Michael James Shaw Talks CONSTANTINE, Playing Papa Midnite, the Epic Season Finale, and More

     February 13, 2015

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From executive producer David S. Goyer and showrunner Daniel Cerone, the NBC series Constantine, based on the wildly popular comic book series Hellblazer from DC Comics, is coming to its season conclusion on Friday the 13th. On Episode 13, called “Waiting for the Man,” John Constantine (Matt Ryan) and Zed (Angélica Celaya) return to New Orleans when Detective Jim Corrigan (Emmett Scanlan) asks for their help in the case of a missing girl. Meanwhile, Papa Midnite (Michael James Shaw) takes steps toward exacting his revenge on John, in ways that only Papa Midnite can.

During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Michael James Shaw talked about why the season finale of Constantine is so epic, the still undecided fate of the show’s future, how he views Papa Midnite, what he most enjoys about the character, how he connected to him, his snazzy wardrobe, seeing Papa Midnite unleashed on John Constantine, that the cast and crew are like a huge family, why it was important to him to respect the religious practices that they’re simulating, and what he’d still like to explore with the character, if they do get future episodes. Be aware that there are some spoilers.

constantine-tv-series-posterCollider:  What can you say about the season finale of Constantine, and what is it that makes it so epic?

MICHAEL JAMES SHAW:  Well, the world is turned upside down. That’s about all I can say. We can’t give it away! You have to watch. That’s the thrill of it.

With the fate of the show still unknown, as far as whether NBC will pick up a second season or the rumors that it could possibly move to Syfy, how make-or-break is it for this last episode of the season, and for people to really tune in and show the love that they have for the show?

SHAW:  I think it’s important, in general, if you love the world and you love the characters, to tune in. I don’t know if everything is depending on this last episode, but it is important to tune in. It’s a show that I love to watch, as well. I’m on it, so I’m definitely guaranteed to be in my seat at 8 o’clock on Friday the 13th, to watch this last episode of the first season. So, tune in! If you can, be home. If you can’t, program your on-demand and make sure you watch.

What better way to spend your Friday the 13th than watching Constantine!

SHAW:  Of course! How coincidental is that?! The last episode of the season is airing on Friday the 13th is like fate. That’s the voodoo working for us, right there.

Personally, I don’t see Papa Midnite as evil, but he does seem like someone who wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of you, if you interfere with what he’s doing. As the actor playing him, how do you view him?

SHAW:  I view Papa as a man who is ruled by his heart, and the things that are close to his heart may not be viewed by the world as things that are on the lighter side. That’s how I justify a lot of his actions. It’s because he’s operating out of love. A lot of times, that may reflect differently from different perspectives, but it makes sense in his world. So, in my mind, he’s not evil, at all. There’s nothing evil about him. It’s how society perceives it.

What was it about this character that led you to really tap into him? Did you feel a connection with him, right from the beginning?

constantine-michael-james-shaw-6SHAW:  He has a way with words that I enjoy. It’s a very heightened way of communicating. Also, he is able to communicate with other planes of reality, whether it be the spirit world or other, and I find that very interesting. I just feel like that’s a power that I wish I had and that I wish I could experience, in real life. I admire his abilities.

As you’ve peeled back the layers of this character and dug into his background and history, have there been things that you’ve uncovered that you’ve incorporated into how you play him?

SHAW:  Well, the main idea that I latched onto is the curse that was put on him, that’s tied to his sister’s life being taken. That’s a huge part of his journey in this world, from that point on. It’s directly tied to that moment. So, everything that he does is pretty much reflected back to three hundred years ago, when that happened. That’s a huge thing to act or portray, but if you simplify it, that’s about love and regret. There’s a lot of complexities that come out of that lost relationship, and that definitely helps to tie everything to that. It gives it a great weight.

Papa Midnite is a bad-ass character, but he has an unspoken sorrow to him that’s always present.

SHAW:  Thank you. I can’t take any credit for that. I’m just the vessel.

Because this character is such a bad-ass, what do you most enjoy about embodying him? Is it fun to walk in his shoes?

SHAW:  Yeah, it’s fun to walk in his shoes because he wears some pretty snazzy shoes, and some snazzy clothes, too. He’s got a great style that’s very uniquely his own. He totes around The Ace of Winchesters and can point it in any direction and never miss. That’s pretty bad-ass. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Do you find yourself walking and carrying yourself differently when you’re in the wardrobe and playing the character?

constantine-michael-james-shaw-3SHAW:  Oh, yeah. As soon as I step into those clothes, my demeanor is changed. It’s fun to walk around in his mind and explore the things that he would do. Even when the cameras aren’t rolling, I’m thinking about the possibilities of the moment. I wonder, “What would Papa do, if he were asking an assistant for coffee?”

Up until now, it seems as though Papa Midnite has held back a bit when it comes to John Constantine. We’ve seen more of the uneasy ally side of their relationship vs. the more adversarial side of it. Why is he unleashing revenge on him now?

SHAW:  I think you’ll have to tune in to witness that. I can’t tell you much more than that.

What does Papa Midnite unleashed look like, and how much fun was it to just let go in that way?

SHAW:  Oh, it was good fun. Papa is a bit more creative in the way he goes about it, in this round with John. You’ll get to see that.

What have you enjoyed about getting to work with Matt Ryan, and playing such a great dynamic between your characters?

constantine-michael-james-shaw-2SHAW:  I have a great time on set with everyone. It’s like a huge family. It’s so great. It’s like we’re picking up right where we left off, with our friendship and our relationship with the world. Everyone is so in love with what we’re doing, we feed off each other. Everyone who’s on set, we’re all there to support and create the best possible version of this world that we can. It’s an honor, and it’s very humbling to be a part of.

You’ve talked about how, because this character’s magic is rooted in real religious and cultural traditions, you’re careful about what you tap into, in that regard. Why was it so important for you to remain true and honest with that aspect, while also making sure that you don’t cross any of those lines that you don’t want to cross?

SHAW:  Mainly, it was out of respect for these religious practices that we’re simulating. I don’t want to cross any lines because it’s very real for many people. We wanted to show them respect, and also pay homage to beliefs that are probably outside of the majority, but are still very real practices.

Papa Midnite is one of the most iconic in the Hellblazer comics, but we’ve only gotten to see glimpses of him that barely scratch the surface of what he could be. If this show does get picked up, in whatever form that happens in, what aspects of him would you like the chance to explore?

SHAW:  Yes, there are things that I want to explore in playing him. Back to his sister, I would like to explore the moment of the curse that was put on him. It’s a profound story and it makes you understand him so much more. That’s the root of my playing of him and my love for him. It all goes back to that moment. It’s been a pleasure to play him, and I hope that I get to continue to explore him, next year.

The season finale of Constantine airs on NBC on Friday, February 13th.

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