From executive producer David S. Goyer and showrunner Daniel Cerone, Constantine is based on the wildly popular comic book series Hellblazer from DC Comics. John Constantine (Matt Ryan) is a seasoned demon hunter and master of the occult, armed with a ferocious knowledge of the dark arts and his wicked wit, but his soul is already damned to hell. Along with trying to find a loophole out of that, Constantine begrudgingly fights to save the soul of others, with the help and guidance of long-time friend Chas (Charles Halford), an intuitive with heightened senses named Zed (Angélica Celaya), and a morally ambiguous guardian angel known as Manny (Harold Perrineau).
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Matt Ryan talked about his long audition process, both in London and L.A., how he views John Constantine, what he most enjoys about playing this character, the character dynamics, the journey of John Constantine, and why he’s not surprised that people have made a big deal about the smoking thing. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
MATT RYAN: It’s funny, I was doing a play in London. I was doing Henry V with Jude Law in the West End, and I had long hair and a long beard. It was pilot season, when all of the pilots come out, and I was reading a few things, but there wasn’t much that I really liked. And then, this came up and I really liked it. But then, I got offered a play at the National Theatre in London, and I really wanted to do the play. It was a great role. My agents and everyone were like, “No, this is gonna be a great show. You’ve gotta do this!” And when I researched it more and more, I was like, “Wow, this is awesome!” So, I did an audition, initially, in London because I couldn’t get over here with the play. I had long hair and a beard, and I think Daniel [Cerone] said to David [Goyer], “Yeah, we like Sasquatch, but this guy needs to shave.” So, I went through an arduous audition process of doing tape after tape after tape. Because I had long hair and a beard, there were some people who couldn’t quite see it, and I couldn’t fly over until the play finished. Luckily, they still hadn’t found anyone, so I flew straight to L.A. On the night we finished our play, I went out to the party to end the play, jumped on a plane and got here. It was Sunday and a holiday, but I can’t remember which holiday it was. I called my friend and said, “Do you know anyone who can cut my hair?” So, he got one of his hair-dresser friends to cut my hair, and I went in the next day. And then, I went through the whole process here again. Eventually, I landed the role, and it’s great. I was unbelievably overwhelmed. It’s such an awesome role.
How do you view John Constantine?
RYAN: He’s not a superhero. He’s a working class anti-hero. He’s your ultimate man’s man and bloke’s bloke, who’s out for the everyday man. He’s a humanist, but he’s also a con man and manipulator. He’ll sacrifice his best friend to get what he wants. It’s a real inner conflict that goes on with him. He’s ultimately out to try to save humanity, but he’ll do whatever he needs to, to achieve that. He’s a tortured soul who carries all this guilt around with him. It’s a real interesting thing to play. It’s a real three-dimensional, multi-faceted character. In TV, sometimes you see a lot of generic characters, reading off exposition, and there’s not much behind it. I’m looking forward to really fleshing this guy out. I already know him quite well already, but as things go on, things will deepen and I’ll get to know him more, and we’ll be able to explore more.
RYAN: He just doesn’t give a shit. That’s what I love about him. He’s got that British cynical wit. He’s a bit of an asshole, and he can be a bit of a bastard, as well. He’s seen it all, which is awesome.
The relationship between John and Manny is so fun because, as an angel, he can just pop up anywhere, at any time. How is that to play?
RYAN: It’s a great thing. I love getting to play with Harold [Perrineau] because they make uneasy allies. They both want the same thing, but they both want to leave each other alone, as well. It’s a great dynamic, though. It will be interesting to see what happens in the series with them, and how they intertwine.
After you shot the pilot and set up the dynamic with Liv, how did you react to then having to change all of that up and bring in Zed instead?
RYAN: I agree with the guys that the Liv character was more of a reactionary character, and she was more susceptible to John’s manipulations. Whereas the Zed character can get more into John’s face and call him on his shit, a little bit more. So, I could see exactly why they did that. Lucy [Griffiths] is fantastic. I had worked with her before, on a TV show called Collision. She’s a fantastic actress and she did a great job. Zed is more of a foil for John and can give him a little bit more shit, which is something John needs, every now and then.
RYAN: Chas is John’s best friend, and one of his oldest friends, as well. He’s the brawn to John’s brains, but Chas is a thoughtful guy himself. He’s also a little bit of a beating rod for John. John gives him a bit of shit, every now and then. Poor Chas gets it in the cheek, all the time. Chas could probably take John out in a fight. He’s a big guy. In the pilot, Chas dies. How is that? That’s another interesting thing we’re going to find out. Is it a spell? Is it a curse? Is he immortal? How does that work? Whatever that is, how does that then affect their dynamic? But, it’s great because Chas provides logic to John. John is the master of the dark arts and the occult, and everything in that world, but sometimes Chas is common sense and John will be like, “Oh, I didn’t think of that,” when it’s right in front of his face. They make a good team, in that way. It’s really interesting. Between the three people that John has relationships with, there are a lot of interesting dynamics going on, and very different dynamics, as well. The diversity of the dynamics between each one of those characters is really interesting.
What can you say about the journey John Constantine is taking this season?
RYAN: John is like a supernatural smoke jumper. Every time he sees a little bit of supernatural smoke, he jumps on it and tries to put it out. I really like that analogy of it. It’s almost as if they’re trying to put out the possible fires from this rising darkness before they ignite. There’s this rising impending darkness, and there’s all these little things, popping up all over the country and the world, and they’re just trying to put the flames out before it gets too big. And in the process, they’re trying to figure out what it is and how to get to the core of it.
Are you surprised about how big of a deal everyone has made over the whole smoking thing?
RYAN: I’m not surprised. In the original character description of John Constantine, it’s the third thing that’s mentioned, so something like that is fundamental to the character. He has to be a smoker. There’s no question about it. You can’t take that away from him because that’s who he is. It’s just a matter of us not dwelling on it, in terms of us showing it too much. But, he’s a smoker. He still has that addiction. That’s still what he does. That’s essential to who he is. He’s a drinker. He’s a smoker. He’s a rough, raw British bloke. That’s who he is. Smoking is not a good thing. It’s not good to condone it. As a character, you don’t want to say, “Hey, it’s cool to smoke.” But at the same time, it’s such a huge part of the character. He is a smoker and we will be able to show him holding cigarettes. He is still a smoker, but we’re just not going to dwell on it. We’re not going to do any close-up shots of him taking a long drag.
Constantine airs on Friday nights on NBC.