Before screening the pilot episode for the New York Comic Con crowd on Saturday, ‘Constantine‘ writer and executive producer David S. Goyer and stars Matt Ryan (Constantine) and Angelica Celaya (Zed) sat down with reporters for a roundtable discussion about the upcoming NBC show.
Ryan talked about how playing John Constantine is bigger than anything he’s done before. Playing the role, he said, is about “leading something and trying to set the tone for something and set the right foundations for something to grow in the right way.” The actor said that he wanted to make sure he was building this “house upon the bricks, not in the sand.”
As for the character himself, Ryan singled out his humanist nature as his biggest redeemable quality. “Yeah, he’s an utter bastard and he’ll go about achieving what he needs by any means necessary, but ultimately he can’t but help humanity,” said Ryan. “He’ll kill his best friend to save a thousand people, but if the best friend is the one that’s the most important to save, then he’ll kill a thousand people. It’s whatever’s for the greater good.”
When asked about his research for the role beyond reading the “Hellblazer” comics, he revealed that he has been watching a lot of classic films. “We’re doing an episode at the moment — and I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this — but I’ll just say that I needed to watch ‘The Exorcist’ for it again, so I watched all three.” He added that episode director Neil Marshall told him to watch Gene Hackman’s character in “The French Connection,” “just in terms of the style of acting, his brashness and what he’s like.”
Ryan then shared his thoughts about the 2005 feature film “Constantine,” which featured Keanu Reeves in the titular role. “I kind of see it as a standalone thing; it’s its own interpretation,” said Ryan. “I hadn’t read the material [at the time], so it wasn’t linked to that for me.”
Now that he has read the source material, however, Ryan is looking forward to the appearance of some of the book’s other characters. “We’re introducing a bunch of characters from the Newcastle group, so you’ll see Gary Lester in there. We’re also introducing Jim Corrigan. That episode with Jim Corrigan is awesome; [actor] Emmett Scanlan is fucking off the charts.”
He also promised that fans of the comics will be happy to see some of their favorite storylines and issues adapted for television. “My favorite so far is ‘Dangerous Habits’, but it will take us a long time to get that,” said Ryan, referencing a story originally published in “Hellblazer” #41-46. “But that’s good, because it will give me time to grow to get there.”
For her part, Celaya said Zed’s powers will evolve as the show progresses. “She’s a sensitive, so she can feel what’s going and have a vision, and the visions keep becoming more elaborate,” said Celaya. “In a new episode, she starts going into another realm.” Zed’s sarcasm is also something that attracted her to the part. The actress added that the show was not going to shy away from the character’s rich family backstory. “It’s coming. It’s gonna be a wild ride.”
Beyond the powers and the wilder aspects of genre shows — Celaya admitted that she “never thought, as an actor, I’d be around brains” — she said she is blessed to be playing a strong female lead “that’s not the prissy female showing tittays. She gets down and dirty. And I love the fact that she just happens to be Latino. It’s not that she waves her Mexican flag or her Colombian flag or whatever — she just so happens to be. I love the fact that that’s the way it’s written and it’s approached, and that to me is putting Latino women — and women in general — ten steps forward.”
Zed wasn’t part of the pilot episode, and Celaya admits joining the show after it had started production was a bit like jumping into a game of “badass Double Dutch.” Thanks to a welcoming cast and crew, she’s warmed up to the team quickly. “If they let me play, I play. And that guy over there,” she said, turning and pointing to Ryan, “he plays a lot, and I love it. The scenes are written one way and they end up being shot totally different, because they let us loose.”
Goyer addressed the decision to write out Lucy Griffiths’ Liv Aberdine character after the pilot and bring in Zed. He said that he thinks NBC initially wanted someone outside of the occult world to work as the audience’s entry point. Then, as stories developed, “it became more interesting once we thought of introducing the idea of someone who was also part of that world who could go toe to toe with John.” He added that the decision was theirs and not forced upon them by the studio.
There’s been concern that John Constantine of the comics — known for his swearing and smoking — would have to be neutered a bit for network TV, but Goyer wanted to assure everyone that won’t be the case. “I would say watch the first six episodes of the show — he’s a dick. NBC backed that; he’s a big asshole in the show.”
He pointed to the character’s rough exterior as one of the joys of writing Constantine versus “some of the great hero heroes” he’s worked on in the past. “He lies and he cheats and he’ll kick people in the balls,” said Goyer. “He drinks too much and sleeps around. None of that has been changed in the show.” He added that Constantine will indeed be a cigarette smoker, reiterating Ryan’s comments regarding ‘Dangerous Habits’ and saying they’ll do it “if we go long enough.”
Goyer said they hope to eventually adapt many stories from the “Hellblazer” books. “The first season sort of loosely adapts [Alan Moore’s] ‘American Gothic’. But having said that, even within the first season we adapted a couple issues from the [Jamie] Delano run. An issue from [Garth] Ennis has been adapted in the first season.” He said sometimes they’ll pitch stories only to be told by someone at DC that there was a similar tale in the books. They’ll then rework the script to more closely resemble the comic.
Other aspects of the comic series will be showing up on “Constantine” as well. “There are a lot of easter eggs,” said Goyer. “There’s all sorts of things in John Constantine’s lair. There are dozens of them that are little trinkets that you’ll find in the DC Universe. Eclipso’s black diamond is in there.”
Doctor Fate’s helmet is seen in the pilot episode, and Goyer said there is an intended story behind it that they hope to get to. “We have an initial order for 13 and hopefully we’ll get our back nine order. The plan is that someone shows up on the doorstep to claim that helmet.”
As for other characters that could appear, he mentioned that Swamp Thing could theoretically show up. “The question is should he, meaning could we ever pull off that level of SFX makeup and have it not look cheesy,” said Goyer.
Still, the comic publisher has given them access to nearly every occult character in the DC Universe. Jim Corrigan appears as early as episode five, and will be a recurring character. “We’re not going full Spectre yet, but it’s a possibility.” Goyer also teased that another character fans will recognize will enter the scene in episode ten, though he didn’t give a name.
A question was asked regarding stepping on the toes of the potential and long-in-development “Justice League Dark” movie from Guillermo del Toro. “There has been currently the decision to develop movies and TV separately simultaneously,” he explained. “So it’s possible some other Justice League Dark characters will be showing up.”
Lastly, Goyer pointed to a character he’d particularly like to add down the line. “I think it’d be interesting to have and I’d love to see Etrigan, and/or Jason Blood.”
For now, though, you can watch John Constantine and Zed take to the screen when “Constantine” premieres October 24th on NBC.
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