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Even before stepping into the legendary shoes of DC Comics adventurer Lady Johanna Constantine, Jenna Coleman was already a pop culture icon. After all, Coleman brought to life one of the most beloved characters in Doctor Who history, the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors’ trusty companion Clara Oswald. Coleman’s run as a companion is one of the longest ever, debuting in 2012’s “Asylum of the Daleks” and making her final appearance in 2017’s “Twice Upon a Time” (although she made her official exit from the TARDIS in 2015’s “Hell Bent”).
Since escaping Gallifrey, Coleman’s taken on a few other big roles, including that of Queen Victoria herself in three series of the British historical drama Victoria, and her upcoming work on Netflix’s The Sandman represents her biggest challenge yet. Not only is Johanna one of Neil Gaiman‘s most memorable characters from the comic book series, first appearing in The Sandman #13, she also carries a very famous last name.
You likely know the name “Constantine” best from the countless DC comics starring chain-smoking occult detective John Constantine, the 2005 movie starring Keanu Reeves, or The CW character played by Matt Ryan. But in the actual comics continuity, Lady Johanna is the original by a few centuries, as John’s ancestor from the 1700s who plays a pivotal role in Dream’s quest.
That said, when we meet Johanna in Netflix’s The Sandman, it’ll be in a slightly different form. Coleman plays both Constantine’s ancestor, as well as her present-day descendant, also named Johanna, which should lead to a very interesting and fresh take on the rough-around-the-edges detective we know and love.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, we sat down with Coleman to get her thoughts on what it’s like bringing these two Constantines to life:
Den of Geek: How was it playing a character who comes with so many expectations?
Jenna Coleman: The character on the page was so well written. I had such a handle on what I wanted to do with Allan [Heinberg]’s ideas and Neil [Gaiman]’s ideas. It’s going to be really interesting because The Sandman is so many things to so many people.
Because I’m playing the female version of John Constantine, of course, that’s going to bring comment, but hopefully, people are excited. I think what Allan wrote on the page really works; it offered quite a different lens into her dynamic with Morpheus.
What are your favorite things about Johanna Constantine?
She’s tortured, and she’s a lone warrior. Inside [she has] this big open heart; she’s lost everyone close to her. She can’t let anybody in because she’s had too much hurt. Everything is about defense mechanisms—cynicism, humor, and wit—and the way in which she has to go through the world guarding her heart and being locked down to not let anybody in. I loved the way that she uses humor and that independent streak. [She has] a rouge-ishness, a playfulness, and a massive sense of fun.
Underlying all of that is someone with an incredibly lived life and a heaviness through the ability to perform exorcisms and the cost of that. So you’ve got that depth, but you’ve got that humor. Then that character meets Morpheus, and that dynamic [adds] this whole other interesting element. Because the similarities, the differences, the arrogance, the egos, the meeting of the two was really fun to play. Also, the fact that they ended up really liking each other but don’t want to tell each other that.
You’re also playing your modern character’s ancestor. What was that like?
Oh, so fun. She absolutely has a kind of a cruelty to her. [She’s] a lot more villainous for sure.
The Sandman releases on Netflix on Aug. 5.