COMIC-CON 2004: Keanu Reeves, Djiimon Hounsou, and director Francis Lawerence talk Constantine!
On Friday morning, I got a chance to sit down with some of the crew members from this year's hotly anticipated Hellblazer adaptation. In attendance where Keanu Reeves, Djiimon Hounsou, and director Francis Lawrence...
(Go to the bottom for a Movieweb exclusive about the fate of Bill & Ted...)
Q: How far along is the movie?
Francis Lawrence: We're still working on it in post. We're pretty far along. We've tested it a couple of times, and it's tested really well. We still have a lot of effects work to do. And we haven't hired a composer yet, we're still working on that. But, it's in really good shape.
Q: How many effects shots are there?
Francis: I don't even know the final count right now. I think it's around 420 shots of CGI. It's coming together really well and it's getting a great response. Which is really exciting for me. It's a unique movie, and it's really different. And I think people are really responding to that. That's very exciting to see. That people are feeling it, and are with it. And that they get it. You try to do something different, and you always worry that people might not understand it. But I think they really do. And I think they really connect.
Q: Keanu, have you seen it? And how do you feel about it?
Keanu: I've seen some shorts cut together before events like this. And it looks really beautiful. I think it was shot really beautifully. I think the crux is the camera angles. It gets you inside a scene, and lets you come out of a scene. It feels very fresh. And yet, we really connected to the storytelling on it. It's not just a bunch of quick cuts. There's something very fresh about it.
Q: How does it compare to the comic?
Keanu: I'm probably not the best judge of that.
Francis: He hasn't seen that much of it.
Q: What was your approach to the character? How did you make it different?
Keanu: Well, I ditched the accent. I can't really...I have to wait and see. I really loved the guy. I loved his anger. And I loved his rye sense of humor about the awfulness of the world. Having to deal with that day in and day out. I mean, Djiimon is playing Midnight. We're kind of like warriors. And we're in this world of shit. And just trying to deal with it. Really, I liked him.
Francis: It wasn't pleasant being around Keanu when he was liking Constantine so much.
Q: Did you stay in character?
Francis: Not that much, not that much...
Q: Do you have an idea about who you want to hire for the composer?
Francis: No, I don't have any idea yet.
Q: What kinds of effects are you working on?
Francis: We have lots of different kinds. We have rig removals. And dot removals. And stuff like that. That's the simplest kinds of stuff. You know, all the way to complete environments that we've built, character animation, and things like that. There are some creatures that we built in CG. We've got that. There's a whole world that you'll see today (at the panel), that we created mostly digitally. And then there's a lot of stuff in-between that.
Q: Is this the first time that you guys have been at Comic-Con?
Keanu: It's my second.
Djiimon: It's my first.
Q: What are you hoping to bring to it?
Djiimon: I have to say, my connection to the story has more to do with how ironic it is to my culture, coming from Africa, and knowing a lot about religion and the occult. And our view of the occult, and how it is seen in the Western world. It's just amazing to see the connection, and how real it is to me, and how it is like some of the stories I've heard back home. It's intriguing.
Q: What's it like being here?
Keanu: I think it's awesome. I mean, anything where there's great enthusiasm, and a place to come share what you think is cool. And you have this opportunity to come together and share whatever you're into. I mean, it's awesome.
Q: Keanu, did you ever read comics as a kid?
Keanu: I read a couple, yeah...I followed...What did I like? When I read Frank Miller, I was like, "Oh, my god! What is this?" Then when I saw Dark Knight, that series? Then when I went back to X-Men, and Frank Miller's Wolverine series, that was just awesome stuff to me. I collected some New Mutants, which came off of the X-Men. When I was a kid, it was Spider-Man. There were a couple of things. The whole idea of a graphic novel when I was a kid was just...Awesome.
Q: So, no Archie's...
Keanu: You know what? When you're in the bus, going to camp? Richie Rich...Remember Richie Rich, right?
Francis: I used to collect Richie Rich when I was a kid.
Keanu: Yeah, that's where I'd run into that.
Q: Francis, which books are you into?
Francis: I really liked Sin City a lot.
Q: Do you still read comics at all?
Francis: I do. Occasionally. I don't really collect. Nothing really comes to mind. I like Sin city a lot. Mostly for the art.
Q: Which specific story is Constantine based on?
Francis: Off of this one? It's Dangerous Habits. There's little pieces from different things. I mean, there's pieces from Original Sin. But the big through-line for this movie is Dangerous Habits. There are some definite pieces from it.
Q: Does this movie feel like a graphic novel?
Francis: No, my approach from the very beginning was to never shoot it like a comic book movie. I think that's been done before. I think it was done really well with Tim Burton's original Batman. From there, I don't think anybody has really topped that. Everyone has just built Gotham City again, whether or not it's called Gotham City or not. Everyone has done the dutched angles, and the bright colors, and made things super campy. What I wanted to do, and what I loved about the comics, is that it is rooted in reality, and rooted in real places. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to make it feel real. And it seems to be working. That's what people seem to be responding to. It's not all hyper real. It's not super stylized. It's kind of rooted in a gritty reality.
Q: Are there elements of horror?
Francis: There are plenty of elements of horror in this. There are plenty of scares. It's creepy throughout. One of the things I'm really proud of is that it's not genre specific. It's not a supernatural thriller. It's not just a horror film. It's not four kids in a van going off and getting chopping up by an ax murderer. It's not just fantasy. It's a weird blend of all these things, and I think it works.
Q: Are you looking solely to please the fans of the comic?
Francis: Yeah, I mean, I think there's a mix. One is; Hellblazer has a very small fan base. But it has a very hardcore fan base. So I think we have to build awareness amongst people who may not be aware of Hellblazer, or aware that Constantine has something to do with Hellblazer. And the other thing is; a lot of the Hellblazer fans are hard core. They've been tough on the movie, and they've been tough on certain things. We want to show them that we have not made Van Helsing. You know? It's not a straight-up Pop movie. I believe that the heart of the character is in this movie.
Q: Keanu, why are you passionate about the character of Constantine?
Keanu: He is fighting for his life. When I was traveling here this morning, I asked, "So, when they ask us what this film is about..."
Francis: I told him not to say. That you guys have to see it. Honestly, if you look at Dangerous Habits, and you know it's based on that, it's sort of clear what the film is about.
Keanu: Constantine, you know...He committed suicide to get out of here. He can see things, and has knowledge about the way the world works that is distressing to him. And he's trying to figure a way out. And now he's committed suicide. And he's trying to find his way into Heaven, into the Lord's grace. He's trying to find his life. A better life. And he struggles with his own nature, because he's not the nicest guy all the time.
Q: How do you walk the line between what the fans want, and your own vision of the project?
Francis: Number one, I don't think we'll make everyone happy. There's no way to do it. When I first came on this movie, it was an interesting script. And it's really different. It has an interesting tone, a different tone. And it goes to weird places. The story. And that was really interesting to me. And it's got all these great layers. Just because it's not in England, that he doesn't speak with an English Accent, that he's not blonde...That's going to piss some people off. And they will never get over that. But I think the heart of the character is there. And I want to make sure that gets conveyed.
Q: To the actors; did you feel a certain pressure from the Internet Community?
Djiimon: More or less. You just have to forget about that and worry about the story. And where you are at. And hope that it does some justice.
Q: Can you tell us about your character for people who are not familiar with him?
Djiimon: Midnight...I can tell you that he is very Rico Suave. He's a rich doctor. With his back story, I think he's gone through so much with Constantine, and death is such a presence.
Keanu: He's sort of a mid-way person, between Heaven and Hell. He deals in icons. And he's a bit of a thief.
Djiimon: He's a businessman.
Francis: It's kind of nice, because there's a noir structure to the story. Midnight's introduced, and you know there's a history between the two. He's presented as somewhat scary. You don't know if these guys really trust each other, or if they really like each other.
Q: Why the name change?
Francis: Honestly, it's because of the movie Hellraiser. And when you say Hellblazer, they say, "Hellraiser? The movie with Pinhead?" I think that was the biggest thing.
Q: Do you think Hellblazer fans will be confused?
Francis: No. I think every single Hellblazer fan knows that this is a movie with John Constantine. I think they are all very aware.
Q: What about educating non-comic fans?
Keanu: That's why there's so much security here today.
Q: What is the soundtrack going to be like?
Francis: It's mostly score. There are going to be a few parts in the movie where there are some songs. There's two. They are in a nightclub. Someone turns on a stereo at some point. But the rest is score. It's dark. It's atmospheric.
Q: So, Keanu, no plans for your band to appear on the soundtrack?
Q: Are you aiming for a PG-13?
Francis: The studio would like it to be PG-13. I don't know where it's going to land. The movie's scary. I don't know where it's going to land just based on intensity.
Q: What would your preference be?
Francis: That it is left in whatever form it is now. So that when the MPAA sees it, hopefully they won't make me cut it. It's defiantly not an NC-17 movie. There's no graphic sex, there's no graphic violence. It's about fantastic creatures, and those kinds of things. There's no blood spurting everywhere. It's not a splatter movie in any way.
Q: How is the chemistry between you and Rachel Weisz?
Keanu: Lovely. Yeah, she's lovely. It was fun to work with her again, and see her again. We had a good time.
Q: Do you reference any other movies in Constantine?
Francis: Honestly, the reference...I'll give you a strange reference, and I don't know if you'll be able to connect it. The gritty sort of realism I was talking about, a lot in the beginning of the process, I was referencing the movie Training Day. Because we were shooting in LA. And it's this different side of LA that you don't normally see. It's a little more ethnic. It's a little more of a realistic LA. It's not just the landmarks of LA. I sort of took the colors of Training Day. The texture and the feeling of that. I actually worked with the production designer of that film. If you want a reference, it comes form that. The noir comes from the tone. From the character, and how Constantine interacts with people and deals with the world around him.
Q: Why did you choose to shoot in LA instead of England?
Francis: First of all, there are various pieces pulled from different Graphic Novels. Constantine, in my eyes, has always been universal. He's in London, he's in America, there are pieces that happen in Africa. It's not just a story that takes place in London. And LA is a classically noir city.
Q: Keanu, can you talk about the physicality of this character? He's dying, he's sick...
Keanu: Oh, it was really fun to play. It was a breaking down. The character, throughout the film, gets broken down...
Francis: Throughout the film, you got skinnier, and skinnier, and skinnier...
Keanu: No I didn't.
Francis: Yeah, you did. You got skinnier.
Francis: And everyday, we tried really hard to shoot this in order. We literally met the Friday before we started shooting, and he gave us a lesson in lung cancer that you would not believe. About people drowning in their own blood. We had that.
Keanu: That was our Bon Voyage...
Q: Are you ever going to quit smoking.
Keanu: Well, I'm turning forty, so maybe after that...
And with that, or short discussion on the future of the could-be-a-hit film Constantine came to a close. I went over to Keanu and asked him a question I personally want to know...
Orange:: Keanu, do you think you're ever going to work with Alex Winter again?
Keanu: I hope so. Yeah.
Orange:: Do you know on anything particular?
Keanu: Um, not right now. I just saw him the other day. And I know he has some projects going. But as far as what we'll be doing, there's nothing specific set...
Orange:: Okay, great. Thanks.
Keanu: Sure. See you later.