We chatted to Matt Ryan, who plays John Constantine on NBC’s new comic-inspired TV show Constantine. Matt’s enthusiasm for the project was unmistakable as he talked about Hellblazer, horror, and everyone’s favorite working class street magician…
Hellblazer has a huge legacy and a lot of big fans, including myself and many of our readers on Den of Geek. Have you felt pressured by that? How do you deal with that?
I think that like with any iconic character like this, there is a bit of pressure, especially when there’s such a hardcore fanbase, but at the same time it’s really exciting. Once I started delving into the comics I fell in love with the character and [was] really trying to get under his skin. I think the one guiding compass that I use is the comics. It’s like, just keep on going back to the comics and just keep on trying to be true to the DNA of the comics and hopefully that guides me in the right way. Yeah, I think I feel a bit of pressure, but at the same time it’s exciting and you just kind of throw yourself into it with everything you’ve got and use those comics as a guiding compass.
What did you do to prepare for the role?
I read the comics! I started training as well, obviously. I’d just come off of the back of a play and I started training for a month or so and getting myself in shape ready for the long shoot, and then I was just reading comics. I mean my life was hell because I was just going to the gym and reading Hellblazer comics! (laughs) I mean I was just like, “This is a dream job!”
Sounds good to me!
I know man, I’m so lucky. I was just taking little notes and little quotes and stuff on the comics. I’ve got this little Hellblazer scrapbook that I keep with me. It’s just all there, that’s my world, and it’s an amazing world to kind of play in, you know?
There’s been a lot of talk about making Constantine work on network TV. I’m not going to ask about the smoking because I know you answer that question every day. But there’s also the gruesome, creepy stuff that’s in the comics. Do you think you can replicate that on network TV, and how?
I think we get darker and darker as we go. I mean, the next episode is directly from the comics, it’s the Gary Lester storyline, which is amazing, it’s my favorite episode so far, and that’s the episode where the show really kind of comes together and we really feel the Hellblazer. You see John going through a lot of shit, you see Gary going through a lot. It’s like, that’s when we’re doing right, that’s the kind of show we want to make, and we’ve gotten darker and I’ve been surprised with some of the stuff we’ve been able to do. Episode 8 and 9 are…it’s pretty out there, man.
But you know, there are certain things that are… well we haven’t really been told we can’t do anything, we’re just doing it, you know? I mean look at something like Hannibal, which is on the same network. That show is creepy as shit. But I think the difference with us is the character of John. It’s tricky on television, finding that balance of it being so dark, but then with John’s humor in it. It’s got to be dark enough for John to be able to crack jokes in the middle of, because if it’s not dark enough then it just becomes this cheesy thing that he doesn’t care about, you know? It has to be kind of rooted in this real dark, twisted world where all these horrible things exist, and then you’ve got the central character just trying to go and “Yeah, this is my everyday life.” And I think the balance of that is what makes the show work. I feel like as we go on week by week, we just get stronger and stronger with that. If we get picked up for the back nine then there’s going to be more characters from the DC universe introduced as well, and more Hellblazer stuff, which is great.
That was actually one of my questions, because David S. Goyer has been saying that you’re adapting American Gothic right now, sort of loosely, and that’s a Swamp Thing arc. I really want to see some Swamp Thing. Is there any chance that will happen?
I don’t know. I think the one thing that David said is that it’s not off the cards, but they talk about how it could be done: what’s the best way of it being done on television, in terms of whether it would be CGI or it whether it would be prosthetics and all those things. I think they don’t want to rush into something and get it wrong. I think, rightly so, they’ve taken the time to go, “Okay, let’s flesh out this universe,” and see where it takes them and what they’re actually able to do. We’ve got a great special, VFX team, they are so amazing. Some of the stuff I’ve seen is just off the charts. And it’s great that these days you can actually do that on television and not just a big movie. So yes, there is a possibility. I’d love to go there.
With Zed being here now, are you doing the Resurrection Crusade storyline? Is that a spoiler?
Ohh, I don’t know if I’m allowed to tell you so much about this. But the interesting thing with Zed is, in the comics they meet and they pretty much hit if off straight away. What we’re doing is we’re holding off that slightly, and I think that on TV you have to build something of a chemistry between two people, and what happens on TV I think it that as soon as they get together, so to speak, that kind of dissipates. So we are following the arcs of the comics and her story and her backstory, and it has been mentioned, and it will be mentioned, and we’ll see where we go.
Last week we also got info about Mucous Membrane. Are you going to sing? Are you good at singing? Can you do punk?
I haven’t sung yet, but I can sing, and we did this one episode, Anne-Marie Flynn, she was in a two-part episode, 8 and 9. Those episodes, I think they’re great. There’s a photograph in there, there’s a picture of me and her back in the day. Yeah, I’d be up for it, the singing. I can sing, I don’t know if I’ve ever done punk singing, but I can get into that shit man, I love it.
Say I’m somebody who doesn’t watch Constantine. What would you say to convince me?
Okay, well you’re gonna get a supernatural thrill ride with an essential character who’s a working class antihero, and the type of person who would try to cast a spell on you, and if that doesn’t work then he’ll kick you in the balls, and if that doesn’t work then he’ll just run away.
Matt Ryan, thank you very much!
Constantine airs on Friday nights on NBC in the US, and is available on Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK.
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