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 a recent luncheon with a handful of press, David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone talked about how much they’re drawing from the comics, just how far this show will go, having an unlikeable lead character, dealing with NBC on the morally complex story path that they’re on, why they decided to bring in Jim Corrigan, how many of the DC occult characters might be seen this season, whether there’s any chance we might see Swamp Thing, how big of a role the Newcastle incident will play, whether they ever considered calling the show Hellblazer, and that they’re already planning which storylines from the comics they can pull in, later on. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
DANIEL CERONE: We draw heavily, for both inspiration and actual stories, from the comics. The fourth episode that airs is ripped from the Hellblazer comics. It’s the first official case, and we literally transpose that story onto the screen. It delivers on the promise of everything that the show can be.
DAVID S. GOYER: That episode, in particular, is a damn good hour of television, but it’s also a really good Hellblazer episode. Hellblazer fans are going to be surprised, once we get a few episodes under our belt, at how true to the comics and the character it is.
Just how hard can you get with this show on broadcast TV?
GOYER: It’s pretty hard. I’m feeling pretty bullish. I really am. We don’t pull any punches on this show.
CERONE: We turn in material and actually have the network saying, “Push it more.” They want to see more. There really are no limits.
GOYER: And we’re not just talking about gore. One of the things I’m really proud of is that it’s a morally complex show. It’s cable complex, in that way, in terms of the characters, what they do and their motivations. It’s not just white hats and black hats.
CERONE: This is a guy who sells out his friends, and who leaves a trail of death behind him. If you grow close to him, it’s a sure sign that your days are limited. By Episode 8, you’ve seen at least two or three hardcore instances of him doing exactly that.
GOYER: Heart-breaking and brutal instances, which is also unusual for a lead in a network show. Not in a cable show, but in a network show.
Do you worry about losing audiences by having an unlikeable character for your lead?
GOYER: I think Matt’s depiction of Constantine is very true to the comic book. He is definitely morally questionable, but he is also funny, so he can get away with a lot. You can get away with a lot, if you’re also funny.
CERONE: He has to be brutal, but you have to be able to root for him. We want to challenge viewers morally and we want to scare them, but we also want their hearts. We want people to pull for this character.
GOYER: Constantine makes a lot of hard choices in this show and he throws a lot of people under the bus, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel it. You see that pain in his eyes when he has to make those decisions. From his point of view, he’s fighting this war. He and planet earth are these extreme underdogs, so in order to fight the war, he’s going to have to do a lot of dirty tricks. Another reason why you get away with it is that, every decision he makes, you see the weight of those decisions in his eyes and his conscious.
CERONE: John Constantine is a humanist, and that comes through. He’ll justify anything, in the name of the greater good. If it’s to save the world, there’s really nothing he won’t do, and that includes throwing the people closest to him under the bus, even though it’s with regret and pain.
GOYER: And the way that Episode 4 ends, you don’t see many network shows ending that way. It definitely breaks a lot of conventions. It’s a much more complicated world that he inhabits.
How has it been to deal with NBC, specifically?
CERONE: There have been discussions. It’s always an interesting point of discussion when we want to take the character down a darker or more morally complex path. But, this is the show that NBC wants. The only character that’s our own creation is Manny, and there’s a very specific reason for that.
GOYER: There were many angels in the Hellblazer books.
CERONE: There were many angels, but we needed to give John Constantine a personal angel. NBC is very interested in exploring Judeo-Christian, heaven and hell, salvation, guilt and torment. Hellblazer does that really well, but it does it in his inner monologue. The magic happens in his interior monologue. So, what Manny enables us to do is to give him a personal angel character who’s very complex and questionable, himself, and bring that out in the dialogue. That’s the meat of the comic book. The best dialogue and interaction is with Manny and John.
GOYER: We’re also able to have a lot of the difficult conversations about why bad things happen to good people, and why God allows that to happen. That’s certainly a conversations, in all of the various iterations, that’s discussed quite a bit on the show.
What can you say about Constantine and Manny’s relationship?
GOYER: It’s very antagonistic. By the time we get to Episode 12, it’s evolved and changed.
CERONE: In Episode 12, they’re in a much different place.
GOYER: That doesn’t mean they go from being at odds to being buddies.
CERONE: We’ve created a mythology where angels have the power to reveal themselves to us, but they typically don’t. When we created the character, I was really channeling Wings of Desire. I was fascinated by the fact that these characters have basically been here since the dawn of time to chart and guide our spiritual development, but they’re powerless. They’re not able to do much of anything. They’re there to comfort or whisper, but they can’t affect change. And after millennia of that, you get a little sick of it. Manny hasn’t revealed himself to a mortal in thousands of years. It’s all for a good story cause.
GOYER: We haven’t exactly dated how long Manny has been around, but he saw the Great Flood. Things like that give you an interesting perspective on a character that’s been around that long and has witnessed that much human history, and has also witnessed a God who has committed such a giant act like that. So, he’s got a very unique take on the world.
How are you incorporating the darker elements of the DC universe, and what can you say about Jim Corrigan and whoever else we might see, this season?
GOYER: Within our first 13, you’ll see a couple of other characters from the larger DC universe. We didn’t want to just introduce these characters and have it become stunt casting or have the broader audience not understand backstories. So, we needed to make sure that, when we do introduced them, there’s a really organic reason to introduce them, and not just introduce them because it’s fun or an Easter egg. Corrigan was a really natural fit because we had a story that involved a homicide detective and there was something supernatural involved with the homicide.
CERONE: We have all of the DC occult characters always in our heads, and once we realized that we needed a detective, it was an opportunity to plug in Jim Corrigan. Not only were we tapping into the DC universe and the fans of the comics, but it also helped us because it gives Constantine a friend on the force. He’s not an investigator, but he’s constantly having to crack systems for information, so this gave him a friend on the force. We can start building on the Jim Corrigan legend, and there are personal opportunities with Zed. All kinds of fun opens up out of that, but it’s not a hit parade of DC characters.
GOYER: If we get out back nine, you might see four characters in the first season. The neat thing for us is that they’re not just one-hit wonders. Corrigan is a recurring character.
CERONE: Papa Midnite is a recurring character. It’s fun to build out that universe.
Any chance we’ll ever see Swamp Thing?
GOYER: If we were to do it, it’s a hard character to pull off, in terms of visual effects make-up. We don’t have $10 million to do the CG. We definitely wouldn’t see him in the first season. If we’re fortunate enough to keep going and we feel like we can pull it off, that one requires a lot of creature design, so we need to make sure it doesn’t look dumb and is organic to the story.
What can you say about the dynamic between Constantine and Zed?
GOYER: One of the problems with the construction of the Liv character is that Liv was a very passive character, and Zed is not passive. Zed also has a really interesting backstory and a lot of secrets herself, and we’re slowly peeling back the layers of the onion. She’s a very forceful character and she’s had to live outside the boundaries of the law for awhile, herself. In that regard, she’s a good match for John because she’s not adverse to breaking the law and breaking rules. And he can’t quite get her number, which bothers him, as well.
CERONE: John is a bullshit artist. He knows how to play systems. And Zed is a bullshit detector. She’s what we call sensitive. She can touch things and receive any kind of sensory input. It might be vision, it might be smell, or it might be audio.
GOYER: She knows when people are lying, and John is lying 80% of the time. She’s just like, “Everything that comes out of your mouth is bullshit.”
CERONE: They’re both equal partners, and we didn’t have that with Liv. They’re playful, and hopefully there’s romantic chemistry, but Zed is very much her own person. We’re having fun with that.
GOYER: John has a really dodgy romantic history, and we’ll run into a couple of his exes. He just was a real dog. There are times when Zed has an opportunity to talk to one of his exes, and that creates some great, but really uncomfortable scenes.
How big of a role will the Newcastle incident play?
CERONE: The defining moment in Constantine’s life, in Hellblazer, all the way through the end, was the Newcastle incident. Decades later, there are still flashbacks to that. And that’s very much the seminal event in our series. We’re meeting John Constantine in roughly the same thing as the event in Swamp Thing. He had five or six friends that were part of the Newcastle crew. One of them is Ritchie, who was played by Jeremy Davies in the pilot. You saw the affect that Newcastle had on him, and John ended up in a mental asylum. Every couple of episodes, you’re meeting characters from John’s past. It’s great because there are standalone stories that we can build, but there are people who knew John before, which give it some history. For the Gary Lester episode with the hunger demon, we wanted to find great casting, so I asked Matt, “Do you have any mates or actors that you’ve worked with who could play Gary Lester?” And he was like, “John Joe.” He’s basically Matt’s flat mate back in London.
GOYER: I think they were both in the Royal Shakespeare Company together.
CERONE: They’re the same age, but John Joe is wildly under-exposed. I think he’s done next to no television, and nothing out here. So, Matt was like, “You’ve gotta read this guy.” We had really good actors come in for the role, but I went to bat for John Joe and the network approved him. What you see is so fantastic. The dynamic between them and the performance that they got out of each other because they’re mates was great.
GOYER: We also had fun casting Emmett [Scanlan] as Corrigan because there were two main contenders for John Constantine, who tested before the network, and that was Matt and Emmett. Emmett lost out to Matt, but he was great and he had a very different take on it. We said to Emmett, “When we get on the air, we’re gonna come back to you with a recurring role,” and he was like, “Yeah, sure.” And we called him up for Corrigan, so he came back. It was really cool because the only time Matt and Emmett had met was when they were testing for the network, and now they’re playing opposite each other. They’re both amazing. It’s really gratifying when you can do something like that in casting, and bring the guy who could have been John in a parallel universe, in for another role.
Did you ever consider calling the show Hellblazer?
GOYER: Briefly. We went back and forth. In the New 52 version of DC, they re-booted it and called it Constantine, and not Hellblazer. We were aware of the fact that the movie had been called Constantine. We had a discussion back and forth, but ultimately we felt like Hellblazer, for a mainstream audience, requires more explanation, as opposed to the lead character’s name is Constantine, and that’s what the show is named. You don’t have to explain that.
CERONE: Hellblazer feels like a genre show, and Constantine feels like a character show. We want to be a character show, first and foremost. If you read Hellblazer and you hear about a show called Constantine, you’ll know what that is.
GOYER: There wasn’t a raging debate. There was a general feeling amongst Daniel, myself, NBC, Warner Bros. and DC that we should call it Constantine. We’re very aware of the fact that, although we want to please the Hellblazer fans and the comic book audience, in order to succeed, we also have to appeal to a mainstream audience. We did feel that the title Hellblazer, especially in the early days when you’re trying to bring in an audience, could be off-putting to some people.
Are you already thinking about what storylines from the comic books you want to use, down the road?
GOYER: There are some storylines, later on in the books, that we’re dying to do. We just knew that we couldn’t do them in the first six episodes because they’re just so nuts. But, that’s where you hope you can go in a second or third season. When you build up your audience you can really start taking some chances. There’s a couple, in particular, that I’m dying to do, but I don’t think we could get away with them, in the first season.
Constantine airs on Friday nights on NBC.