The “Constantine” star was recently conjured up for a conference call with the press to discuss how he finds his way into the role and the direction of NBC’s David Goyer-produced series, and Ryan proved to be a font of behind-the-scenes revelations, from Constantine’s relationship with the show’s cast of characters to the exact origins of his accent to the introduction of more aspects of DC Comics’ greater supernatural universe into the series.
On the preparation for playing a character from a long-running comic book:
Matt Ryan: It’s different in the fact that there’s so much source material — which is a great thing, actually. It’s different and it’s a great thing when you create a character because you start from scratch and you kind of build it from the ground up, but with this you have such amazing source material that you can keep on going back to that and keep on finding new things… So many amazing writers have written him. And, you know, they all have their own little takes on him so it’s great that you have the opportunity to have so much material in terms of viewing and keep on going back to.
On his key entry point into the character:
The history is obviously very important to any character — when you create a character normally you create a whole backstory for him, no matter how big the role. And I think that all the backstory that you get throughout the comics, all the flashback stuff, the stuff of his family, his sisters, his niece and all the aspects is fascinating. His relationship with all the Newcastle crew is something you can root the character in, you know? So that was probably the most important thing for me.
On landing John’s specific accent:
To be honest with you, because John’s originally from Liverpool and then he’d been in London a lot and it’s a comic book so it was kind of up for grabs. And so I talked to a lot of the guys about it, but I thought that the main thing that was important was for me to kind of try and get the essence of John rather than kind of playing an accent. But then I didn’t want to do something that was exactly the same as my accent, I just wanted to make a nod to him, really… I worked on doing this with a London accent for a while. And there was something that just wasn’t sitting right with it. And then I started playing around with a British Northern accent, which is a lot stronger than the one that I’m actually doing now. And it kind of felt right because it felt like working class and kind of gritty and it was in the right ballpark. But at the same time, I didn’t want to just spend so much time playing an accent and making him all about an accent. So what I decided to do was just concentrate on the essence of the character and then giving subtle nod. So I changed certain vowel sounds and just decided to give a node to him then. So it’s kind of a Northern accent based on some of the Liverpudlian sounds, but obviously it’s not a strong Liverpudlian accent. I don’t think that that would kind of be very accessible for a network show on television. But, you know, I’d like to think that there’s a subtle nod in there to where John comes from.
On his favorite storyline of the comic series:
My favorite is the “Dangerous Habits” one. That was one of the first I read when I first got the part. And they only had two and a half weeks to prep for the pilot and obviously I hadn’t read 300 or so comics. And I can remember thinking at the time “Wait, we can’t do this yet! I have to read every single comic before we do it!” I didn’t feel that I was going to do it justice without reading all the comics. But the “Dangerous Habits” run was my favorite. And also probably the scariest as well, because of the fact that it’s lung cancer and it’s a very human story and that scared me quite a lot and was also one of the reasons why it was my favorite.
On Constantine’s relationships with Chas and Manny:
Chas is John’s oldest friend, and closest friend, and the only one who’s been around and who hadn’t died, although Chas does die but has an extraordinary gift so he keeps on coming back. But what’s great about Chas is that he kind of provides a logic to John, whereas John is an addict — he’s a demon addict, if you like — and he kind of provides a grounding to John. And also he’s helpful in a fistfight as well — he’s kind of the brawn to John’s brain. John’s scrappy. He’s not afraid to get into a fight, but at the same time Chas could probably help him out in a lot of situations there. With Manny, what’s really interesting is they’re almost like two gunslingers kind of standing opposite each other that need each other but they could shoot each other at any time. There’s a kind of conflict there. They both don’t really kind of want to be in each other’s company, particularly. But they know that they have to and that they’re both useful to one another, so I think there’s a really interesting kind of conflict there. And what we see developing is how Manny helps John and how there’s a very interesting dynamic, actually, between them. After about Episode 4 their relationship takes a shift and moves in a slightly different direction. But it’s an uneasy kind of relationship which makes for a lot of tension and a lot of conflict.
On Constantine’s rapport with Zed:
Zed’s a feisty one, let me tell you! She’s great because she’s someone who gets in John’s face, doesn’t take any of his shit. She’s not afraid to smack someone in the face when it comes down to it. And she also has this unique ability, which is very useful for John. So they need each other, but at the same time, there’s a chemistry between them which could develop into something more. She has a mysterious background, and what’s interesting about these two characters is they work together on some level but then they’re both reluctant to reveal each other’s past to each other. So there’s a constant looking out of the corner of each eye with each other, which is really interesting. And then there’s the kind of sexual chemistry between them as well, which leads to a really kind of fun play in between the two of them. And that relationship, throughout the series, will kind of develop in a very interesting way, I must say.
On the characters from the comics he’d like to see appear on the show:
We get to see a bunch of the Newcastle crew: we meet Gary Lester, we meet Annmarie Flynn. But I would most like to see Satan, to be honest — the First of the Fallen. But I think that would take a while for us to try to get there. But he’s probably the biggest one, right?
On the introduction of other aspects from the mystical corner of the DC Universe:
It’s something that I’m really excited about. Like Pandora’s Box and the Dr. Fate helmet, and we get to see Jim Corrigan who becomes The Spectre. It’s just such an amazing world, the occult DC Universe, and I know that especially if we get the back nine [episode order] that David [Goyer] was saying that we’re going to be introducing a lot more from that universe as well. So it’s just an exciting thing, man. It doesn’t become then just the demon-of-the-week. What’s great I think about this is that this is — I wouldn’t say it’s procedural but we do have an individual story each week. But we’re introducing Papa Midnite, Jim Corrigan, Annmarie, Gary Lester. I think if we go to the back nine we might be introducing Judas and kind of there are all of these great characters which have different relationships with John and then in effect bring out the different sides of John. And that’s really interesting then to study these relationships rather than having just something that’s completely separate from John and that relationship with the characters built within the structure of the episodes, so you always have something to root the episode in, which is always great.
On what sets “Constantine” apart from other supernatural TV shows:
To be honest with you, I think that it’s down to the central character of John. And that’s what made the comic books unique: the kind of working class anti-hero, wisecracking street magician. He’s someone who sacrifices his friends to get what he needs, but you still love him as well because he has this compelling urge to save humanity, even though he does it with a cigarette and a whiskey all the time. So I think it’s him. And then in effect the relationships that he has with the other characters around him. And I think that’s what’s unique to him. He really is an anti-hero, and he’s not a superhero in tights. He’s a working class man that is for the people.
On where he finds inspiration outside of the show’s scripts:
Depending on the scene or depending on my mood in the day and what kind of scene we’re shooting, I’ll use music mostly. I’ll listen to classical music for the darker stuff, like Schoenberg. And then with some of the other elements of the character, I listen to punk rock or I’ll switch it up as well with music. I like a broad range of music so I’ll switch it up depending on what the mood takes me. I use music as a motivation. And also the comics: I always have a comic with me. And I’ve jumped around so much in the comics that I couldn’t tell you how they go in any order, to be honest with you! But I always have a comic with me so that if there’s any time that I’m not feeling connected to it, I can just pick it up, look at a panel and go “Oh yeah…” And what’s great about them as well, there’s always a physicality to John in the comics, so there’s always something to connect you to it that way as well. So yeah, there’s music and carrying a “Hellblazer” with me everywhere I go.
“Constantine” airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on NBC.
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