Dabbling in the dark arts
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.