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.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, executive producer Daniel Cerone talked about wanting to create a scary show for network TV, having a full season story arc and a sense of what they’ll do for a second season, not having a final end game, the biggest challenges in dealing with a chain-smoking character with broadcast standards, when and why they decided they needed to write out the Liv character and instead write in Zed from the comics, whether Liv could ever return, Easter eggs, and his desire not to force this character into a formulaic mold. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
DANIEL CERONE: We want, to the best of our abilities, to create a scary show. We don’t feel like there are or have been a lot of scary shows on network television, but they’ve certainly been on camera. The demands are so different with the commercial breaks and the shorter length. And building out scares often involves slowing things down and taking time. We’re writing shorter scripts because we really want to create scary dynamics and set pieces. If it was a really flip world where everyone was telling jokes and cracking wise about supernatural entities, then it would take away from the scares. Constantine is the one character where this is his world. This is second nature to him. His way of dealing with the darkness is to crack a joke. So, most of the humor comes from him, and the characters around him should feel real, especially the people that he’s helping.
How far do you have this show planned out? Do you just know your full season arc, or do you have a five-year plan?
CERONE: It’s a good question. The beauty of developing a comic book like Constantine, that’s been in publication, in some form, for 30 years, is that there’s such a wealth of material. We definitely know what we’re doing this season, we know what our ending is, we know what we’re building toward, and we have a sense of what we’re doing for the second season and what we’d like our second season arc to be. Our first season arc actually comes straight from the comic books. Constantine was introduced in Swamp Thing. If you listen to a lot of the language of what they’re talking about, with the rising darkness and some force out there that’s planning a terrible event and is trying to flush supernatural entities out of the darkness and into the light, when Constantine showed up in Swamp Thing, he actually showed up as a character who always ushers someone along. Constantine showed up to help facilitate Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing was the one, at the end of that story, who ended up fighting the darkness. In our story, we’re using the same coming darkness, but Constantine is going to be the one who’s fighting it. So, we’re dipping very heavily into the mythology for the series. The Newcastle seance, where he lost the soul of the little girl, is something we want to revisit in our finale this season. As the season builds, we want to get to a point where, to stop this coming darkness, Constantine has to reconstitute the Newcastle seance, and he’ll end up bringing back all the players who were originally in that seance.
Do you have an idea of where you want to end the show, when you get to the series finale?
CERONE: No. It’s funny because I was the executive producer and showrunner for the first two seasons on Dexter, and I knew exactly where that show was gonna end. By the way, they didn’t end it there, but in my mind, it was confessions from the death chair. But in this case, I don’t know because he’s too fluid a character. He’s out there with his own magazine, and there’s another big DC magazine out there right now, called Justice League Dark, and he’s the leader of that. I don’t think his story ever ends, so I don’t see a finish point. The character is still alive in the public consciousness without a finish point.
CERONE: It’s an interesting phenomenon. Part of me wonders if smoking is that important to people that we need to see him smoke. We are staying true to the character. We are retaining the fact that he is a heavy smoker. But we also exist in a real-world situation where our broadcast standards don’t allow us to see someone smoking. I would hope that fans celebrate us for doing our best within the constructs that we have. That would be my goal. He does smoke, and he is a smoker. It’s as simple as that.
How far into production did you realize that you’d need to change the female character that you’d set up in the pilot?
CERONE: Honestly, it didn’t happen until we got a series order. We got a series order and we started talking about what the episodes would be and what the stories would be. When we carried the Liv character forward, she just wasn’t as interesting a character in the series, as she was in the pilot. One of the greatest things about Constantine is that he doesn’t have a super power. He’s got a great facility with the dark arts and with magic, but everything he does is knowledge-based. Whereas Liv had an actual power. She had the power to see the dark side. If you looked at her as a superhero, the pilot of Constantine was essentially her origin story because she discovered her power. Origin stories are exciting, but there’s a reason why Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 don’t work as well as Spider-Man. The origin story is so much more captivating than the guy or girl who already has their powers and is just dealing with them. So, Liv was great as an origin story, but after the discovery of her powers, we were stuck with a young woman who doesn’t know anything about this world, and she’s not a peer. Constantine would have had to keep schooling her. We thought it would be interesting and compelling to have a potential romantic interest. We thought it might be a little creepy, if Constantine was hitting on the daughter of his former mentor, who also played very young. Also, Zed is a character who has more wherewithal. She’s stronger and she knows who she is. She comes from a very challenging background, and she’s lived with her powers a little bit longer. She’s also a character from the comic books, and we really do want to honor the fans of this property, as much as we can.
CERONE: We’re open to it, but there are no current plans for it. It’s possible. She’s not dead. You’d have to talk to her to see if she’d even want to come back. Who knows? Creatively, the healthiest thing to do, when you make a break like that, is to put it in the rearview mirror and embrace the future, and that’s what we’re doing.
In the pilot, we see the Doctor Fate helmet. Are you hoping to drop little nods like that for the comic book fans, that don’t affect things or take away from the experience for the non-comic book fans?
CERONE: That’s a good point. If we do any nods toward the DC universe, they have to work on two levels. They have to work for the comic book fans, but they also have to work for the general viewer who doesn’t know anything about the Easter egg that we’re planting. In the pilot, we have the Doctor Fate helmet. Liv picks it up and Constantine says, “You better put that down, before it puts you down.” It’s a fun mysterious beat for the general viewer, who will be like, “There’s a mysterious item that I want to know more about.” And it takes on a whole level of meaning for the comic book fan who’s like, “Oh, my god, that’s Doctor Fate’s helmet! That’s cool. I hope I see that again.” We had a need in Episode 5 for a police officer who sees something that happens supernaturally and, for that episode, has to help our team. So, we were talking to DC and we said, “Well, what if we make this young police officer Jim Corrigan.” Jim Corrigan is this character from the DC universe who, as a cop, took moral justice into his own hands, ended up dying, and came back as The Spectre, which is a big comic book series. That way, Constantine has a friend on the force, for when he needs a law enforcement character, and we can use the character in a recurring fashion. And if it’s something that proves popular, maybe we’ll follow the character through to his origin story as The Spectre. That would be down the road, but at least we’re creating those kinds of possibilities. And the Jim Corrigan situation is perfect because he works within the demands of the episodic story we’re telling, as a cop who learns about the dark side. For fans who know nothing about Jim Corrigan, that’s cool. It still works within the body of the story. But for fans who know that Jim Corrigan becomes The Spectre, it’s an, “Oh, my god!,” moment. Hopefully, they’ll be wanting to see more, and we can show them more.
For people who go into this not knowing anything about the comics, what do you think they should know about the story, going in?
CERONE: One of the biggest challenges of developing Constantine for television is that he doesn’t fit into an easy mold. He’s not a detective. He is, in a way, but he’s not a guy who goes out and solves cases. He’s a bit of a supernatural jack-of-all-trades. He’s a supernatural fixer, he’s a spiritual grifter, he’s a con man, he’s a mage, he’s an occultist, he’s a demonologist, he’s an exorcist, and he’s a big humanity who’s always out there helping people. But, television wants people who fit into a mold. We’ve resisted turning Constantine into a supernatural detective. What we’d rather do is come up with story arcs every season that pit him against supernatural adversaries that we want to see him overcoming, but that aren’t so formulaic that he’s working in an office, or working for some men-in-black type of agency.
Constantine airs on Friday nights on NBC.