At this year’s Television Critics Association summer press tour, the first of three comic book TV shows to present a panel was “Constantine.” NBC’s adaptation of Hellblazer stars Matt Ryan as John Constantine, a blonde haired, British exorcist/demonologist. During the panel, producers David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone discussed the decision to eliminate the new character Liv Aberdine (Lucy Griffiths) and announced the casting of Angelica Celaya as Zed, from the comic books.
After the panel, I got to sit down with Ryan himself to discuss his role as John Constantine. I’ve seen the pilot with Griffiths, the minimal depiction of smoking per network standards and practices, and the appearance of Doctor Fate’s helmet, whom Goyer promised would appear on the show.
SuperHeroHype: A lot has been made about how little John Constantine can smoke on the show. Do you care one way or another if you get to smoke? Is that a big deal to you?
Matt Ryan: For me, he’s a smoker. John Constantine is a smoker. There’s no question about it. I think in the original description of the character, it’s the third thing that’s mentioned. So yeah, he’s a smoker. He has to be a smoker, without question. We can’t make him not a smoker. It’s just that we’re not going to dwell on it too much. There’s only so much we can show but yeah, we’ll have him putting out cigarettes, doing a lot of other stuff like that. It’s still an essential part of the character. It’s got to be in there. For me, it’s got to be in there.
SHH: Does it become a fun challenge of how can you insert those elements in a way that fits network TV?
Ryan: Yeah, I think that’s the key really, to see it as a challenge rather than a hindrance. ‘Oh, this’ll be a cool moment to do that,’ so that we can actually make some fun out of it and it’s a nod in the right direction, rather than going, “Aw, we can’t do that” and being disappointed over the fact that we can’t maybe do as much as we want. But he’s a smoker, definitely.
SHH: I thought I saw a cigarette in the pilot.
Ryan: There’s one in the end, at the bar. I stub a cigarette.
SHH: He is a hard drinker too, but so far it’s mostly beer. Does he drink harder stuff too?
Ryan: Oh yes, yes. I think he likes Bloody Marys, Gin and Tonics, whatever he can get his hands on really.
SHH: If they can’t do the lung cancer story, maybe John can get liver disease instead.
Ryan: That’s interesting. That’s interesting. You should be in the writer’s room.
SHH: Is it tough to find out that Lucy Griffiths won’t be a part of the show since you built this dynamic with her in the pilot?
Ryan: Yeah, Lucy’s great, but I’ve known Lucy for years. I worked with her before on a TV show called “Collision” in the U.K. She’s a wonderful actress and she’s fantastic. She did a great job in the pilot. I can see where the guys have gone in terms of the character of Liv is someone who’s more susceptible to John’s manipulations, so maybe then it’s not as hard for John to manipulate her. I think the character of Zed is someone who can maybe take John up on his sh*t a little bit more, be a little bit more in his face. I can see where they’ve gone creatively with that but obviously, I love Lucy and it’ll be a shame not to work with her.
SHH: How soon will that take effect, like right in episode two?
Ryan: I don’t know, man. I think she’ll be in a couple of episodes.
SHH: Have you already shot those?
Ryan: No, we start on Tuesday.
SHH: Was today the first you heard about Angelica Celaya?
Ryan: I heard about Angelica yesterday. She’s great. I did a reading with her a while ago and she’s fantastic.
SHH: Did you read with a lot of potential Zeds?
Ryan: I did, yes. Angelica was great. I was really pleased and I just sent her a little text actually saying, “They just announced you.” She’s great. I’m really looking forward to working with her.
SHH: How would you describe the chemistry you have with her and the chemistry John might have with Zed?
Ryan: I think she’s feisty. I think she’ll get a lot more in John’s face and challenge John a little bit more. I think John’s the type of person that feels he can easily manipulate anyone. When there’s someone who comes along who can take him up on his sh*t, he kind of likes that. There’s the possibility of a sexual chemistry there as well. He likes this person because she can give it back to him. I think that makes an interesting dynamic for the show and the episodes that they’re not always going to agree with each other. She’s not just going to follow him around. She’s a leader as well.
SHH: Was lighting his hands ablaze from the comic books?
Ryan: The thing is, what he does there is he douses his hands with petrol and lights his hands on fire. There is actually a little bit that we cut. He walks around the corner and puts his hands out [mimics burning pain].
SHH: Is that something he might do again or just a one off?
Ryan: Maybe, yeah. He’s a con man. He’s always looking for new tricks and stuff. That’s just one of the things he’s got up his sleeve.
SHH: Did you recognize Doctor Fate’s helmet when it was on set?
Ryan: I didn’t, no, to be honest. All I saw was, I was like, “Wow, man. Look at all these Easter eggs and trinkets.” When I saw that set, I was blown away and I just spent 20 minutes walking on the set, looking at all the little trinkets and things that they have. They really went to town. There are so many little subtle Easter eggs and things in there, but at the time I’d got the job and we had two-and-a-half weeks before we started shooting the pilot. So I’d only had two and a half weeks to read as many comics as possible and then prep as well. I hadn’t really read that many so I wasn’t really as up to speed as I would like to have been.
SHH: Do you remember which issues or series you did read?
Ryan: I jumped all around the place, because they sent me a bunch of stuff that was going to be relevant to what we were doing, so I jumped around the place and what I’ve done now is I’ve gone back and started to make my way forward again. There’s still so much to get through.
SHH: How did the role come to you? Were they looking for a type and going out to blonde, British actors?
Ryan: Well, I was doing a Shakespeare play. I was doing “Henry V” in the West End with Jude Law, with long hair and a big beard. I was dark as well. I dyed my hair. It’s naturally dark, but the role came up and I went in for an audition in London. Then they liked me but they were like, “Look, he’s got really long hair. Can he cut the hair?” I was like, “I can’t because I’m doing a play.” So I’d get another tip, another tip, another tip. There were some people who couldn’t see through the beard and the hair but Daniel and David really liked me. Then eventually when the play finished, I cut off the hair. The play finished on a Saturday. We had a party on the Saturday night and I jumped on a plane in the morning, flew over. I think it was a holiday that day, so I had a friend of mine call his hairdresser friend. He came over, cut my hair off, and then I went in the next day, tested, and then got the job. It was a long process, they saw a lot of people for it, but I was over the moon when I got it. It’s such an awesome character.
SHH: Why did you want it so badly, having not been so familiar with the comic books?
Ryan: My best friend, one of my great friends, he’s such a comic book fan that he has his own comic book company now called Improper Books, and he writes his own comics. He’d been telling me about John Constantine for years so I’d heard a little bit about it. Then he sat me down before I had the audition and was like, “This is what John is like.” Gave me the whole low down on it. He actually gave me a comic before I did the audition and I kind of scanned it, but I didn’t have much time before the audition and I was doing a play, so I did as much as I could. Once I started to read those comics and hear the depth, when you look online and you see the synopsis of the character, you do as much research into a role as possible and he really seemed like someone who was multi-faceted and three dimensional. Someone who’s tortured but has this amazing, cynical British ironic wit. That’s a really interesting thing to play, and also he’s a con man. He’s a quick-witted con man who will stick the middle finger up to the Devil as he’s making his way back up from hell. That sh*t’s cool. So yeah, I want to do that. And the fact that he’s dark and he walks around with all this guilt and the weight of the world on his shoulders as well. It’s got everything. It’s really fun and awesome to play for an actor.
SHH: Are we going to see more of his con artist side?
Ryan: I think the great thing about this show, I think is that we get to see a lot of different sides of John. I think from the pilot, we can really now flesh out the character and get under his skin. There are so many different layers to him that now we can all start peeling pack. For me as well, I’ve gotten to know him quite well since I got the role, but as we progress, you get to know the character even more and more. Things deepen even more and more so I’m really looking forward to that process of getting to know him even more and deepening everything, and then seeing what storylines they throw out and what different parts of his personality we draw out from episode to episode.
SHH: It’s funny to think he’s a con artist who happens to know for sure there are actual supernatural forces. He’d still choose manipulation over using real powers?
Ryan: That’s what’s great about him, right? Isn’t that such an interesting character thing. Yeah, I could put a spell on someone or put a curse on someone, but you know what? He likes a challenge. He’d rather use his wit and con someone, which I think is awesome.
SHH: Producer Rockne S. O’Bannon said he’s interested in working the “Hunger Demon” story into the first season. Are you familiar with that?
Ryan: Oh yeah, yes.
SHH: Would you be excited to do that story?
Ryan: I would, yeah. It’s great. It’s an interesting one. I think that John’s manipulation of Lester and the way all that works out, and you see again one of John’s friends dying around him. I think that shows a part of John which we haven’t seen yet and a part of him that’s willing to sacrifice. There’s loads of great things about that. If you just look at it in terms of a special effect, how it would look, you could do lots of interesting things with that. So it’d be interesting if we do go down that road, how we adapt it.
SHH: Did you happen to see the Constantine movie?
Ryan: Yes, I saw it years ago and then I watched it again before we did the pilot.
SHH: Did you know at the time they’d changed some significant things?
Ryan: No, I didn’t. My friend obviously was the comic book fan that said stuff but when I watched it myself, I just took it as a standalone thing. I didn’t really know that they’d changed it.
SHH: Do you think the subsequent episodes will keep up the pace of the pilot?
Ryan: I think with the pilot, the pilot’s always something in itself, isn’t it? I mean, there’s lots of stuff going on. I think the pace of the show will change slightly. I think we’ll get a lot more suspense and scary, but I think the pilot moves quite fast because there’s a lot we’re setting up in the pilot. As the show goes on, the pace of the show will change a bit.
SHH: Would you like John to get back to London?
Ryan: I’d like him to go back to London at some point, yeah. So many of them are set in London, aren’t they? And all of his London friends, the Newcastle stuff. There’s so much of it that would be great to explore.
SHH: Are you excited or nervous to see the reaction at Comic-Con?
Ryan: I’m excited, man. Having become a fan of the comics now, I think we’ve got something that’s pretty good and I think that hopefully the fans will like it. Hopefully we can do the comics justice and hopefully we can do the fans justice.
“Constantine” premieres October 24 and look for more news out of Comic-Con!