"WE HAVE NOT MADE VAN HELSING"
Keanu vs The Fanboys
The Constantine duo of star Keanu Reeves and director Francis Lawrence take on their toughest audience: the fans of the original comic.
So what is in hell? In Constantine it's a big flaming swirl of demons and ghouls. For Bill & Ted his satanic majesty's stomping ground was a labyrinth of corridors overlooked by the big horned one himself. For Sartre, Hell was other people and Keanu Reeves and Francis Lawrence, star and director respectively of Constantine, might agree with a few specific provisos; the people in question being (as Kevin Smith once put it) over- or under- weight guys who can't get laid.
The trouble with doing a comic book movie is at some point you've got to meet the fans; the people who love these original books with every fibre of their sunlight-deprived being. So heaven forbid that you make a few little adjustments to the source material. Like changing the title.
In fact, fans of what used to he called Hellblazer have been very worried indeed. Not only have Lawrence, Reeves and co relocated the soulless, formerly Scouse seer, John Constantine to LA, they've dyed his hair black - rather than his trademark blond - and invited Akiva "No, I really did write Batman & Robin" Goldsman to no doubt turn the gritty classic into a neon-coated fluff-fest. The bad blood between movie and fanbase reached a peak when it appeared that Hellblazer creator and bona fide comic book legend Alan Moore disowned the movie (which actually turned out to be somewhat short of the mark; Moore tends to cheerfully divorce himself from most adaptations of his work). Thus you wouldn't blame the bloodthirsty crowd at a comic book panel Q&A for maybe feeling a bit aggrieved towards the pair in front of them.
As it turns out, the burning resentment of the angry Hellblazer aficionados might have been misplaced; the movie receiving the tougher R rating overseas. But then this lot don't know that yet...
WHAT WAS YOUR APPROACH TO THE CHARACTER?
Keanu Reeves: Well, I ditched the accent. I can't really... I really loved the guy. I loved his anger. And I loved his wry sense of humour about the awfulness of the world. Having to deal with that day in, day out.
Francis Lawrence: It wasn't pleasant being around Keanu when he was liking Constantine so much.
KR: I had the great fortune of working with some really great collaborators. Francis allowed me to work with him and form the script, and he has a really good idea of what Constantine is, that kind of hard-boiled guy. His humour. I got to work with the writer Akiva Goldsman. That allowed me to really have input and try to get that Constantinian Constantine, you know. That hard-boiled... [in his dark, smoky character voice] "It's the sulphur." And the character itself is so beautiful. I mean it's a wonderful role for an actor. There's a lot to do. He's a guy who's been dealing with issues of Heaven and Hell and the rules of the way life and the world works. And he's not quite happy with the way the world works. I could relate.
YEAH, BUT CONSTANTINE COMMITTED SUICIDE TO GET OUT OF HERE...
KR: 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.
WHY THE TITLE CHANGE FROM HELLBLAZER TO CONSTANTINE
FL: The title was changed originally because nobody wanted the title to be connected to Hellraiser at all. It was a little too similar and nobody wanted any confusion.
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. Again, I think it's really close to the spirit of Constantine and the Hellblazer stories. He's a tad younger than the comic, and I think that's about it. We didn't pull an exact story from the comic book. We kind of pulled pieces from different stories and made our own, so it's not an exact replica of one of the graphic novels, although there are definite pieces.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO SHOOT IN LA INSTEAD OF ENGLAND?
FL: 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.
WHY DIDN'T YOU DYE YOUR HAIR BLOND?
KR: Or have an English accent? Francis?
FL: I think what was key to this character is the heart of the character, not the sort of the surface issues. And this movie is an adaptation and what we did is really stay true to who Constantine is. He's a magician, he's a conman, lie is world-weary, he is haunted by his past, he is sarcastic, he's self-serving, in that he's manipulative. He's elusive. And that, for me, means a great deal. Some of the choices were custom-fit for the actor and for what I felt fit best for the look and the feel of the film.
ARE YOU LOOKING SOLELY TO PLEASE THE FANS OF THE COMIC?
FL: Yeah, I mean, I think there's a mix. Hellblazer has a very small fan base. But it's 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 hardcore. 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.
HOW DO YOU WALK THE LINE BETWEEN WHAT THE FANS WANT AND YOUR OWN VISION OF THE PROJECT?
FL: 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 the story goes to weird places. 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 blond, 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 sine that gets conveyed.
KEANU, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PHYSICALITY OF THIS CHARACTER? HE'S DYING, HE'S SICK...
KR: Oh, it was really fun to play. It was a breaking down. The character, throughout the film, gets broken down...
FL: Throughout the film, you got skinnier and skinnier and skinnier...
KR: No, I didn't.
FL: Yeah, you did. You got skinnier.
FL: And everyday, we tried really hard to shoot this in order. We literally met the Friday before we started shooting, and we were given a lesson in lung cancer that you would not believe. About people drowning in their own blood. We had that.
KR: That was our 'bon voyage'.
ARE YOU EVER GOING TO QUIT SMOKING?
KR: Well, I'm turning 40, so maybe after that.
HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW ABOUT DOING THE GREENSCREEN WORK?
KR: The thing I liked about it is that you do have a sense of control in it. But at the same time, you miss the interplay, you miss the surprise, you miss the other kind of interaction. But it's also fun in the same way, too, because it's an element of make-believe. But if you do too much of it, oh my God, it's a nightmare. But it's fun.
IS THIS FILM GOING TO BE PG-13?
FL: It's still being decided. We'll submit the film and see what the MPAA thinks. I sort of, in a weird way, feel like we've gotten away with something with this movie. I don't think we've held back at all. The movie's scary, the movie's intense and I think the tone is dead-on to the comic. For a big-budget movie, this isn't... pop. We're dead-on.
KEANU, WILL YOU BE WORKING WITH THE WACHOWSKI BROTHERS AGAIN?
KR: I hope so. I really hope so. I love those guys to death. I just think they're wonderful people and such great artists.
IS THERE GOING TO BE A SPEED 3?
KR: [Pause] No! [Laughter and applause]