“The thing that I loved about constantine i s he was a smartass”
DC’s demon slayer is coming to the small screen – Joseph McCabe dares to investigate
Among the many titles applied to DC’s John Constantine – demon hunter, occult detective, trickster,
conman – there’s one that’s often overlooked: gateway drug. For the star of the company’s long- running Hellblazer ( now retitled Constantine for its “New 52” reboot) has introduced decades of comic book readers to the world of dark fantasy and the supernatural, just as, in his earliest appearances in Saga Of The Swamp Thing, he introduced the book’s titular muck monster to the full range of his paranormal powers.
“During that Swamp Thing run I actually have a letter printed on one of the letters pages,” says a proud David Goyer. The writer- producer on DC’s Dark Knight film trilogy and Man Of Steel is now tasked with bringing the blond, trenchcoat- bedecked Brit to television in Constantine. “I was a young teenager. Ironically, he was introduced in a story that had all this rising darkness, and I was theorising as a kid as to what was behind the rising darkness. So it’s ironic now that we’re doing a TV show and that’s our first season arc.
“I turned out to be wrong,” laughs Goyer. “But we’re working it out.”
The executive producer explains how he came to chronicle John Constantine’s screen adventures. “The thing that I always loved about Constantine is he was a smartass. In a world of superheroes and a world of demons and angels, he was just a complete smartass. He didn’t have any super powers. He was just a working class bloke. He had a wicked sense of humour. Recently, after the Batman and Superman films, I met with Warners TV and they said, ‘ Will you do a DC TV project? You can have anyone.’ I said, ‘ I want Constantine. He’s the one I want.’ I also felt like he was someone who would translate into television without us having to change the core DNA of the character.”
“At this point we’re really trying to honour the character as he was put forth in the comic,” explains Goyer’s showrunner Daniel Cerone, who’s joined him today in speaking with SFX. “That really has become our mantra and our bible. It’s very challenging, because there are going to be fans who you know are hardcore Constantine fans, who are instantly going to react when they see this character translated to television. Because it’s not gonna be what they saw in their heads. But that’s not going to stop us from doing our best to take this character and put him in a producible television environment.”
Since Constantine is broadcast on the NBC network stateside, fans may be sceptical as to how those supernatural stories – yielding some of the most graphic imagery in mainstream comics – will translate to network television. The producers point out that NBC also airs Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, with its once too- taboo- for- TV subject of cannibalism.
“They’re pushing us,” says Cerone. “You know, I was a showrunner for the first two seasons of Showtime’s Dexter, and our development executive at NBC and the president of Showtime at the time, they were the two supervising executives on Dexter. That’s their sensibility. They want to bring that kind of edge, that kind of darkness, that kind of moral ambiguity. They want to bring it to network television, and they’re pushing hard for it. We feel like we’re the beneficiaries. What we want to do is find a balance between the darkness and the humanity. At the end of the day, Constantine is a humanitarian.”
That side of the character is examined in the pilot, in which Constantine learns his soul is damned to hell, but that he might still save it through facing Goyer’s “rising darkness” ( a premise borrowed from his first Swamp Thing storyline, “American Gothic”).
“That’s one of the age- old questions underlining a lot of our religions,” says Goyer. “Should we be good because there’s a reward or should we be good to be good? That quandary is something we’ll be dealing with.”
Joining Constantine in his mission is Hellblazer’s Zed, a streetwise psychic with a troubled background, played by Mexican actress Angélica Celaya, whom Cerone says, “can go toe to toe with John.
“Anybody who knows Constantine’s mythology knows her story and what happened to her. She just opens up all kinds of possibilities for us too. There’s all kinds of great fodder there. So we are staking out tentpoles that we can build on in the future.”
Though the pilot features Lucy Griffiths’ Liv Aberdeen as its leading lady, Goyer and Cerone elected to replace her with Constantine’s longtime comic book colleague.
“Liv is a great character,” says Cerone. “She’s very wide- eyed. [ But] she doesn’t have power, and when we started looking at stories we felt like this was a character that was always going to be reactive. She was our invention, and we felt a bit hamstrung by her, frankly. Whereas Zed is someone who already has powers when she meets John. She has a very dark past. Ultimately that’s what we felt like we needed. We wanted a more dynamic relationship, as opposed to someone who was always a teacher and a student.”
In addition to Zed, Constantine also receives support from Manny, an angel, played by Lost’s Harold Perrineau. Goyer is quick to describe Manny as “an Old Testament angel”.
“He remembers the Old Testament days,” adds Cerone. “He remembers the god that’d wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah, and he’s like, ‘ Those were the days when stuff got done!’”
“We’re going to play around with it,” teases Goyer. “That there’s all these different depictions of God and the angels in heaven.
Season one’s storyline also sees Perrineau’s fellow Lost star Jeremy Davies in the recurring role of Constantine’s “Q” – Dr Richie Simpson – along with True Detective’s Charles Halford as Chas Chandler, Constantine’s near immortal oldest friend.
“We’re not adapting any one specific storyline, “says Goyer. “We’ll be sort of weaving in and out of them. But hardcore fans of the books will feel that it’s a very authentic interpretation of the character.”
Like the gateway drug he is, Constantine, Goyer confirms, will open the door for DC’s universe of supernatural heroes. Doctor Fate’s helmet, a harbinger of things to come, is one of several Easter eggs visible in the pilot.
“We’ve been given permission from DC Comics to use other people from the occult DC universe,” says Goyer. We don’t want to make [ each one] the guest star of the week. But we’ll be rolling out a couple in the first season. The goal is that they’re here as recurring characters. It’s not just in and out.”
“In success, we can branch out and do any number of things,” says Cerone.
But, adds Goyer, “We have to start with John.” Constantine is broadcast on NBC in the US from October.
“fans will feel it’s very authentic”
The makers promise not to stint on the demonic activity.
Quite literally playing with fire.
Season one will take place across America and in some very spooky places…