If you don’t know the name Keanu Reeves then quite frankly you should be shot. Assuming everyone does though, suffice it to say the heart throb has seen himself come back in recent years thanks to the success of the “Matrix” movies. After spending nearly two years working on the two sequels, he chose “Constantine” as his first follow-up project and today he explains why in this special interview:
Question: So how did you get attached to this project?
Answer: Well I was finishing up in Sydney, reading scripts and came across this one and really liked it. I met the exec at Warner Bros. who was working on it, we spoke about it and then the studio said yeah lets try to develop this. Akiva Goldsman came on and worked on the script, then Francis Lawrence – a good man for the job.
Question: Could you talk about some of the changes you’ve made from the comic and how the character is different (ie. the comic character is British and blond, in the movie he’s a black-haired American).
Answer: I think that’s about the only change we’ve made. We spoke about it, but then it seemed in terms of the platform that we were using which became Los Angeles, kind of like the world in terms of heaven, hell and Los Angeles seemed to be attractive and make sense. We’re kind of doing a hard boiled kind of take on the piece, so we kind of went this way. Kind of a more Gothic aspect.
Question: He’s known for having a devilish sense of humor (ie. bad jokes). Is that in the dialogue, is it played that way or is it kind of serious?
Answer: It’s serious and hopefully funny at the same time. Again, go back to that hard boiled motif. Constantine in this film is in a hospital and he finds out he’s dying of lung cancer, lights a cigarette up inside the doctor’s office. She says, “That’s a good idea”. He gets into an elevator and this character comes by and the elevator doors closing and the person says, “Going down?” and he says, “Not if I can help it”.
The next scene is he’s in bed with a half breed demon drinking whiskey with scratches on his back and the scene ends with her tail kind of swishing underneath the sheets laughing, going, “Lung cancer? Ha! That’s funny, John!” So hopefully we have the spirit of the Constantinian factor. I’m always asking, “Is that Constantinian enough?” I think I need more Constantine in my Constantine.
Question: What drew you to the character?
Answer: I like his anger, I like his ambivalence – he’s a man who’s trapped and trying to find his way, I love those kind of stories. I think the story of this film is about a man whose trying to reconcile himself, find his way in the world. He’s a lonely figure fighting demons, casting them out – its a dirty job, some people like it but some don’t. His take on the world is slightly skewed.
Question: When you say hardboiled, don’t you mean noir?
Answer: Well, there is that kind of aspect to it, but I’d say more kind of Californian noir from a literature standpoint. So there’s light and shadow. There’s a couple of shots of Constantine just smoking in a doorway. There’s shots behind him and you see the smoke rising. It’s bright outside, but it’s dark in the hall and there’s a stairs going up before he does his first exorcism, so there’s that kind of cinematic motif.
Question: Does that come out in the dialogue?
Answer: Yeah, that short, clipped kind of thing. There’s that thing where he’s with that character of Ellie, the half-breed demon that he’s just had sex with right after he’s found out he’s got terminal cancer. She’s like laughing. “Terminal cancer, that’s funny, John. I bet he can’t wait to get his hands on you after all the half-breeds you’ve sent back. He’s really going to have fun with you. He’s going to rip you apart. You’re the only soul the man himself would come up to collect.” And John’s like, “Yeah.”
Question: What are the burns on your shirt?
Answer: Oh, there’s a character, Midnite, and I want to use the chair to surf the ether and he doesn’t want me to, so he digs his hands into me and it burns, so I kind of beg him.
Question: This is a pretty dark story with a sense of humor. Is that what attracted you to the project?
Answer: Yeah, I mean that’s something I find is fun to play and I find it enjoyable, that kind of mixture of extreme circumstances with humor, so that’s fun.
Question: Is it nice to do a movie with horror elements where you don’t have to yell and scream but get to play it cool all the time?
Answer: Well, Constantine gets his ass whopped a lot in this movie, but he keeps coming. And we got some fun stuff. We’ve got some Ceplavites, some kind of demon aspects and they fight. Demons are coming up onto our plane, which isn’t supposed to be happening. So yeah, there’s elements where he does play it cool, but he also gets thrown on his back and choked and thrown against walls and hit and all sorts of fun stuff like that.
Question: So is it physical?
Answer: Yeah, there’s certain elements that are physical, yeah, but I think it’s part of the hero journey that you gotta go through. You gotta run and jump and get hit and kind of pull yourself back together again and shake it off and keep going.
Question: You’ve mentioned that the character has an ambiguous morality that you found attractive.
Answer: Yeah. Well, I mean he’s not the nicest guy all the time. I don’t know if he’s immoral, but it’s something that he’s negotiating with.
Question: There’s a lot of CG stuff in this. Have you seen any concept art of the demons?
Answer: They’re really cool actually. They’ve got half their skull cut off, so they’ve taken out kind of the seat of the soul, and with that, no eyes and the skull is open and yet they have these long limbs and they’re quite humanoid and yet the whole seat of the soul has been removed and yet they have this the Ceplavites themselves can fly and they can kind of smell and attack and they’re part of the motif of devouring the damned and yet they have no feet. So they can fly but they can’t rest and so even the demons are tortured and they have nothing but their desire. So that’s a cool kind of concept, I thought.
Question: Can you describe the scene you’re shooting today?
Answer: Right now I’ve asked the character Midnite to use the chair which turns out to be the electric chair from Sing Sine and right now this is his reliquary where he’s collected all of these objects, religious icons and things like that. So right now we’re walking toward the chair where John is going to get electrocuted.
Question: What are those glasses he’s collected?
Answer: Those are some kind of nice kind of pinup girls with months on them, so I think again this is illustrated the kind of humor that you have all of these religious iconography and he’s also collecting high ball glasses with girls on them.
Question: Why is John using the chair?
Answer: He’s trying to find out the supposedly the dark side has the Spear of Destiny and so I’m trying to find out who has it, so he uses the chair. What’s going to happen is they’re playing with an aspect of time. You’ve seen this kind of scavenger character who’s found the Spear at the beginning of the movie and every time you see this character, he looks like he looks over his shoulder like he’s being watched, and ultimately John goes and it’s kind of tying in time. We play with time oftentimes and it turns out that John was a guy who saw this the whole time. It’s in the future. When John crosses over, he crosses over into hell a couple of times and we play with time so that when he does do that, time in the real world slows down or almost stops and so we can go off to these other places and then come back and almost nothing has happened.
Question: Had you read “Hellblazer” before you got the part?
Answer: I was not familiar with the material before reading the script.
Question: Were you just looking for this kind of movie?
Answer: I was looking for a good script and this kind of came my way and I really liked the writing and the character itself and what happened in the piece and ultimately there’s a line in it where Constantine says, “God has a plan for all of us. I had to die twice just to figure that out. Some people like it, some people don’t.”
Question: He’s always been a user in the comic. Is he nicer in the film?
Answer: No. Not really.
Question: What is Francis Lawrence like as a director?
Answer: He’s great. He’s really inventive. He’s got a real fresh feel to his cinema. He’s really great with storytelling and the camera. He’s great to work with. He’s a great collaborator and yet has a strong voice. He’s got good taste. With actors, he knows what he’s looking at and he knows what to ask to make it better or to help you kind of discover the scene. It’s great.
Question: Is Constantine more vulnerable than Neo?
Answer: I don’t know. I thought Neo was a very vulnerable character.
He’s full of doubts. He doesn’t win. He has to lose his life. That’s not very invulnerable. Constantine, there’s an element of the greatness, the great Constantine is kind of faded. He’s in a vulnerable state and this character Djimon is playing, Midnite, he has a line where he’s like because I’m asking him for help and he’s saying I’m neutral. I don’t work on any side of the balance. I have this place, this club where half-breeds can come and be themselves and “before you were a bartender, you were one witch doctor against thirty Askar and I was” and he goes, “You were John Constantine. The John Constantine once. Times change. Balances shift and I have always been a businessman, John. You know that.”
Question: What does Hell look like?
Answer: Yeah, this one is orangey. There’s dust in the air, a charcoal kind of dust. There’s a real strong soundscape to this film, so there’s a real strong soundscape. One of the things that we came up with and you’ll see this a couple of times is that when someone dies and they go to hell, part of hell is just at the moment when they die and I guess you’re seeking release, these soldier demons, scavenger demons come in and they just eat you. Part of these empty skull folks is that they have these really huge maws with teeth and so instead of getting release, you get consumed and then instantly you’re back to just about where you were going to die again and then come in and get you again. And so there’s one element where I walk out onto a hell freeway, coming out of this character’s apartment where it transforms from a real world to a hell apartment and that is just basically, you know, there’s rubble and decay. Everything’s broken down. Cars on the freeway have almost melted and there’s just these demons with these people screaming being consumed and then they’re back and then screaming and consumed and screaming and consumed.
Question: Are you ever in makeup in the movie?
Answer: No, but there’s some cool elaborate makeups in this film. They’re really kind of doing a nice mixture of having in camera effects or makeups and then having CGI supported, so there’s a cool mixture with that. I always find that works best instead of just pure CGI because it becomes kind of flat, though it’s getting much better.
Question: What about Rachel Weisz?
Answer: She’s been great. She’s adding a real strength and sensitivity at the same time to her role. It’s enjoyable working with her.
Question: Did you enjoy playing with the gun?
Answer: There again is something that could be funny, you know its a HOLY shotgun. That whole idea of killing for God is always interesting.
Question: By making this a PG-13 movie, are you worried about losing the character’s famous dark edge that you could keep in an R?
Answer: There’s fights and smoking and dark edges, but its surrounding a story that I think is about knowing yourself and coming to terms with the world and I think that’s relevant for all ages, particularly an adolescent coming to terms with identity. I don’t think we’re losing anything by doing this, except for ‘f**k’, I don’t say ‘f**k’. Sure there’s a bed scene but my feet are on the floor, there’s no humping – its post coital. I’m drinking, she’s laughing that I’ve got terminal cancer and says that he’s the one soul Satan himself would come up to collect. I think that’s fun.