If David S. Goyer has his way, NBC’s “Constantine” will prove just as popular among TV viewers as he has with comic book readers over the decades — and he just might lead a full-on small-screen haunting by some of DC Comics’ enduring occult properties.
“The thing that I always loved about Constantine is he was a smartass,” Goyer said during NBC’s presentation at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Beverly Hills. “So in a world of superheroes and a world of demons and angels, he was just a complete smartass. He didn’t have any superpowers. He was just a working class bloke. He had a wicked sense of humor. And so, recently, after the Batman and Superman films, I met with Warners TV, and they said, ‘Will you do a DC TV project? You can kind of have any one.’ And I said, ‘I want Constantine. He’s the one I want.’ I also felt like it was someone that would sort of translate into television without us having to change the core DNA of the character.”
Although reporters could not get Goyer to bite on questions related to his other big DC-related project, upcoming “Man of Steel” sequel Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”, he did elaborate on his plans for “Constantine” for a small group of press after his presentation, including the likelihood of launching other DC occult properties out of the new series.
Warner Bros and DC have certainly been reliant on you for franchise-building. Is there the thought you could launch a number of DC’s supernatural properties as TV series out of “Constantine?”
David S. Goyer: Yes, we have said that. The intention is that we’ve got DC’s occult universe open to us, and the fact that we had Doctor Fate’s helmet in the pilot is a clear indication that we’re going to be doing that. We’re introducing another character from the DC Universe within the first eight or nine episodes as well.
In a major way, or just a cameo?
In a recurring way, and we’ll see where it goes but it’s not just characters from “Hellblazer.” The occult world is open to us.
Does the fact that you might want to use a character in a movie have any bearing on the show?
I think there’s been a decision that it’s okay to cross-promote these characters, that the audience can take it.
Could the actors move between TV and film?
That to me feels like a huge headache! [Laughs] But I guess we’ll see what happens.
What is making comic books so right for TV right now?
I’m not the first person to say this, but I’ve long said that comic books are sort of the modern equivalent of our Greek myths. It’s also kind of what the farm team is for baseball. You can beta test all of these concepts, but you’re dealing with these outsized characters and these outsized themes. Part of it is also that the technology is catching up. Even the stuff that we did in “Constantine” might not have been possible 10 years ago. I’m just fortunate that the stuff that I’m interested in happens to be big with the audiences right now.
Comic book fans have often traditionally fallen into either a DC camp or a Marvel camp, as far as their preferred fandom. Why do you think you’re the DC go-to guy? You’ve had a special understanding of DC’s characters to take on the ones you’ve handled.
I have done Marvel — “Blade” was Marvel — I don’t know. When I was a kid I read many more Marvel comics than I did DC, and as I got older in high school and then in college I started reading more DC. I’m not sure why. I mean, like begets like to a certain extent, and [DC Chief Creative Officer] Geoff Johns is one of my best friends and we hang out all the time and I’ve written DC comics. At a certain point it just felt like that was the more comfortable universe to play in.
Does the fact that comic books are serialized tend to make them a better fit for TV than other formats?
Well, I’d like to think that I’ve adapted them for movies fairly well, but I think that they can lend themselves to TV. We haven’t seen a lot of comic book shows in recent memory — there’s “Agents of SHIELD” last year — but one of the things that’s kind of nice about TV is you can tell more serialized storytelling. Our show is both episodic and serialized, so that’s kind of exciting because the comic books are in some ways, one can argue it lends itself to that medium a bit more.
What are the dangers of too many comic book shows?
We’ll saturate the market? I mean, I guess that’s always possible. The thing I think sets us apart from some of the other shows is he’s not a costumed superhero. He’s not a vigilante. He doesn’t have any super powers. Comic books aren’t just about guys with tights. “American Splendor” was based on a comic book; “Road to Perdition” was based on a comic book; “Ghost World” was based on a comic book; “Persepolis” was based on a comic book. This is another genre. It’s not a superhero genre — it’s a horror genre, it’s a suspense genre.
What problems have led other comic book shows to go off the rails, like “Agents of SHIELD” got off to a bumpy start?
I can’t really speak to that. I can just speak to what I do myself. I just try to, as much as possible, stay true to the core DNA of the characters. That’s always been my approach and that’s what I’ve done with Constantine and with Batman and Superman.
Could a character from an NBC DC show appear on a CW DC show, or vice versa?
You mean the same actor or the same character? Obviously, you could see the character because it’s up to DC. The same actor? I guess if legal could work it out. We’ll see. Listen, we want to get on the air first!
Should we only expect one other DC character to be on this season, or could we get our hopes up for more?
It’s possible there’d be more than one. In terms of where we’re at in the storyline so far, we’re only working with one. I do want to be clear, though, that this show hopefully will be appreciated by people who aren’t just comic book fans. We’re not just making it for people like me.
Who would be the DC character you’d most like to launch into a TV show from the supernatural universe, after “Constantine?”
After “Constantine?” Oh, gee — some of them maybe we’ll roll out in “Constantine” and we’ll see.
Would you want to launch another DC supernatural show as early as next year, like how NBC’s “Chicago Fire” led very quickly to “Chicago PD?”
First and foremost, I want to launch this show and have it be successful and get a second season so that we can keep digging into all these amazing stories that we want to tell but sure, if it takes off, who knows? The sky’s the limit.
Could something different like alcohol take the place of Constantine’s smoking, which the network has certain restriction about depicting?
Well, we’ve already shown in the pilot that he’s a heavy, heavy drinker so it’s quiet possible, yes. Look, I will say that John is a character in the comic books, and we’ve stayed truthful to that in the show, who has a lot of addictions. He’s a very addictive personality. He drinks a lot. In the comic books he smokes a lot. He’s clearly addicted to danger, and so that is an aspect of his character that we definitely want to explore and the thing with a lot of addictions is it has a high cost. That’s something that the “Dangerous Habits” storyline explored obviously in the film and in the comic books, so at a certain point if we’re lucky enough that is something we’d like to explore in the show as well.
What were the comic book storylines you focused on?
It’s not like “Game of Thrones” where we’re saying, “Okay, we’re going to do Book Three and that’s going to be our first season.” I would say that the first season of our show is loosely tracking a version of the storyline in which John was introduced, “American Gothic” by Alan Moore. That was certainly the inspiration for it.
Rockne S. O’Bannon said he wanted to do the “Hunger Demon” story. Are you looking to include that?
That’s a great story. We would love to do that.
Where do you want to keep up stick to the source material and where do you want to make time to do your own thing?
Well, look. I’ve got another show on TV right now that is not comic book, “Da Vinci’s Demons.” I have a number of projects that I’m developing that aren’t comic book-based, so hopefully I’ll spend some time doing some comic book stuff and spend some time not doing comic book stuff. I love comic books. I was weaned on them, so it’s not like it’s a stretch for me, but I have other interests as well.
Can you talk about the shows you’re developing?
Did you have to bring another showrunner onto “Da Vinci’s Demons” to help with the workload of this show and your movie work?
Yes. At a certain point you can only do so much. John Shiban already came in on “Da Vinci’s Demons” to help with the day-to-day of that show. We’re shooting the third season of that right now. The pickup of that coincided with this happening so I realized I needed help.Â
How hard was it to find your Constantine in Matt Ryan?
Very hard! I think we saw over 500 people, but when we saw Matt, we loved him. He was doing a Shakespeare play with Jude Law and he had this giant beard, but we knew immediately that he was the guy. In order to convince NBC we had to wait for his play to end and for him to shave his beard. It was hard — and just look at him! If you know the comics at all, he just leapt off the page. It’s kind of amazing.
Do you have any favorite eras of Constantine after “American Gothic?”
Well, ‘American Gothic’ is amazing. I like a lot of the initial [Jamie] Delano run. Garth Ennis did a great one. I mean, there’ve been so many! Mike Carey; I like Azzarello’s stuff. I mean, there’s so much great stuff to pull from. There’s over 200 issues. I haven’t even read them all.
Have you tried to read the latest ones?
I have been, but also I’m behind on my stack.Â
Do you own your original “Hellblazer” issues?
I do. I’m trying to remember what issue of “Swamp Thing” that I wrote a letter in. During the “American Gothic” story.
Did you do a lot of letter writing?
I did. I think I only got four of them printed.
Has a fan ever brought a comic book with your published letter in it to ask you to sign it?
Yes. I had a letter printed in “Captain America” when Mark Gruenwald was writing it. Someone brought one.Â
Any plans to write a comic book again any time soon?
I would love to if I can find the time. I’ve been trying to kick around something with Geoff Johns again. It’s just a question of finding the time.
Might there be an adaptation of this show from DC?
“Constantine premieres October 24 on NBC.