‘Keanu Reeves hired me’ – ‘Constantine’ director
Director Francis Lawrence, better known for making award-winning music videos for the likes of Britney Spears, Will Smith, Janet Jackson, Aerosmith, etc. hits the major Hollywood league after he landed in Warner Bros. big new year salvo "Constantine" starring the "straight-faced Messiah" Keanu Reeves.
By virtue of his big visual presentations that spoke of his unconventional style and sentivity, Lawrence has smitten the favors of "Constantine" producers, as well as the movie’s lead star who even confessed to agreeing only to a possible sequel if it would be Lawrence who will direct it again.
The young director, whom we met in person during the press junket for this film in Hong Kong a couple of weeks back, impressed the Asian journalists who attended the event with his knowledge and grasp of his medium. He understands his craft and is not afraid to "experiment" and show the world about this "unconventional" style that emanates from his background.
Francis Lawrence took on the responsibility of filming the movie version of the DC Comics/Vertigo series graphic novel "Hellblazer" whose main character is John Constantine, an anti-hero, who is a world-travelling magelike misfit who investigates supernatural mysteries and the like. The film tackles the controversial subject of heaven and hell.
Lawrence impressed us with his visual representation of what hell must be like by creating familiar sight consumed by fire and deterioration. He explains, "my idea of hell is that every place we have here on earth has a hell version. So, in this same room, there is an exact hell version of this place, only it will be something that is in a condition very far from being comfortable."
Read on and discover the many other aspects in his Francis Lawrence’s character.
Q: Did you specifically use a Filipina actress in the movie?
A: Yeah. We hired a Filipina actress by the name of Jhoanna Trias. It was a scene in downtown Los Angeles where mostly Asian people reside. I really wanted to capture the essence of the real Los Angeles and that part was as real as any other place in Los Angeles. The idea is that this Asian family lives there, their girl gets possessed by the devil and Keanu, as Constantine comes to drive the demon out when Father Hennessy, (one of Constantine’s very few friends) failed to do so.
Q: How important is that scene?
A: That scene was the first scene where we showed the character of Constantine driving out a demon in a girl. It is an important scene because that’s when Constantine discovers that the balance is being disturbed already. That the wager between God and the devil is being disturbed because it was a real devil that Constantine finds in her. It wasn’t supposed to be like that at all. In the wager, God and the devil must not come directly in contact with human beings.
Q: Did you realize that she spoke in Tagalog in that scene also?
A: Oh yeah! I specifically asked her to translate in her own language the message she wants to deliver to Constantine. Remember that the devil speaks in tongues. In this scene, the demon’s language is Filipino. (chuckles)
Q: So you made her say, "we will kill them all" in Tagalog?
A: Really? Is that what she said? Wow! This is the first time I’m hearing that she changed the lines after all. (laughs) She was supposed to say to Constantine to look at what both of them could do to her, the possessed girl. Not to kill them all. But I guess that worked out fine as well.
Q: So how come that the girl speaks in Tagalog, her mother speaks Mandarin and that particular scene presented them to be a Mexican family?
A: That part about the mother speaking in Mandarin was a mistake. The scene when Constantine finished the flushing out of the demon, there were background conversation that had not been supervised by us. We call that loop rope and that was left into the hands of the technical people during post production. I didn’t realize that they let a Chinese guy dub the background loop rope.
Q: Was the decision to Americanize "Constantine" entirely yours?
A: No. I came into the picture after six-to-seven years already. When I came on board, the decision has already been made to make Constantine American, well, it was understood. We have Keanu Reeves in the title role. The decision is to just come up with an adaptation that definitely captures the heart of Constantine, who he is. Never mind that he is unlike the original cartoon character John Constantine, a blonde Englishman and all. We have captured essentially who he is and I think that settled that issue that raged among DC Comics fanatics of the series.
Q: How was it like working with Keanu?
A: He is an actor that is great to work with. He is a professional. Highly devoted to the role, to the character he is playing. We had a full year together before we started filming and we had numerous discussions about the script and the scenes before we actually began shooting the film.
Q: How does it feel to be actually hired by Keanu for this film, considering this is your very first movie?
A: It was great. He was on before I was in this film and definitely he was one of the deciding factors who will be the director to helm the project. He just came back from shooting "Matrix" and he was the last person whom I spoke with about my plans for the film. I gave him the same big visual presentation that I gave to the producers of the movie. Essentially, he hired me.
Q: Was this a lifelong dream of yours? To direct a film?
A: Yes. I have always dreamt of this time when I could. I have waited for this chance since I graduated, I was 21 years old then. I actually filmed my first movie soon after graduation but it was nothing fancy at all. And then I got the chance to do what I have been doing for the past 10 years, directing music videos for the biggest singers in the US.
Q: How different is movie directing from music video directing?
A: Except for the fact that movies are longer, and takes more time to prepare for, the psychology is the same. The concept of time, pressure, the tools you use for the trade, the facts, dealing with personalities, all are the same.
Q: How does it feel being entrusted by Warner Studio with this much responsibility for your first film?
A: It is great! The studio has great expectations for the film. They were hoping for a big hit in this film. Originally, the playdate they wanted for "Constantine" was in fall of 2004. But when they saw the footage of the product, they targetted September of 2004 to have it released. But since there were already several huge releases for the studio in that period, the studio altogether decided to move the playdate to 2005, which makes "Constantine" the first big release of the studio for the new year.
Q: The ending of the film can be read as somewhat open-ended, does this mean that there will be a sequel sometime soon?
A: I don’t actually think that it was open-ended. It’s just a statement that John Constantine is still around, and that he will be with us in the days to come. But to answer that question. Yeah, I would love to do a sequel to it.
Q: Was it a conscious decision for you to come up with a film noir feel to "Constantine?"
A: Sort of. Yes, the reference tone is somewhat akin to "The Maltese Falcon" and LA is a noir city. So I guess, the details all came together to impress that film noir effect. I was conscious with creating a tone that is different, a mixture maybe of genre — horror, supernatural, thriller. I am actually happy with the result.
Q: Is it safe to say that you are actually setting a trend in Hollywood movies with "Constantine?"
A: If that’s what they will say. I also want to be known as a non-conformist director, somebody unconventional.
Q: What are the movies that had great effect on you?
A: The original "King Kong" is first. I saw it as a kid and I was just blown away by it. "Star Wars" is another, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Martin Scorsese’s "After Hours" and "Raising Arizona" that last one made me decide what I wanted to become when I grow up. More importantly, I want to create a movie that has real characters and story. Something that would make me create a world based in reality but at the same time will have a surreal magic to it.