Dab­bling in the dark arts

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Brian Truitt

David S Goyer has reg­u­larly worked with DC Comics’ heav­i­est hit­ters such as Bat­man and Su­per­man. Yet there’s some­thing sin­gu­larly spe­cial about work­ing with John Con­stan­tine, con man, de­mo­nolo­gist, ex­or­cist and ‘‘dab­bler’’ in the dark arts.

‘‘He is a bas­tard,’’ says the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the new su­per­nat­u­ral se­ries Con­stan­tine.

‘‘One of the hard­est things to do in this very priv­i­leged po­si­tion that we’re in is to stick to your guns and stick to your be­liefs, some­times even when ini­tially ev­ery­one else is say­ing you’re crazy,’’ says Goyer, who has also been a screen­writer on Christo­pher Nolan’s Dark Knight tril­ogy as well as Man of Steel and Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice.

‘‘We had seen hun­dreds of peo­ple and Matt (Ryan, the Welsh ac­tor who was even­tu­ally cast in the epony­mous role) sent in this self-au­di­tion that he self-made – no of­fence, it was poorly lit – and he was do­ing a play at the time and he had this gi­ant sasquatch beard. He didn’t look any­thing like Con­stan­tine, but he had this great per­for­mance. I was run­ning around the halls of Warner Bros say­ing, ‘This is the guy! This is the guy!’ And they just went, ‘No, it’s not the guy’.

‘‘About three weeks went by and I did a good job of sab­o­tag­ing the other au­di­tion­ers and Matt shaved his beard. When I said, ‘This is the guy!’ they said, ‘Maybe it’s the guy . . .’ He flew out and did it in per­son and they fi­nally ap­proved. It was ex­cru­ci­at­ing.’’

After cast­ing his Con­stan­tine, Goyer gave the ac­tor tons of Hell­blazer (the 300-is­sue se­ries that de­fined the character) and Con­stan­tine comics to take home, and Ryan says he ‘‘dove in and started tak­ing notes and let­ting this character come off the page’’.

‘‘You just want to be true to the DNA of the comic books but also make it your own.’’

While Keanu Reeves might have in­tro­duced the main­stream to the an­ti­hero in the 2005 Con­stan­tine movie, the first episode of the TV show delves into Con­stan­tine’s own past while try­ing to save the daugh­ter of an old friend from su­per­nat­u­ral bad­ness. There’s a hint of his fail­ures – in­clud­ing him be­ing haunted by the fate of a lit­tle girl – plus Con­stan­tine faces a hellish ver­sion of him­self.

While it was fun for him to play a dop­pel­ganger with black eyes and rot­ten teeth, Ryan says, ‘‘the only thing is you can hardly see with those con­tact lenses. All of a sud­den you’re just try­ing to find your­self. John’s got so many demons him­self and he’s so tor­mented, it’s try­ing to pick what parts he could rep­re­sent’’.

The cre­ative team has just put him through more and more weird­ness ever since. Ryan swears that the writ­ers ‘‘sit down and try and fig­ure out what they can do to me each episode. One of David’s episodes he co-wrote had me naked, cov­ered in blood with this weird smell of cin­na­mon’’.

All set, Goyer adds, ‘‘to a Buz­zcocks song’’.

Matt Ryan: Aims to make his Con­stan­tine true to the DNA of the character’s source comic.

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