Last week, Matt Ryan, who plays the title character on NBC’s Constantine, spent some time talking to reporters on a conference call. Here’s a transcript of the questions from several different reporters, and Matt’s answers!
Q You’re playing a character that people already know from comic books or from the movies. How is that different in your preparation?
A It’s different in the fact that there’s so much source material which is a great thing actually. It’s different and it’s a great thing when you create a character because you start from scratch and you kind of build it from the ground up.
But with this you have such amazing source material that you can keep on going back to that and keep on finding new things. There are so many amazing kind of obviously (unintelligible) on and so many amazing writers have written him.
And, you know, they all have their own little takes on him so it’s great that you have the opportunity to have so much material in terms of viewing and keep on going back to.
Q With that wealth of material to dig into, was there one thing in particular that you really latched onto about John, like who he is and how that provided entry into the character?
A The history is obviously very important to any character that’s had – when you create a character normally you, you know, create a whole back story for him, you know, no matter how big the role. And I think that all – all the back story that you get throughout the comics, all the flashback stuff, the stuff of his – his family, his – his sisters, his niece and all the aspects is fascinating. His relationship with all the Newcastle crew is something that kind of, you know, you – it’s something you can root the character in, you know? So that was kind of probably the most important thing for me as – is the back story really which was something that you build upon from there.
Q Can you just take us a little bit through the casting process? How did you come to learn about this part and how – how extensive was the audition process for you before you got it?
A Oh wow, it was – it was quite a ride to be honest with you. I was doing Henry V in London in the West End with Jude Law and the Michael Grandage Company. And at the audition – it was pilot season obviously, so there were a lot of auditions coming up. So Kate Dowd was casting it in the UK so I went in for an audition, did a tape, we sat at the table. I actually had really long hair and a big – a big bushy beard. And I can remember them – my agent calling me and saying look, they really, really like you but I – they can’t really see past the beard, you know? And I was like well, you know, I’m in the middle of a play. There’s not really much I can do about that.
What was my favorite – I’d been on a movie called Sunday Paper about four or five years ago or something, and I actually bleached blonde my hair for that so it was kind of a similar look. So we sent out all the – but by that time I think I’d already done about four or four tapes or something, you know, with different notes. And I talked – I already had a conversation with Daniel and David as well, via Skype to give me notes and stuff. So kept on doing all of these tapes and – but still, I had this – this big beard. And then I was going to kind of try and get a night off the play to fly over to test. But unfortunately due to some circumstances with a member of cast in the play, I wasn’t able to take a night off. So I kind of had to let that test go really, in a way. And I think they used my tapes or something. But I think they couldn’t see past my beard. So I think everyone – they went back to the drawing board and started looking again. And then they came back about a kind of week or so later and said look, we still really like you and, you know, we want you to retape. So retaped again. So I ended up doing about six audition tapes or something. And I think one of the notes which was really funny was my agent said that David Goyer had mentioned that we really liked Sasquatch, no but he’d seen the beard. And eventually the play ended.
I ended on a Saturday night when I would have the kind of – the wrap party so to speak, of the play and jumped on a plane first thing in the morning, flew over. I think it was a holiday in America on that day so all of the hair salons were – were shut. So I had to have a friend of mine come over and cut my hair. And then the next day I went in and tested and then went to the studio testing process and then the network testing process. And then eventually got there man. It was quite a ride to be honest with you. You know, it was quite a long process in that – it’s definitely the longest kind of audition process I’d been through. And it was such a thrill then when I actually got the job, you know?
Q I was wondering if you could talk to us at all about how you worked on developing a different accent for John, than the one you normally have.
A Yeah. I mean to be honest with you, because John’s originally from Liverpool and then, you know, he’d been in London a lot and it’s a comic book so it’s – it was kind of up for grabs, you know? And so I talked to a lot of the guys about it. But I thought that the main thing that was important was for me to kind of try and get the essence of John rather than kind of playing an accent, you know? But then I didn’t want to do something that was exactly the same as my accent, you know? I just wanted to kind of make a kind of sort of nod to him really. So I – I kind of worked with – first I think I was in a play in London. I worked on doing this with a London accent for a while. And there was something that just wasn’t sitting right with it, you know?
And then I started playing around with a kind of – a Northern accent, a British Northern accent which is a lot stronger than the one that I’m actually doing now. And it kind of felt right because it felt like working class and kind of gritty and it was in the right ballpark. But at the same time, I didn’t want to just spend so much time, you know, playing an accent and making him all about an accent.so what I decided to do was just concentrate on the essence of the character and then – and then kind of giving the subtle nod. So I changed certain vowel sounds and just (decided) to give a nod to him then. So it’s kind of a Northern accent based on some of the Liverpudlian sounds but obviously it’s not a strong Liverpudlian accent.
I don’t think that that would kind of be very accessible to – for a network show on television. But, you know, I’d like to think that that’s – there’s a subtle nod in there to where John comes from. And also, you know, I’m from Wales but my accent isn’t exactly very strong Welsh anymore because I’ve traveled so much. So I left Wales when I was 19. And John left Liverpool when he was younger as well. So I kind of took that balance of if he’d left somewhere when he was younger, then he’s traveled and kind of – yeah, so I just added a subtle nod of Northern.
Q What are some of the characters or story lines from the series that scare you the most?
A My favorite is the Dangerous Habit one. That was one of the first I read when I first got the part. And there was a – they only had two in a week – 2-1/2 weeks to prep for – for the pilot and obviously I hadn’t read 300 or so comics. You know? And I can remember thinking at the time wait, we can’t do this yet. I have to read every single comic before we do it. You know, I didn’t feel that I was going to do it justice without reading all the comics. But the Dangerous Habit kind of – run was my favorite. And also probably the scariest as well, because, you know, the fact that it’s lung cancer and it’s a very human story and that kind of scared me quite a lot and was also one of the reasons why it was my favorite.
Q Talk a little bit about your character’s relationships with Zed and Manny and Chas and what’s coming up in the next few episodes.
A Yeah, sure. Well with Chas, Chas is John’s oldest friend and closest friend and the only one who’s been around for – and who hadn’t died although Chas does die but, you know, has an extraordinary gift so he keeps on coming back. But what’s great about Chas is that he kind of provides a logic to John, you know, whereas John is kind of someone – he’s an addict. He’s a demon addict if you like. And he kind of provides a grounding to John. And also he’s helpful in a fist fight as well. You know, he’s kind of the brawns to John’s brain. And John – John’s scrappy, you know? He’s not afraid to get into a fight. But at the same time he’s – Chas could probably help him out in a lot of situations there.
With Manny, what’s really interesting is they’re almost like two gunslingers kind of standing opposite each other that, you know, need each other but they could shoot each other at any time. Or it’s as if they kind of – with this relationship there’s a kind of conflict there. They both kind of don’t really want to be in each other’s company particularly. But they know that they have to and that they’re both useful to one another. So I think there’s a really interesting kind of conflict there. And what we see with Manny developing is that John and Manny – how Manny helps John and kind of how that relationship sort of develops is there’s a very interesting dynamic actually – I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say about it – between them. After about episode 4 where John and Manny kind of – their – their relationship takes a shift and moves in a slightly different direction. But – but it’s a kind of uneasy kind of relationship which makes for kind of a lot of tension and a lot of conflict.
Zed is – she’s a feisty one, let me tell you. She’s great because she’s someone who gets in John’s face, doesn’t take any of his shit. She’s not afraid to smack someone in the face when it comes down to it. And she also has this unique ability which John – it’s very useful for John.
So they need each other as much as much as the other. But at the same time, you know,there’s a chemistry between them which could develop into something more. She’s mysterious. She has a mysterious background. And what’s interesting about these two characters is they work together on some level but then they’re both reluctant to reveal each other’s past to each other. So, you know, there’s a constantly kind of looking out of the corner of each eye with each other which is really interesting. And then there’s the kind of sexual chemistry between them as well which leads to a really kind of fun play in between the two of them. And that relationship throughout the series, will kind of develop in a very interesting way, I must say.
But I can’t – I don’t know if I can say much about that. With Chas, with the whole point that he can’t die now that he came back – he comes back in the pilot and you know, what is this? We actually get into that as well and his whole back story which is a really great episode. And kind of how all that came about. So we should be in for some interesting stuff with all those relationships.
Q Did you have any hesitations taking the role knowing that it’s based on the DC Comic and there are a lot of fans that are dedicated to the comics? And the second part is what character from the comics would you have – would you like to see on the show?
A Oh, interesting. Well first of all, like when I was auditioning I’d actually just been offered a play in London. And I think there was a time where the play was going to go away. They needed to know before I had the time to kind of fly out and test. So there was a moment of me going should I just do the play, you know? It’s a pilot, I don’t know if I’m going to get it. It’s a pilot, you don’t know if it’s going to get picked up. I was offered a lead role in the National Theater in London. And I was kind of going I don’t know if this is maybe something I want to do. But after a kind of – the more research I did on the character I was just like it’s such a great opportunity to play a character like this that I couldn’t kind of pass up on it.
But I didn’t really have any reservations in terms of, you know, how iconic the character is. I think that’s something that, you know, that can make you nervous but at the same time it’s a challenge. And I like that challenge. And I think that, you know, you throw yourself into it and you give your interpretation of it and try and stay true to the DNA of the character and hope that the fans of the comics, you know, kind of like it. But – so there is always a little bit of pressure. But, you know, you just throw yourself into it to be honest.
We get to see a bunch of the Newcastle crew. We meet Gary Lester, we meet (Annmarie Flynn). But I would most like to see Satan, to be honest, the first of the fallen. But I think that would, you know, take a while for us to try to get there. But he’s probably the biggest one, right? So to have that showdown it goes back to that Dangerous Habits one again. It’s the fact – that whole bit where you face the devil, you know, and he (unintelligible) and it turns out to be holy water and all that. It’s just when I read that I was like this is awesome, you know? So probably – probably Satan.
Q So coming from theater to this kind of show I mean obviously it’s a unique TV show just in general. But coming from theater it’s obviously a big shift also. What has been kind of a challenge for you for this show, in getting into this character?
A First of all I think that – I always love switching between mediums. It’s always a great challenge. You know, you do theater for six months and then you do a film and, you know, it’s just such a different medium, you know? And I think that that was kind of one of the biggest challenges at first is, you know, I’d been on stage doing a Shakespeare play swinging a sword and then the next minute, you know, there’s a camera in my face. And it takes you kind of a day of being on set to go oh, hang on, what’s this thing in my face again? And, you know, just, getting back into sync with working with a camera operator and all that sort of stuff. So that was probably the biggest challenge.
I mean in terms of – in terms of character and development and all of – all of that, that’s all kind of based on – on the same stuff anyway and the same kind of techniques. So you, you know, you kind of approach it the – the same way. I think it’s more to do with the different kind of medium. And that is the biggest challenge.
Q In the first episode of course, we see the (Dr. Fate mask). So are you looking forward to possibly there being more DC Comics characters outside of the Constantine world possibly coming in?
A Yeah. It’s something that I’m really excited about. Like the (Millhouse) where – where in the pilot, there are so many (unintelligible) Pandora’s Box and as you said, (Dr. Fate helmet). And we get to see Jim Corrigan who becomes The Spectre. And yeah, it’s just such an amazing world, the occult DC Universe. And I know that especially if we get the back line that David was saying that we’re going to be introducing kind of a lot more from that universe as well. So it’s just an exciting thing man. You know, it’s – it doesn’t become then just the demon of the week. Do you know what I mean? It – what’s great I think about this is that, you know, this is kind of – I wouldn’t say it’s procedural but we do have an individual story each week. But, you know, we’re introducing Papa Midnite from the characters, Jim Corrigan, (Annmarie), Gary Lester. I think if we go to the back line we might be introducing (Judas) and kind of there’s – there’s – there are all of these great characters which have different relationships with John. And then in effect, bring out the different sides of John.
And that’s really interesting then to kind of study these relationships rather than having just something that’s completely separate from John and that relationship with the characters built within the structure of the episodes, you know, so you always have something to root the episode in, which is always great. And it’s really exciting.
Q What do you feel sets Constantine apart from other shows of its kind? There are a ton of supernatural shows out there but none quite like Constantine. And why is that?
A To be honest with you, I think that it’s down to the central character of John. And that’s what made the comic books unique, you know? The kind of anti-hero, working class anti-hero, wisecracking street magician, you know? He’s someone who sacrifices his friends to get what he needs. And – but you still love him as well because he has this compelling urge to save humanity even though he does it with a cigarette and a whiskey all the time, you know? So it’s him. It’s him. And then in effect the relationships that he has with the other characters around him. And I think that’s kind of what’s unique to him. He really is an anti-hero. And he’s not a superhero in tights, you know? He’s a working class man that is for the people. And I think that really kind of sets him apart from those things.
Q Did you always want to work in this industry while you were growing up? Or did you have other professions in mind?
A Oh man. Well first of all, when I was a kid I was in Les Miserables. I played Gavroche in Les Miserables when I was like 10 I think, in the West End, in London. And then I always wanted to kind of do something in the arts, you know? But when I went to school it kind of all dropped away, man. It just like fell all away and I was a dropout teenager kind of running around on the village green having a crack, having a laugh and stuff. And my parents are great. They kind of like just let me go and be a kid. And then I kind of came back to it. So – in the meantime, when I was on that kind of five – I think it was about five years when I didn’t want to do anything in the industry, I was into motorbikes a lot and I used to ride motocross bikes. And so I wanted to be a mechanic and a motocross racer at one point, you know? So that was another ambition that was going to be mine. And I still have a huge passion for motorbikes now. But I’m kind of glad that I didn’t go into it.
Q Given that you’re the star of this show and this is a big American TV production, are you feeling any sort of pressure or how are you acclimating yourself to being sort of the focus of this new series and all of the attention on you? And how are you handling all of that?
A It’s a new experience, you know? It’s something that I’ve never encountered before. So, you know, there’s – at various different points there’s been different turning points where – in Constantine that I’ve never come across. And I feel like, you know, you just throw yourself into whatever work you’re doing.And you concentrate on that. And we work so many hours as well that there’s not the time to stop and think oh my god, what is this I’m doing, which is kind of a good thing because you kind of have to be in the moment and just go with it and keep your work going, which is what I love doing. You know?
There’s not so much kind of perspective on it then. And I think that if we had a three month break right now I’d probably go what the hell just happened, do you know what I mean? But at the moment I’m still kind of like right in the mix of it. Kind of down in the dirty kind of working every day. And that’s kind of where I like to be as well. You know, with my head in the work and kind of concentrating on that, you know? I think it’s been a hell of a ride and it’s been really, really good fun as well. And I just, you know, I’ve really enjoyed it man. And I’m just taking it all in my stride and trying to enjoy it.
Q How do you get into the place mentally, to successfully portray your character who deep down is seeking that redemption that we all see him have a lot of pain over?
A It’s interesting. Depending on the scene or depending on my mood, you know, it – in the day and what kind of scene we’re shooting, I’ll use music mostly I think. I’ll listen to kind of classical music for the darker stuff. I listen to like Schoenberg and stuff. And then with some of the other elements of the character, I listen to punk rock or I’ll switch it up as well, you know, with music. I like a broad range of music so I’ll switch it up depending on what the mood takes me. But I use kind of music as a motivation. And also the comics. I always have a comic with me. And I’ve jumped around so much in the comics that I couldn’t tell you how they go in any order to be honest with you.
But I always have a comic with me so that if there’s any time that I’m not feeling kind of connected to it, I can just pick it up, look at a panel and go oh, yeah. And what’s great about them as well, there’s always a physicality to John in the comics. So there’s always something to connect you to – to it that way as well. So yeah, there’s music and carrying a Hellblazer with me everywhere I go.
Q In addition to Constantine, I had the opportunity to see your work in the film Armistice. And if you don’t mind, I just wanted to ask just in general, what maybe you enjoyed most about playing that character? I thought you did an awesome job. And maybe some of the challenges in working in that type of story and production.
A Well what’s interesting is that’s a movie that we produced with my film company and it was directed by a friend of mine, Joseph Morgan, who is my best friend who’s actually here in Atlanta which is amazing, on the Originals. And what was the most challenging thing about it was I was doing Hamlet at the time with Jude Law again, back in London. So I was doing all my stuff on a Sunday. So I was doing eight shows a week and then traveling up to Stratford Upon Avon which is where we were shooting. And shooting this movie, you know? And I think, you know, we came across all of the challenges that you do on a low budget movie. And especially when it’s, you know, it was our first movie as a company. We hadn’t made anything so we came up against a bunch of obstacles in that way. And I think kind of – trying to kind of executive produce something and overlook something at the same time as doing eight performances of Hamlet a week, was quite a challenge.
But it was good, man. I enjoyed it, you know? And the second movie we did which is called 500 Miles North, where me and Joseph play characters opposite each other again, but it’s just such a different movie, you know? Armistice is a genre thriller movie and 500 Miles North is this kind of comedy road trip movie. So it was really great to play something completely opposite with him. And we learned a lot on the first movie, a lot – made a lot of mistakes that we kind of put into practice for the second where you’re better, you know? And hopefully when we go to our third, if we get there, then, you know, we’ll have learned even more.
Q I know Constantine is on a different network than some of the other comic book shows like Flash or Arrow. But has there been any discussion that you know of, of the possibility of characters from each of those shows crossing into your show or you crossing over into their shows?
A Not that I’ve heard of. I mean I don’t know what goes on kind of in the DC office or what all those guys talk about. But so far I don’t have any kind of information on whether that’s going to happen or not.
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Constantine airs Friday nights on NBC, 10 pm eastern/9 pm central
Behind the scenes photos available at nbc.com/Constantine