Never Before Scene: 'Constantine'
"Constantine," based on the comic-book series "Hellblazer," stars Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, a detective who's been to hell and back (literally) and can see into a world that mere mortals cannot. When a woman (Rachel Weisz) hires him to solve the mysterious suicide of her sister, he opens her eyes to what he can see, and all hell breaks loose.
Reeves recently sat for a Q&A session following a screening of "Constantine" for MTV's "Never Before Scene." He was joined by co-star Shia LaBeouf, who brings a little comic relief to the otherwise dark film, and director Francis Lawrence, who until now was best known for making music videos, including Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" and Gwen Stefani's "What You Waiting For?" Moderated by "TRL" co-host Quddus, the discussion ranged from hauntings on the set to a custom-made crucifix that requires a 30-day waiting period.
Quddus: Nice to see you guys. How did you prepare for your roles? Did you do any research into the occult?
Keanu Reeves: How did we prepare?
ShiaLaBeouf: How did you prepare? My preparation for the interview didn't go too well. My preparation wasn't really immense. My character is just kind of fun-loving, the sidekick.
Reeves: That's actually your whole life.
LaBeouf: That's my whole life. My whole life — I've been preparing for 18 years, actually.
Reeves: You brought your whole life to it.
LaBeouf: That's true, I brought it all to the table.
Quddus: What about yours, because yours was a pretty intense role, to say the least.
Reeves: Yeah, you know, I met with an exorcist, met with some doctors. My character has a condition that he is dying from, so I met with some doctors, met with an exorcist — that was an interesting day.
Quddus: Must have been. What was the exorcist like?
Reeves: You know, he's like basically fighting the devil. He's like, "You have to have contact and protect yourself."
LaBeouf: We had a priest on set for a little while too. It was ridiculous.
Reeves: Yeah, we were doing the Latin right.
LaBeouf: I can't even talk right now.
Quddus: No, it's OK. I think you were just thinking about how much you had to confess to the priest that day, when you were on set.
LaBeouf: It was a lot. Actually, you know what? I never really was scared about hell or any of that stuff until the priest was on set talking like ... you never think it's real until he's, like, so serious about it. Like, this is how you're supposed to say it. And you're going, "Wow, you really devoted your life to this. Are you kidding me?" And it's serious because he's serious about it. Especially when it's a priest.
Quddus: When someone speaks with enough conviction, you believe just about anything. Like the exorcist, did you really start believing that he could extract the devil?
Reeves: Well, I don't know if it was the devil. How is that guy? What's he doing? Did you meet? Did you ask [the devil] why he's doing what he's doing? "What are you doing, man? Feel the love. What are you so pissed off about? What do you want?"
Quddus: I want you to conduct this interview because you like questions so much.
Audience member: How did Constantine become a demon slayer, and does Chas have the same abilities?
LaBeouf: No, we don't have the same abilities, otherwise it would be a really ridiculous movie. ... It wouldn't work too well. Chas doesn't really have any powers because he's one of the only characters who's really human in the film. And he humanizes the movie, [a quality that] a lot of films [in this genre] don't have. And Keanu, of course, has that power.
Reeves: I guess Constantine doesn't really understand why he has the gift to see behind the veil of the world. He can see behind the real world, he can see a heaven aspect and a hell aspect. He can see what he calls half-breeds, which are kind of demons or angels sent on earth to influence, and he has this gift to be able to see the angels and demons. In terms of dealing with exorcisms and other powers that he has, he's kind of developed this gift that was given to him, this power that he can bend or move in the world. He has the capability to go to hell, for instance. Not on a first date. "Want to go to hell?"
Audience member: What was it about this movie that attracted you both to your roles?
LaBeouf: For me, at least — and it's weird saying it while he's here — a big thing for me, like it would be for anybody else, was [the opportunity to work with] Keanu. Not to pop your collar. That was a big thing. Francis Lawrence [is a] ridiculous director, and even though it was his first film, his reel is extraordinary and a lot of fun to watch. And the script, which is usually how it goes for most roles. This was just overwhelmingly so, and the director, Francis, was a big reason why.
Quddus: His reel was a dance party. What about you, Keanu?
Reeves: Yeah, the script was really great. The idea of this character trying to kind of achieve a kind of freedom of will ... The aspect of this character who can see how the mechanisms of the world [work], trying to liberate from it, I guess. And I loved that he has kind of a fatalism to him. So I liked his kind of fatalistic, cynical yet kind of human side. He's really trying to find his life. So there was that struggle.
Quddus: Hell of a lot of depth to your character.
Reeves: Yeah, you know, and he's funny as all heck. And he's kind of sardonic and wry. And dealing with this character, you know, it's pretty easy to be sardonic and wry.
Quddus: When you're having to deal with the fires of hell, you need to find a sense of humor.
Reeves: Yeah, I think so.
Audience member: When you were shooting the hell scenes in the movie, how much of that was real and how much was added in with computer graphics?
LaBeouf: One hundred percent real, they filmed it in hell. They actually filmed it in hell.
Quddus: They had an extremely great budget.
LaBeouf: There's stuff on the set, of course, but it's all shot on green screen, most of it.
Reeves: When you walk onto a set, say it's the hell sequence, you know, it was about seven times this size. But they build ... certain scenery. So when you walk in, you know, you come in and you're like, "Yeah, this looks like fun." And basically probably the horizon like this element here [he points] would be CGI. So you would have this kind of horizontal kind of practical [real element] and behind it you would have a [computer] generation creating the horizon and what the character would see. But oftentimes in this film there were really live action elements or a real set to walk on, which is really fun to have that. When you just walk into a green room or a blue room there is some kind of fun in that because you get to make everything up. You know, you have a certain kind of freedom in that. But it's also great to be able to have the elements themselves because you can interact with them.
Audience member: In the exorcism scene we just watched, obviously the demon was not real, so how did you shoot that or play off something that was not really there?
Reeves: Well, the effects guys had built the demon itself. So there was a practical, there was kind of a puppet there, there were a couple of people there [operating it]. And I thought what was cool about that concept was that the demon itself has a kind of a half skull, the skull has been cut off in half. And they've taken out the brain, which is kind of the seed of the will, an identity. And it's been scooped out and removed so you're left with this creature that is will-less and it's just acting on its own physical desire to eat. So I like the concept of the demons themselves.
Quddus: Sounds like a lot of people I party with. [Director Francis Lawrence joins them.]
Quddus: Since you have done both music videos and movies. Who's harder to direct: rock stars or movie stars?
LaBeouf: Be careful, Francis, be careful.
Lawrence: I'd say rock stars are much more difficult.
Quddus: Why do you say that?
Lawrence: For the most part I don't think rock stars really want to be there making videos. I think they want to be there playing their music. And these guys, you know, want to be there every day, and they're passionate about it. So they're there and they're ready and they work hard. And they love it.
Quddus: Great experience for you then. So I'm guessing you're just going to move on from making music videos and never do one again.
Lawrence: I don't know about that. I still like making music videos, you know, it's still fun. It's still a great medium to work in.
Quddus: Just got to work on the enthusiasm of the artist.
Lawrence: Yeah, exactly.
Audience member: How would you describe "Constantine," since it's not your ordinary comic-book movie?
Lawrence: Well, it is based on a comic book, but I tried to sort of not make a comic-book movie. I tried to approach it from a much more realistic angle. I just sort of thought that I'd seen those comic movies done over and over and over again. And they exist in a kind of comic-book world and Gotham-like cities. I wanted this to feel like it exists in reality, so when the audience walks out of the theater they feel that this could actually be happening.
Audience member: Were there any weird supernatural occurrences or happenings on the set?
LaBeouf: Just me being on set. No, but I remember when we first started rehearsing, Djimon [Hounsou, who plays Midnite,] said something about hubu jiboo jabba — what was the word?
Lawrence: That was Keanu, actually.
Reeves: No hubu jubu, no hubu jubu.
LaBeouf: Did you make that up? We had heard rumors about how on "The Exorcist" set people had died and people lost eyes and whatever, so I was scared. Were you scared?
Reeves: No hubu jubu.
LaBeouf: No hubu jubu. He kept calling it hubu jubies. We don't want any hubu jubu happening, which was his word for any weird crap happening on set.
Lawrence: I think we tried to be really careful. Everybody, because of the subject matter, was really sensitive to strange things happening, and you know with all the religious stuff in the film and some of the voodoo stuff we were dealing with with Djimon. So we were careful to not really sort of tread on any real scary territory.
LaBeouf: It wasn't like we were laughing about this stuff. Everybody was taking it pretty serious, which was really scary.
Quddus: Well, with the priest on set, I can imagine. What about you, Keanu?
Reeves: I just didn't want any heads turning around. No curses, didn't want anything floating, didn't want to hear voices coming out of anywhere, didn't want any hubu jubus.
Lawrence: Actually, there was this one set that we shot on for about six weeks and there was this one area of this set, I don't know what it was about it, but there was something. Everybody was really depressed, everybody was really angry, and everybody was starting to get sick. And it was just this one thing, and you could feel sort of a change from room to room. And it was in the back of this one stage that we spent a lot of time on.
Reeves: Shia was also doing that shot where he has to put the cross of Astoria ... Everything kept going wrong and took forever and things were like ...
Lawrence: And the stunt guys got really injured.
Reeves: That one spooky spot.
LaBeouf: Thank God I wasn't there for any of that.
Lawrence: No, but you were there, we were shooting with you when the stunt guy broke his ribs and ...
LaBeouf: Broke his ribs?
Lawrence: Yeah, remember that?
LaBeouf: No, I wasn't there. Thank God I wasn't there.
Quddus: He's got a pleasant memory.
LaBeouf: Let's not even start now, because I'm getting really scared with these chairs and the vibe of the situation. Don't do that, see why, why ...
Reeves: Get out.
Quddus: He's a sensitive young man, Keanu. Come on now.
Reeves: Shia ... Shia ... Shia ...
Audience member: What was the most difficult or challenging part of making this movie for each of you?
LaBeouf: Getting over the fact that it's actually Keanu that you are talking to was a big thing for me. Not like in a bad way — it's just the fact that it's Keanu Reeves that you're speaking with. That was hard for me the first couple of days.
Quddus: How many times have you watched "The Matrix"?
LaBeouf: Yeah, exactly, you know what I'm saying? Or any of [his movies]. That was rough. And then opening up, because a lot of scenes that I'm in had to be comical in a weird way. So there's a lot of ad-libbing that has to happen, so you have to be open for that. And it was hard to with him, and then when we got over it, it was cake. But that was a rough thing. Yeah, he's full of it, I'm telling you it was rough.
Reeves: Aww, man. Well, you did really well. Yeah, definitely.
LaBeouf: Thank you, thank you. Don't start, don't start.
Audience member: It looks like there are a lot of cool gadgets and weapons in this movie. Did any of you get to keep them?
Lawrence: Actually, at the end of production Keanu brought me this great gun that we had in the movie and he actually [bought it for me] 'cause all the stuff gets taken back by the studio.
Reeves: Tell them what it's called.
Lawrence: The holy shotgun.
Reeves: The holy shotgun. Constantine gets some revenge with the holy shotgun. And at the end of the film their props — you know, it's a Warner Bros. show — it's like they are literally taking everything back while you're finishing the film. "OK, that's mine," you know? It's like you kind of are walking out and you're just left alone. I thought the holy shotgun was such a beautiful piece that I asked the property master [for] it, and actually it was a working shotgun, it had a pin in it, everything. He was like, "We can't do that, Keanu. It actually works, he could actually shoot it, it's against the law." I was like, "Well, then take the pin out." So it took about a month and a half, but the property master did it. And it's about — how much does that thing weigh?
Lawrence: It weighs about 30 pounds.
Reeves: And it's just a crucifix.
Lawrence: It's a really beautiful piece. You guys will see in it in the movie. It's really fantastic
Reeves: And it works. Sorry. Could you imagine if someone breaks into your house and you whip out the holy shotgun on them? You know what I mean? The guy's just like ...
Quddus: Man, I am scared of you. So what about you, Francis? What was the most difficult thing for you on this project?
Lawrence: I'd say the toughest part was probably a lot of the effects sequences — really figuring out how to do everything. You know, we had some ideas. I know Keanu and I actually came up with this great sequence with Rachel [Weisz] flying through these walls of a building and just figuring out how to do that, the kind of rings we had to put her in — the kind of practical stuff with knocking down walls, what's miniatures, what's computer-generated. That stuff was pretty complex.
Quddus: What her body can handle.
Lawrence: Yeah, exactly.
Quddus: Small consideration, right?
LaBeouf: Very small.
Quddus: Yeah right. What about you, Keanu?
Reeves: The most difficult thing? I don't know. I mean ...
LaBeouf: Don't look at me and answer this please.
Reeves: Well you know, I mean ... We were wet for a while.
LaBeouf: That sucked.
Reeves: There was this sequence that takes place around water, and so it was us getting wet and dry.
LaBeouf: I had a rash, you had a rash, we all had rashes.
Reeves: I didn't have a rash, no. Because it's like take after take sometimes you have to ... You get wet in a scene, but you have to start off dry [when you do another take].
Lawrence: We shot a couple of nights where it's just you out in the street and you had to be wet, and we all have our heaters and our suits and our big jackets and you're wet all night.
Reeves: It's cold and it's wet but you're doing this fun sequence.
LaBeouf: I had a rash that looked like Michigan on my back. It wasn't fun. You find pleasure in some weird stuff, man. I don't understand it.
Quddus: Well to each their own.
Audience member: Did Francis let you guys improvise any of the scenes? Or did you stick to the script?
LaBeouf: I got to improvise a lot.
Lawrence: That's kind of all you can do.
LaBeouf: Don't start, don't start. See, this is the back-stabbing that happens. No, I mean, we would stay on book a little bit, but I do have trouble sometimes remembering my lines. No, but he would keep it real free. Especially, you know, again, the comical scenes we just got to go off.
Lawrence: I think a lot of times, though, we would come up with stuff in blocking and rehearsing in the morning. So when we're actually shooting we're figuring a lot of stuff out, but we were kind of free to play around in the morning.
Quddus: Some of the greatest stuff happens like that when you're not sticking to plan and not being so narrow-minded.
Reeves: It's almost like every time, at least I feel like, once the director says "Action!" you know even if you plan everything, once the slate [claps] and they say "Action!" there's something else which I really love. There's something that might not happen like that or it might, you know, and there's kind of ...
Quddus: It's like magic.
Reeves: Yeah, 'cause it changes, doesn't it?
LaBeouf: Yeah, it's not as cheesy as magic, but it's more like ...
Quddus: Hey, for the record, Keanu used the word earlier today.
LaBeouf: I was just messing with you, but I totally agree with what you're saying, yeah.
Audience member: Are there any hidden messages or clever inside jokes in this movie? Any Alfred Hitchcock-type moments?
Lawrence: I don't know if there are any hidden messages. I've thrown my voice in the movie a little bit, uncredited, for a character that's in there, but other than that ... A writer-producer is also in it as a voice, but we don't make any appearances, and I don't think there's sort of jokes or gags or hidden messages or anything.
Quddus: It seems like the whole thing is kind of clever, though, in the way that it can be interpreted in different ways and whatnot. You can derive so much from the content itself of the movie.
Lawrence: Yeah, what was always great, and even from the very beginning when I was talking to people like Keanu and Shia and other actors about being in the movie, it didn't matter if you were religious or not religious or what your philosophy was about the universe. Everybody somehow seemed to pull something from it, which was really great, and I think the story just has a lot of layers, which is good.