To Hell And Back
He's traveled through time for school projects, seen life without the illusion of the Matrix and saved entire busloads of people from a madman. For his next challenge, Keanu Reeves will play a supernatural detective who's actually been to hell and back. In "Constantine," based on the comic book "Hellblazer," Reeves' titular character teams up with a police officer to investigate her sister's suicide. Along the way, she gets to see the world of angels and demons that normally only Constantine is privy to. "TRL" co-host Damien caught up with Keanu on the set in Los Angeles.
Damien: What's the movie like? What's the plot of "Constantine"? It's based on a comic book, right?
Keanu Reeves: Yeah, it's inspired by "Hellblazer," and let's see ... I play a character named John Constantine, a man — an exorcist — condemned to hell for the life he took.
Damien: That's not good.
Keanu: Yeah. His own life, by the way. Condemned to hell for that, and he's trying to find a way to get back into heaven, so he's doing that by kind of casting out demons and trying to find a kind of redemption. On his way with doing that he uncovers a plot for certain forces that are trying to make a hell on earth, and there's only one man who stands in its way.
Damien: Who is that man?
Keanu: John Constantine.
Damien: That's right.
Keanu: And in that search, he comes up against ... he kind of has to make the ultimate sacrifice, which is something that goes quite against his nature. This piece has a certain kind of hardboiled aspect to it, there's a lot of horror to it, mystery, and it's quite genre-bending and blending, which has been really cool.
Damien: We just talked with Shia LaBeouf. How was it working with him? Is he a good kid? He's got great stuff to say about you.
Keanu: He's absolutely fantastic. He's got a lovely spirit, and he's a really talented actor, and it's been fun to throw down with him.
Damien: What's his role in the movie?
Keanu: Constantine calls him his "very appreciated apprentice," a kind of acolyte of sorts, and he gets involved in this whole ... he's kind of trying to live and learn with Constantine. He wants to kind of enter the world that Constantine lives in, but as we know, knowledge comes with a price.
Damien: Let's talk about the director, because I've heard that he is just ... I mean, Shia was singing his praises.
Keanu: Yeah, he's absolutely fantastic. Francis Lawrence is "the real deal," as they say. His eye is great, his instinct with a story, the way that he watches scenes, the way that he works with actors, very collaborative, at the same time knows what he wants and can communicate that. Not only with the actors, but the people on the crew, and all the other artisans involved. ... For me, it's been one of the best experiences I've had making a picture, just really collaborative, and seems to draw out some of the best work, which is great too.
Damien: What kind of stuff did you learn from him as a director?
Keanu: What I got to do, which was great, was early on in the process, there was a real openness to collaboration with the script, and with the ideas, and with what we thought we were going to try to do, and what that translated to on the set was ... he's got a really great and fresh-feeling sense of cinema, so I might kind of come up with an idea, and he would say, "OK." ... Sometimes he'd have some angles, and I'd ask, "What's this telling? What's this story we're telling?" and he was really great at communicating what he was doing, and so in terms of learning, it was more about just experiencing some of the best things that can happen in the creative act of making a film and telling a story, just, like, what do you think? And what do I think? And how do we go about it? How do we get this story out? How do we tell this story? And working with him has been really, for me, personally satisfying. And the cast that he assembled, his taste is really great. And he's got a real kind of earthy intellectual aspect to him, he's very thoughtful, and at the same time he's got a real kind of emotional connection to his thought, which is a cool combination in terms of telling stories.
Damien: Growing up, did you read comics at all? Was that your hobby? I know that I read comics as a kid, some people collected baseball cards.
Keanu: Yeah, yeah, there was about 10 years there where I was going out there on Wednesdays and Fridays or whatever and getting like the whole ...
Damien: The new "Spider-Man"?
Keanu: The whole thing, yeah. I remember when the "Dark Knight" came out, and when "Ronin" came out. The Frank Miller stuff was really like, "Wow, that's a new thing." Before then, I really liked "Spider-Man," "New Mutants," and I really loved "Wolverine," you know that four-issue series that Frank Miller did? Yeah, it was just f---ing awesome.
Damien: And, uh, you just said "f---in'."
Keanu: Well, that's the way it goes, man. You know, we're livin', we're talkin', we're hangin'. You know what I mean? We're in Los Angeles and rapping about comics, so what the heck.
Damien: So how long are the days here on the set? Are they grueling? Do you have to be up at like 4 a.m. and shoot until 2 a.m.?
Keanu: Standard filming days, once you arrive to when you finish, is 12 hours, and then it turns into overtime. But basically a normal day is generally about 14 hours.
Damien: Fourteen hours. And you know, I will be the conduit between Shia and you, because Shia's a little upset — your trailer's a little bigger than his. He was a little upset. His is on Jenga cubes. Seriously, the little wooden things over there — like little Jenga pieces.
Keanu: The young man's been doing it for I think five [years], I've got 20. You know what I mean? It's like I'm closer to the [retirement-gift] watch than he is in that sense, but one day all of these will be Shia's. With the way he's going, I'm sure he'll have the estate.
Damien: So we're going to be roaming around the set tonight, checking it out. What's going on tonight, and what other kinds of scenes can we look forward to?
Keanu: Let's see, tonight Constantine is talking about his experience going to hell. John Constantine has the ability to cross over planes, and he just talks about, you know, that time stops when you cross over, two minutes in hell. What else have we got? We have Shia's character, my character, going to the kind of showdown — we're driving to this kind of hospital where there's a showdown.
Damien: A little showdown. Are there guns involved? Are there weapons?
Keanu: Yeah, there's a holy shotgun. You might see the holy shotgun tonight.
Damien: The holy shotgun's coming out, ladies and gentlemen.
Keanu: The holy shotgun, which is quite a piece. Yeah, it's pretty great. And, what else do we have going on? And then there's a walk-and-talk with his character, Chaz. There's a place where Djimon Hounsou's character, Midnight — he's kind of in between heaven and hell, kind of neutral, kind of Switzerland — he owns this club where the half-breeds — half angel, half demons — can hang out and they mix together, and this is one of the spots that his character wants to get into, Midnight's. And so we're walking — he's going to try and get into that spot, but it doesn't work out.
Damien: It doesn't happen.
Keanu: Well, it does eventually, but ...
Damien: Well don't give away the movie!
Keanu: And then what happens is ...
Damien: No, no, no, no, no, please!