On the NBC drama series Constantine, based on the wildly popular Hellblazer series from DC Comics, actor Charles Halford plays Chas, John Constantine’s (Matt Ryan) closest friend and the silent brawn of the pair. A seasoned demon hunter and master of the occult, Constantine is armed with a ferocious knowledge of the dark arts and his wicked wit, but his soul is already damned to hell. While trying to find a loophole out of that, he begrudgingly fights to save the soul of others, with the help of an intuitive with heightened senses named Zed (Angélica Celaya), a morally ambiguous guardian angel known as Manny (Harold Perrineau), and a few others that he picks up, along the way.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Charles Halford talked about how exciting it is to be involved with a show that is already connecting with viewers and fans of the comic, the nerves about the shift in direction that they took after the pilot, how Episode 10 will delve much deeper into Chas and how he obtained his “survival skills,” that this team will just continue to get stronger, how cool all of the action and stunts are, having so many death scenes, and what it’s like working with such a great captain as Matt Ryan, at the head of the show. He also talked about what it was like to be a part of True Detective (he played meth cooker Reggie Ledoux), and how they never could have imagined what it would become. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: What’s it like to be a part of a show that’s already clearly connecting with viewers, and where you can honestly say it’s getting better and stronger with every episode?
CHARLES HALFORD: It’s really great. I love engaging with the fans. It’s fun. It’s the kind of show where, when you watch it air, you’re really seeing it for the first time. You have ideas in your head about how it’s gonna look, but my character, in particular, is there and then he’s away. That gets betters, as the season goes on, and he gets more involved. There’s just so many talented people working behind the scenes on the show that, to see it all stitched together, with the music and everything else, has been great. The response has been great. It’s gratifying when I catch somebody’s tweet that says, “As a long-time Hellblazer fan, I’m actually really liking the show.” It was a little bit of a rocky start, after the little shake-up after the pilot. We had to introduce Zed, and it took us a couple episodes to really get rolling. Now, we’re hitting a stride that just keeps moving and getting better. In a couple of weeks, those episodes are just really unique network TV experiences. I’m just thrilled to be involved in it. It’s really exciting.
How did you come to this show?
HALFORD: It was a pretty standard audition process. I received the script and the breakdown, and I was familiar with Constantine from the comic books. I don’t think in the breakdown it actually said that it was based on Hellblazer, but it didn’t take me long into reading the script to say, “Oh, this is Hellblazer.” But when I read the character of Chas, my name is Charles, so immediately I was like, “Okay.” Then, I read that they wanted a tall, dark figure, over 6’5,” and I was like, “Oh.” And they wanted him to have darker features, but a really good heart. I was like, “I don’t want to be presumptuous, but that’s me, on paper.” Before even reading page one, I was very enticed by the opportunity. Being of tall stature, it’s rare to get a series regular role. So, when I saw what they were looking for, I was excited. And then, when I read the script, I was just further impressed. In the pilot, I didn’t have that much business, so during the casting process, they had actually written scenes just to stretch me out and see where I could go, and all of those scenes really agreed with me. And then, there was just a really good chemistry when I met Matt [Ryan] and David [S. Goyer] and Daniel [Cerone]. The rest was just a pretty standard casting process. I was fortunate to have True Detective under my belt, before then. I think that helped put me out there. It was a high-profile project, and that helped give them confidence in making the choice, as well. I’ve played a lot of character roles, but this one is so close to me that it just felt good and it just felt right. I’m happy that they made the choice to go with me.
You got cast in this show and filmed a pilot, and you thought it would be going in one direction, but then that changed and shifted. Were you nervous about how the show you had already signed on for would change, and did you then have a moment where you felt things got back into a groove and you really dug where things were going?
HALFORD: Well, I’ve dug it from the start, but it’s still nerve-wracking. You do the work, and then time goes by. And then, you present it to whoever tunes in and, hopefully, that’s a lot of people. Hopefully, they like it enough to tell more people. So, the nerves haven’t really stopped. In terms of the Liv-Zed thing, from the pilot, I was really mixed on it. It felt like we were starting over, in a certain regard, but I also agreed with the creative decision, as a fan of the comic books. I just think that it’s a show about Constantine. All of us accent different elements of that character in the comics. He’s in every panel, and in our show, he’s in almost every scene. Matt is just a work horse, and he’s been totally amazing through the whole thing. The amount of work he puts in and the passion he has behind it is really something. The trick, then, is creating characters around him that will challenge and motivate him and, most importantly, remain true to who he is. This is a well-established character that a lot of people grew up with. We’re in as much service to all the little Constantine-isms, as we can be for our venue. I like the way that they’ve addressed all of that. Zed can push back. She’s a stranger to Constantine’s world, but she’s not a stranger to the other realm. It’s out of John’s character to lead anybody by the hand. As you saw in Episode 4 (“A Feast of Friends”), when it came to trying to save an individual, he’s after the bigger scale of humanity. He just wants humans to be left alone to be their miserable selves. So, I thought it was a strong move, creatively, but there were some moments of panic where it was just like, “Really?! Okay.” But, I’m really happy with how it’s gone. The Zed-Chas-Constantine broken family dynamic really started working some magic with Episode 5 (“Danse Vaudou”).
Will we get the very special Constantine episode, where we learn all about what Chas is up to, when we don’t see him?
HALFORD: Yeah, Episode 10 is a big Chas episode. Not unlike Chas in the comics, he’s a family guy. He’s got an estranged wife and a daughter, and the estranged has more than a little bit to do with his best friend, John Constantine. In that episode, we get into how Chas came about his survival skills. It’s nice to pay off some of that mystery. I think there are a lot of question marks, but a lot of that is by design. And that’s throughout the show. A lot of this first season is figuring out Zed, and learning more about Constantine for people who aren’t familiar with the comics or only know John Constantine from the film. It’s such a big world. The comics ran for so many years, and it’s just so in-depth. It followed him in real-time, over 26 years of his life. To try to pick what stories to bring, and then also make it a weekly episode while maintaining a serialized notion to it, is challenging in a unique way, but I’m really pleased with what David and Daniel and the writers have been coming up with. Right about that time where you’re like, “I need to know how Chas does that,” just give it another week and you’ll figure it out. Or maybe a couple weeks. But, I do think that it all pays off pretty well.
Will we learn about how John Constantine and Chas became friends, and why Chas sticks around? Is there something that obligates him to stick around and constantly risk his life?
HALFORD: He does feel a certain obligation to stick by him, but it’s a reluctant obligation. Hopefully, we’ll get a nice long run and we can really get into it. Fans of the comics would know how John and Chas became, more or less, like family. In the comics, John rids Chas of his mother problem. Chas’ mom, in the comic books, is this horrible witch. She kills his father, and his brother killed himself. It’s all Chas’ witch mother’s fault, so John fixes that and has a friend for life who would do anything for him. That storyline involves a demon monkey familiar. It’s really out there, so it would be very hard to adapt for television. In terms of their general friendship, Chas has known John from before John was John. We’ve all worked that out in our own heads ‘cause you’ve gotta do that to know where to play it from, but we don’t know how the writers will play it all out. But in Episode 10, which is a big Chas story, you’ll see when it goes next level and becomes what it is, in this show. There are some flashbacks to how it came to be, and you see how Chas’ life was literally up-rooted by John’s manipulations. Chas definitely has an obligation to humanity, not unlike John’s addiction to fighting demons. John is very much addicted to danger, and he can’t help himself, as much as he’s reluctant. That stems from the comics, too. He can’t help himself. He’s obligated to human beings. So, through a couple twists and turns, Chas becomes equally obligated to fight alongside him.
In Episode 5, we really got to see some of the history between Chas and John Constantine, and this team really started to click. Will things continue to head down that path now?
HALFORD: Yeah, and it gets so fun. Episodes 8 and 9 are all hands on deck. Nothing gets done without everybody involved. It really does start weaving a fun little adventure where every part is essential. That’s when the life of this world we’re creating really just jumps off the page. That’s a really fantastic place to work from. That’s when you can get out of your head and get into the moment. In Episode 4, we got to see what John’s willing to do to get the job done and just how much of a bastard he can be, in order to rectify a situation. In Episode 5, you started getting that team dynamic and that just builds on itself, but it takes its toll on everybody. We all get put through the ringer in various ways. It’s not an easy path that the Constantine crew walks, at the end of the day.
Episode 5 added the new element of Jim Corrigan into the mix. What will he bring to this team, and how will he change things for them?
HALFORD: He’s a really complex character from the comics. Obviously, it’s useful for a guy like John to have somebody on the inside, and John is very keen when it comes to using people. By the end of the episode, you saw Jim Corrigan come around to the reality that things do go bump in the not, and it’s not always bad men. As he opens up to this reality, that ends up playing a big part in who that character becomes. He’s one of these allies to John, but John is just loaded with complex relationships. With Papa Midnite, you get this reluctant ally. They’d just as soon slit each other’s throats, but at the same time, they respect each other, in some strange way, because they have to. And Jim and John have a similar relationship. The best that anybody who’s not in John’s inner circle can hope for is to have him on your good side when you need him there.
This show also has a lot of action and stunts. Do you enjoy being involved with that sort of thing?
HALFORD: Oh, it’s so cool! Even if I’m not in the scene, if they’re blowing something up, I’ll be there. You don’t get to do that, in real life. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel immensely lucky to have the job that I have. When things go as they should, nobody gets hurt. If that kind of thing happens in real life, it’s terrifying. While it’s terrifying in a movie, at the same time, it’s still cool to watch things crash into things. Look at Demolition Derbies. People do that, but with risk. While there’s still risk in filmmaking, there are a lot of measures taken to make sure that everybody is safe. At that point, we get to watch a cool car crash or make a big explosion or burn a building down. There’s that part of me that loves it. If I’m not on set and I know there’s a big effect happening, I’ll try to make it just to see it. That’s a perk.
Do you take pretty easily to working with stuff that’s not actually there?
HALFORD: Yeah. That goes back to childhood, and playing cowboys and Indians. It poses some challenges. The biggest challenge is probably some of the physicality. In the pilot, that was crushed cab. They crushed that cab and I had to crawl out of the window and pull a girl from the wreckage. That’s stuff you would never want to experience, in real life. It was really rainy that day and muddy, so everything was slippery. There are technical aspects to it that are challenging, but it’s still such an adventure that it’s worth all the scrapes and bruises and mud between the toes.
Do you laugh at having to see yourself in a variety of death scenes, or is that just always surreal and strange to watch?
HALFORD: With a face like this, you die a lot, over the years. When I met with David on this, he said, “Just so you know, Chas can’t die.” And I said, “That’s brilliant! That’s the best news my contract has ever heard.” But, it develops from there. He loses something. It’s easy to be taken for granted, if it’s just that. So, ideas were pitched around and what they ended up landing on is really fantastic. It puts some stakes there. It’s not just to be taken for granted. It’s something he has to do, and it’s not something that’s pleasant. And in terms of watching myself die, I think it’s funny. I was always the kid with the goriest Halloween costumes. Now, I get gory death scenes that have a hundred heads behind it, making sure that it’s particularly gory. I enjoy it. I enjoy it a lot more than my mother does. There’s an episode coming up where I die three times. It’s funny. When I read the script, I’m like, “This story is pretty cool. I wonder how they’re gonna kill me, this time?”
How has your relationship with Matt Ryan evolved, since doing the pilot together, and how has your relationship affected the relationship between your characters?
HALFORD: It’s all been such a brilliant adventure. Jumping into something like this, there’s this pressure to achieve something. You make a pilot, but you don’t know if you’re going to get a show. And then, you make a show, but you don’t know if people are going to watch. And then, people watch, but you don’t know if enough people are watching. And through all of that, we’ve really bonded and become pretty tight, and all of that serves the work that we do. I met the guy in the Spring, and I feel like I’ve known him half my life. It’s just been that intense. We’re in the trenches in the show, and we’re fighting alongside each other and propping each other up when we need it. Matt works so hard, but he’s so supportive. He’s a really, really good captain, and I’m happy to be on his team.
What has most surprised you and what have you most enjoyed about your experience with this show, playing this character?
HALFORD: It’s the sum of all parts, just to watch this world that I’ve been fascinated by for a long time and really gotten to know by good fortune. I was familiar with the comics when I was younger, but I’ve really gotten to know them since we started. It’s a lot of work, but it never feels like it. It’s a thrill ride, to see it all come together. You become this family unit, when you’re making a show like this. It’s a good support system. We’re really lucky. Everybody in the cast, and even the guest stars, have been so amazing. I just feel incredibly lucky to be doing this. I think of other experiences that I’ve had on other shows, and there’s just something special going on here. I just hope that we can do it, for many years to come, because it’s a pretty special unit. Nobody is too big for their shoes. Everybody cares about everybody else, everybody cares about the show, everybody cares about the comics, and everybody cares about the fans. It’s a very bizarre lovefest that ends in a horror show.
What was it like to be a part of True Detective and see what happened with the huge popularity of that show? Could you ever have imagined what it would have become?
HALFORD: No, I don’t think anybody did. I knew that it was a very strong story. The script was obviously amazing. The cast was amazing. The directing was amazing. All the way through it, it was a really great show, and we knew that we were making a really great show, but I don’t think there was any way to predict the kind of fan fare that it accumulated. It wasn’t so surprising to me, but I didn’t realize the scope to it. The fans were invested. When they love something, they care for it, and that’s the hugest success that you can have, as a storyteller. Who doesn’t want to be loved? That’s the whole point. So, when you can get that from someone across the globe, for just telling a story, that’s a special thing.