer.” That really is our template. In terms of who Constantine is, we’re hoping he’ll be very recognizable to fans of the work. He’s a great humanist. Despite himself, he feels the burden to go out and fight for humanity. On the other hand, this is someone who will literally sell out his best friend or sacrifice the lives of his friends for the greater good, which also makes him a morally challenging and complex character. But what I love is that “Hellblazer” also flirts with the idea that he’s a bit of a junkie. He’s a guy who is always jonesing for that adrenaline rush of fighting demons. So, why is he doing it? Is he doing it because he needs a fix? I don’t think he knows. I’m not sure we should ever know because there’s a little truth to all of it.
There’s been some criticism already that Constantine isn’t the same chain-smoking bisexual as in the comics. Why the changes and do those details really make a difference?
I would take issue with the presentation of Constantine through the run of the comics as a chain-smoking bisexual. He’s been chain-smoking without a doubt, but this curious character aspect of him was revealed very late in the run. It might have been followed up once. It just wasn’t a defining part of who he is. Could that exist in our universe? Sure. Look, we are following the course of the comic. I don’t mean this as a cop-out at all. The comic ran for a very long time, presenting a character and building out this character, who was different with many passions and conflicts and torments and tragedies. That’s what we’re hanging our stories on. Is he chain-smoking? Absolutely. We’re limited by what we can show. We just hope comic book fans understand that. Instead of decrying the fact that they don’t see him with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth in every scene, we’re hoping they will actually give us credit for really trying to stay true to the character.
Does he actually possess any inherent powers or is it all knowledge-based?
Exactly the latter. Part of the fun and fantasy of rooting for John Constantine is that he wasn’t exposed to radiation. He doesn’t have any inherent powers that came to him accidentally. Everything that he has he learned and he worked for and he studied. All his powers come from knowledge and hard work.
Two of Constantine’s companions are Manny (Harold Perrineau) and Chas (Charles Halford). Where do they fit into the series?
Manny is a really fun creation. When we pitched this to NBC, what I think they loved about the “Constantine” universe was the whole angel/demons, Heaven and Hell, guilt and redemption. I think they liked all those classic themes. As you may know, “Constantine” deals with many world religions. Because NBC loved that and wanted to see an angel in the series, we decided to come up with an interesting and unexpected angel. And we made him a more mysterious and darker figure, and not really know or be aware of his true motives. Also, there’s the opportunity to deal with some of the themes that make the “Constantine” universe so rich.
One of the most difficult things about bringing the show to television was so much of Constantine was revealed in those [comic book] panels. It was revealed in his inner monologue. We’re not a voiceover show and sometimes you try and work those ideas into expositional dialogue and it falls flat. So much of the rich tapestry of Constantine was inner monologue. By giving him this angelic character, who is directly connected to sources above, it brings out more dynamic and thoughtful conversations that Constantine might not otherwise have organically.
For Chas, in the comics, he is pretty much the muscle and the driver and said very little in between. That’s more or less how he’s introduced in our world, although we do have a very interesting backstory for him that we’re going to reveal in episode 10. No, Chas is not immortal, even though he appears that way. We have a story we’re very excited about, that we’re literally prepping right now to shoot, where we reveal why he has this ability to resurrect himself.
Obviously, Constantine will encounter a demon-of-the week or some mystical threat. Can you talk about the bigger picture and his journey this season?
When John Constantine was introduced in the pages of “Swamp Thing,” there was a phenomenon going on. I think it was also tied to the whole “Crisis [on Infinite Earths]” situation. Within the pages of “Swamp Thing,” Constantine told Swamp Thing of this rising darkness that was coming, that there was a force out there. This force was stirring up supernatural beings and forcing creatures that typically existed in the shadows into the light. All of this was to create a climate of belief in the world for some great evil to be born. That very loose construct is what we refer to on our pages as a “Rising Darkness.”
That is driving our first season. Without dropping spoilers, the same forces behind it in the pages of “Swamp Thing” is going to be the same force behind our Rising Darkness. This is the “American Gothic” arc in “Swamp Thing.” In a way, Moore set out a perfect template for the first season of television because you have a large mystery with an epic feel. Something is coming. A great force is going to be released. You have manifestations of it that needs to be stopped, which supplies us with weekly stories for Constantine to fight. It’s all driving towards something. They are all related and as Constantine moves through our season, taking on these individual forces, he’s also picking up clues and trying to solve the larger mystery.
The other thing we’re doing that we’re really excited about is by the end of the first season, we’ll have met the entire Newcastle Crew. We have 11 scripts written so far. In those stories, we meet Ritchie Simpson in the pilot. We’ll meet Gary Lester. We’ll meet Anne-Marie, who was driven to a convent. All of these things are a result of Newcastle. By the end of the season, we’ll have met all the Newcastle Crew with the goal of in the season finale, to reconstitute that seance that went so wrong to defeat the Rising Darkness.
How welcoming have Warner Bros. and DC Comics been to you about playing with their properties?
They can’t get enough of it. Our DC executive is fantastic. He reads every script and every outline and he gives notes. He’s actually always emailing us going, “Have you thought about using Felix Faust here? Have you thought about using the black diamonds here?” Be it DC arcana and artifacts, or be it lesser known or moderately known characters, they embrace it. And NBC realizes that we’re tapping into a fanbase. They are on board too.
There’s plenty of buzz behind Jim Corrigan’s (Emmett J. Scanlan) appearance. What’s your take on the man who will ultimately become the Spectre?
We’re meeting him as a detective. We’re meeting him pre-Spectre for sure. We’ll definitely hint that this character has a future because … I don’t know how much you know about the show, but the Liv [Lucy Griffiths] character from the pilot doesn’t stay with the show. In episode 2, she’s replaced by Zed [Angelica Celaya], who is much truer to the comic. They will meet Jim Corrigan on a case, in a very organic manner. At the time, he’s the detective that he was in the early pages of the comics. He’s a little more aggressive. He’s definitely somebody who is a believer in justice and will take matters into his own hands to achieve that justice. He doesn’t necessarily play by the rules. That’s the character we’ll meet on a case. He will see his first signs of supernatural existence on that case. We’ll open his eyes to that. It’s nice for Constantine to have a friend on the force, so if we need information that can only be supplied by a law enforcement official, he can draw on Jim Corrigan. Our goal over episodes and seasons is to evolve the Jim Corrigan character and eventually play his story where he becomes the Spectre.
Doctor Fate’s helmet pops up in the pilot. Is that just an Easter Egg or do you have plans for him?
We have more ideas for Doctor Fate than I could list in this phone call. We’re excited about paying that off. We don’t have any concrete plans right now, but we have multiple pitches for stories. It is fully our intention to pay off that Easter Egg.
Viewers love seeing the TV counterparts of the DCU’s heroes and villains. So, looking at some of their magical heavy-hitters, Constantine had a relationship with Zatanna. Has there been any discussions surrounding her?
Yeah, we’ve thought about it and talked about it. Zed is who we are hanging our hats on right now. She felt like a more organic character. Zatanna is definitely on our radar, but I think she is someone who we would meet more in the future than the immediate future.
What about the enigmatic Phantom Stranger?
We love the idea of the Phantom Stranger. There are active pitches around the Phantom Stranger, including the mythology that ties in with one of our current characters. That is something we’re very interested in and I would say is a possibility.
Considering where Constantine debuted, is there room for Swamp Thing in this series?
Here’s the thing — I don’t think any true Swamp Thing fan wants to see the TV version of the Swamp Thing. What it would take to accommodate that character from a strict technological cinematic standpoint would not be easy. That would have to be a fully realized CG creation.
Lastly, are there any recognizable foes that you have been circling?
Felix Faust is someone we’re currently writing into an episode. We found the most fantastic actor for Papa Midnite, Michael Shaw. He’s a young guy out of Juilliard that is just blowing our mind. We can’t write enough for him.
“Constantine” debuts October 24 on NBC