SET VISIT: Keanu Reeves Talks Constantine!(an extended version of this interview is available here)
Superhero Hype! correspondent Brian Carroll visited the set of Warner Bros.' upcoming Constantine, directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton, Gavin Rossdale, Djimon Hounsou, Shia LaBeouf and Jesse Ramirez. Based on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer, the film tells the story of irreverent supernatural detective John Constantine (Reeves), who has literally been to hell and back. When Constantine teams up with skeptical policewoman Angela Dodson (Weisz) to solve the mysterious suicide of her twin sister (also played by Weisz), their investigation takes them through the world of demons and angels that exists just beneath the landscape of contemporary Los Angeles. Caught in a catastrophic series of otherworldy events, the two become inextricably involved and seek to find their own peace at whatever cost. Brian reports...
We took the limo down to Compton south of L.A. and parked in a vacant lot filled with trucks and trailers. We then walked a block to Angeles Abbey Memorial Park, built in 1928. The architecture was modeled after Moorish middle eastern architecture with domed roofs and columns. Inside one of three buildings sitting around a courtyard was the set for Midnite's reliquary, a long hallway with plenty of intricate stonework on the walls. The hall was filled with religious icons and other objects, including a huge wooden cross, religious statuary, a dusty jukebox, a vintage machine gun, brains in jars, vases and more.
We watched Keanu (dressed in a black coat, pants and tie and white shirt and holding a strange golden gun, known in the film as the Holy Shotgun) and Djimon (pimped out in a red hat and velour coat) walk down the hall six times for the scene in which they walk to Midnite's electric chair. When we first came in, Keanu must have sensed us looking down from the floor above because he looked up and gave us a little wave.
And now a little background on John Constantine: John first showed up in DC's "The Saga of the Swamp Thing" # 37, as a mysterious fellow (modeled after the rock star Sting in appearance), who uses a worldwide network of contacts and operatives to keep up with what's going on in the supernatural world. He leads Swamp Thing through a number of adventures to prepare him to avert a supernatural disaster. The character's popularity got him his own book, called "Hellblazer," which debuted in 1987 and continues to this day. Hellblazer has attracted some of comicdom's most successful writers, sometimes for just one issue (Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison) or for a more extended stay, like Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, and Garth Ennis, who was responsible for the storyline, "Dangerous Habits," that the movie is based on.
Brian got a chance to talk to Keanu Reeves on the set and here is the interview which does contain some story spoilers, so proceed with caution.
Could you talk about some of the changes you've made from the comic and how your character may be different?
What changes are you talking about?
For example, in the comic, your character is British and blond.
I think that's about the only change we've made.
Did you have any desire to play it British?
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.
He's known for having a devilish sense of humor. Is that reflected in the dialogue?
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.
How is the story hard boiled?
In terms of that kind of dialogue.
But don't you mean noir, like Bogart?
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. You see the smoke rising behind him. 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.
Does that come out in the dialogue too?
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."
What are the burns on your shirt?
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 beg him.
This is a dark story with a sense of humor. Is that what attracted you to the project?
Yeah, 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.
Is it nice to do a movie with horror elements where you don't yell and scream but get to play it cool?
Well, Constantine gets his ass whupped 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.
So is it physical?
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.
You've mentioned that the character has an ambiguous morality that you found attractive.
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.
There's a lot of CG stuff in this. Have you seen any concept art of the demons?
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.
Can you describe the scene you're shooting today?
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.
What are those glasses he's collected?
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.
Why is John using the chair?
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.
Had you read "Hellblazer" before you got the part?
I was not familiar with the material before reading the script.
Were you just looking for this kind of movie?
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."
He's always been a user in the comic. Is he nicer in the film?
No. Not really.
What is Francis Lawrence like as a director?
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.
Is Constantine more vulnerable than Neo?
I don't know. I thought Neo was a very vulnerable character.
Well, he became a superhero in the last movie?
In what way?
Well, he's flying.
Yeah, but he's also 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."
What does Hell look like?
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.
Are you ever in makeup in the movie?
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.
What about Rachel Weisz?
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.