Constantine’s creators and executive producers David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone talked with reporters the other day about the history of the project, keeping non-comic book fans engaged, potential censorship by NBC, and other topics. Here is part 2 of the discussion:
Q Obviously, you have no shortage of significant projects that you’re working on. What made this the right time and the right platform to be involved in telling the story?
David Goyer: The genesis of the project is that I had a meeting with Warner Bros. Television. This is right after “Man of Steel” had come out and they asked if I would be interested in doing a television show based on a DC property. And so we just started having a general conversation about which one made most sense. The first character I asked about was John Constantine. I’ve always been a huge fan. I was reading Swamp Thing when he was introduced. And, in fact, I have a letter printed in one of the early issues that he was introduced as a fan, when I was in high school or something like that. And there were some sort of legal things to sort out initially and then we start talking about other characters. But eventually Constantine became free and I was really excited.
And the reason for why this the right time, I’ve done, obviously, The Dark Knight film and Superman, you know, that kind of thing. But one of the reasons why I always like John Constantine is he didn’t have superpowers, he didn’t have a costume. So it was refreshing for me to tell a story about an antihero as opposed to a hero, and he is someone who was really damaged. I just feel like he’s one of the great characters of modern literature and it was a change of pace.
Q What can you tell us as far as how far are we going to go into Constantine early on? Are you going to introduce a lot of familiar stuff in the comics? Obviously, we’ve seen Papa Midnite. And are there going to be more things like that?
Daniel Cerone: We’re digging as deeply into Constantine as we possibly can. In fact, it really is inspiring much of our storytelling. The episode that is airing this Friday, which we’re extremely excited about, “Feast of Friends” is the title. And that’s a story that’s literally ripped from the pages of “Hellblazer.” It is the first story… First issue from “Hellblazer” and it brings back Gary Lester, who is one of John’s friend from Newcastle. And it’s just a fantastic story that translated so well to screen and I would urge anybody who’s listening to this to get people talking about it because it is – seriously, it’s our show at its pinnacle and it just sort of really kind of set a bar of everything that we hope this show can be and can do.
But in a broader sense, over the course of the season, we’re breaking up 17 right now. And we have a fantastic ride ahead. Before the end of the season, you’re going to meet and get to know every one of John’s friends from Newcastle that were involved in the sort of fateful exorcism of Astra that, you know, led to the torment – eternal torment of John’s soul.
And so you’re going to meet them all. I mean, look, Papa Midnite, I think, we have now in four episodes. Jim Corrigan comes back for a couple of more. I’m reading an outline right now for Episode 16 that includes Terence Thirteen with Felix Faust. Yes. We have this incredible source material. And we want to honor it and dig as deeply into it as we possibly can and, at the same time, we’re a weekly network show and we have weekly stories. And we’re trying to present the best of both worlds in terms of ongoing mythology, you know, with the Hellblazer and DC world but wrapped around weekly stories the viewers can hook into.
David: And I would add one other thing, too – we read the responses to various episodes. And I think we have three episodes so far and some people seemed to really like the last episode that introduced Papa Midnite, but some people said “Okay, so now we know what the formula is going to be week after week and we still haven’t heard much more about the rising darkness or Newcastle well.” Well, you’re about to with the fourth episode.
And we think that is right time to do it. We’re not a fully serialized show. We’re kind of a hybrid between standalone and serialize. And we’re going to start introducing more back story elements every few episodes or so.
Q Are we going to be getting any more episodes that might focus on Chas and his back story at some point?
Daniel: Yes. Chas is an interesting character because in terms of – when David and I developed the show and sat down to figure out what characters do we want in a continuing basis. On one hand, Chas was a natural because he’s sort of the most constant companion and longest living companion. Maybe the only living companion of John Constantine’s. But really he’s much more than – he’s like the muscle and he’s the driver, you know? He had been a cab driver and John didn’t drive a lot. I don’t think he drives at all in the comic book. And so we want to include Chas and he is definitely the strong, silent type, very laconic kind of character we wanted to roll out slowly.
I know there’s been a couple of issues where they dig in his back story but there’s not a lot there. So we’ve really enjoyed Chas. We’ve really enjoyed opening him up. We will open him up deeper, Episode 10. We came up with this idea because Chas is, no spoilers, promise. But…let’s put it this way. In the pilot episode, you see that Chas comes back to life. For some reason, people started translating that to the idea that he’s immortal. We promise you he is not immortal.
There’s..very good reason that he’s coming back to life and the only spoiler I will give is that those lives are not infinite. And we do have an episode that involves flashbacks where we basically tell that story and we get to know more about Chas, we can meet Renee and his daughter, Renee’s wife, ex-wife or they’re separated right now and his daughter and we kind of dig into that story and figure out what makes Chas tick.
David: And I would add to that that I – I think when the first 13 episodes are down, people will be surprised at how much background we filled in on various characters and even in terms of the relationship with John and Manny and Zed’s back story and it’s not just taste of the week.
Q I really like Lucy’s (Lucy Griffith) character Liv. I was really into her. So how difficult of a decision was it for you guys to not carry on with her story and is there a possibility that she’ll ever pop up again?
David: You know, honestly, it really wasn’t that difficult. I mean, it became apparent to us and, look, we’re glad you like her. I think she did a fantastic job. But I think that the character was flawed in its conception. And obviously we’re to blame for that. She was the only major character in the pilot that wasn’t from the comic books and sometimes you make these concessions when you’re trying to get a show off and running and, one of the benefits of doing a pilot is you’ve got this initial downtime after the pilot before you’re filming again in which you can think about retooling some aspects. And once we saw the character in action and we started breaking Episodes 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, we felt like we were just running into a lot of dead ends. And that’s when we decided to go back to the source material and talking about the character Zed and I will say I feel like that the vast majority of the audience seems to have felt that the Zed character was a better match for John and seems to have supported our decision.
Daniel: David and I received a lovely e-mail from Lucy Griffith, the actress who played Liv, right before we aired and, in terms of whether she’ll be back, she’s part of the foundation of the show. The millhouse in which John is crashing is full of all kinds of magical antiquities…Yes, that’s her father’s place. So, as we dig deeper into the season, as we start talking about possible arc for next season, there’s an opening there. Whether it’s an opening we’ll step through or not, it would have to be organic, it would have to feel right and not feel like a device. But if there’s an organic reason to bring her back into the story, we’d love to.
Q How does the fan base help you develop the storylines you want to produce?
David: Well, I mean, it’s interesting. I’ve adopted quite a few comic book properties now. And it’s tricky because I think you have to be really attentive to the fan base. What we talk about is – I mean, I’m quoting Steve Jobs. You can’t give the market what they say they want. You want to give them something that they haven’t even thought of. If you give them exactly what they want, they become disappointed by the same token.
The way that we’ve always tried to measure it is that, we’ve tried to dip in with the fans and be aware of what are the issues that are most important to them, what are the core concepts that are most important, with the characters what are the most important. But we are also cognizant of the fact that if the show is going to flourish and broaden its audience, we need to be able to respond to an audience greater than just the core comic book fans. And so it needs to work for both audiences.
Daniel: I know I speak for David in this, too. I mean, one of the nicest things about us – I mean, rephrase that. David and I came out this as fans of the show. I mean, that’s really the bottom line, like, we were – we fell in love…
David: We weren’t new to the character.
Daniel: Not at all. We fell in love with all the things about John Constantine that the fans did. And – or at least based on what I’ve read of the fans. But look, you know, we needed that smartass, wisecracking, like, just, gallows humor, scruffy blonde-haired, trench coat-wearing, cigarette-smoking breath, with a fatalistic attitude and this deeply humanist point of view for reasons that he doesn’t even understand. We like that character. That was someone that just appealed to us. So we’re going to be true to that no matter what.
We wanted to stay true to the world and the characters. And then you take that foundation and you have to figure out, “Okay, how can we pour that into a show that can last and sustain itself on a weekly basis” and NBC had certain desires for the show. They wanted stories that were told every week. So as David mentioned before, this is a bit of a hybrid. I mean, for us, it was “Okay, how do we figure out how to both, as fans, tell the story we want to tell about the evolution of this character and his relationships, as well as some closed-end stories to broaden out the fan base?” So yes. I mean, we came out of it as fans.
David: And I’ll give you – to build on what Daniel said, because we were fans of the character, when we first met with NBC, we said “Look, we know that the Keanu movie is out there and it wasn’t British and he didn’t have blonde hair” and I think that that movie had a lot of great attributes but we had fallen in love with the John Constantine as depicted in the comic books, it was our mission, to try to bring to life the character that as accurately reflected the character we had fallen in love with as possible. So when NBC says “Well, does he have to be British? Does he have to wear skinny ties and a trench coat? Does he have to be blonde? Does he have to smoke?” we said “Yes.” And they said “Why?” And we said “Because that’s the character we fell in love with.” So in that regard…
Daniel: And I’ll say there every step of the way, they did ask those questions, too, they were very open and accepting and loving and they wanted to embrace the fans, too, but at a certain point, like when it came to casting, Matt Ryan does not have blonde hair. And initially, they’re like “Do we really need to lighten his hair” and we’re like “Yes we do.” They got the first draft of the script and they saw sort of all of the kind of British euphemisms and colloquialisms written into his dialog and they’re like “That might be off-putting. Does he really need to be British?” And we…
David: We said “Yes.”
Daniel: ..he does. So at every step of the way, we fought for that. And to their credit, they were very open and they understood our passion and I believe the fans’ passion for the character.
David: But, you know, to put a bow on it, how does the fans, you know, how does the hopes and desires back burn to it, it’s important because we were fans of the character and have been fans of the character for decades ourselves. So we were really determined to try to bring to life, you know, a version of Constantine that was accurate.