Ignites NBC’s “Constantine” Series
by Pamela Price
Supernatural themes on TV have been all the rage. There’s “Sleepy Hollow” on FOX, Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful,” WGN’s “Salem,” I could go on and on. We can’t seem to get enough of the dark powers of the unknown and haunting demons. There’s something about werewolves, vampires, witches and ghosts that make them everlasting characters on screen. In 2011, NBC introduced the twisted fairy tale series “Grimm,” and it still proves to be a hit today. On October 24th, the peacock network will air “Grimm’s” fourth season along with the premiere of their next hopeful hit, “Constantine.” While we’ve seen more exorcist films than we can count, demonic possession in television is just now becoming more prevalent. “Constantine,” based on the popular DC Comics series “Hellblazer,” is a pure exorcist tale at its best. Although Keanu Reeves first brought the role of John Constantine to life in the 2005 film version, Welsh actor Matt Ryan perfectly embodies the sharp and witty exorcist detective for TV. Seasoned from The Royal Shakespeare Company, Ryan is particularly memorable in the shoes of such a likable comic book character. Call him the James Bond of exorcists. The series follows Constantine’s cases against the darkest demons. With his soul already damned to hell, he had convinced himself to quit the business, but powers beyond his control thrust him back into the world of evil. The atmosphere is eerie, the ‘possessed’ are chilling, and the ‘wow-factor’ special effects are thrilling.
With a loyal fanboy following already in place, and the acclaim for supernatural stories, I see “Constantine” as a lasting series. The team behind-the-scenes knows how to make a winning show. “Dexter” writer and “The Mentalist” showrunner, Daniel Cerone, as well as “The Dark Knight Rises” story writer David S. Goyer, lead the creative team. Needless to say, they understand macabre entertainment. With Ryan holding the acting reins and his equally talented cast, which includes Angélica Celaya (“Dallas”) as Zed, Harold Perrineau (“Lost”) as Manny and Charles Halford (“True Detective”) as Chas, NBC may have cooked up a recipe for success.
LATF spoke with the delightful star, Matt Ryan, while he was shooting in Atlanta. We got to know the actor, how he got his start and where he’s heading.
How is the adventure of shooting in Atlanta?
It’s certainly an adventure. It’s going great. We’re all really having a good time. I think like with any show, once you first start, everything is kind of coming together. You’re trying to find the tone of the show and all that, and I really feel that we’ve done that now. We’re in a really good spot, and some of the episodes that are coming up are fantastic. It’s an amazing journey. I’m having such a ball. It’s a lot of work; I’m in everyday, driving the ship, so to speak. But I love it.
Were you aware of the Hellblazer comic books beforehand?
I heard about them on and off over the years. A really good friend of mine in the U.K. has a book publishing company and he writes his own comics as well. He’d been telling me for years about Constantine and Hellblazer, and how that was his favorite comic book character and comic book franchise. I saw the movie and knew that it was based on the comics, but I really didn’t know that much about it. And what was funny was when the audition came up, I was like, “Man, I think this is the character that you love so much.’ And he kind of took this deep breath and said, “Ok, listen…” It was brilliant because I had insight from a real fan over the years. And I was just taking notes from him. Once I got the role, I started delving into the comics even more, and fell in love with them. I’m still reading them at the moment; there are so many. I’m trying to pick up the comic book at night before I go to bed. We’re really trying to stay true to the source material.
Do you feel any pressure stepping into the shoes of this character that already has a built-in fanbase for it?
I’m really excited about it. I think with anything like this, there’s always that pressure when you’re playing such an iconic character, but you can’t think about that too much. I think with any role that you do, you have to make it your own as well, so I’ve been trying to do that, but at the same time, trying to stay true to the character in the comics. You want the fans to love it because they’re the ones who have made this character and these comics so successful. They’re the reason I’m here in the first place. You also have to be true to your interpretation of it and not get too caught up in your head and with what other people think.
How much freedom did you have in forming the role? I’m sure you have a lot of fun playing John Constantine.
Well, one thing that I talked about with Daniel Cerone and David Goyer was the DNA of the character; we have to stay true to that. And they’ve been great in supporting me. It’s such an amazing character; such a dark, tormented character, but the great thing about it is that he has this dry wit. This ruthless cunning. And I think that he uses that as a defense mechanism. It’s trench humor. I think that’s what’s so appealing about the character — there’s this demon staring down at him from hell and he’s just lighting up a cigarette.
There were big changes in casting after the first pilot. Tell me about your new sidekick.
Yeah, I think they felt with the pilot that the character of Liv was someone who would be kind of susceptible to John’s manipulation and it was more of a mentor role that John took with her, and they wanted someone who would get in his face a little bit more and be an antagonist with him. The character, Zed is from the comic books, which everybody knows is great, and Angélica Celaya who plays Zed is just fantastic and we have so much fun.
She’s feisty, she gets in John’s face, she calls him on his shit. And she’s also mysterious as well. We don’t know much about her past. John’s constantly trying to figure out where she comes from, what her background is. What makes for great drama is these two people with these backstories — the tormented backstories that they don’t know about each other — and they’re both kind of angling each other, to try and find out. And that always creates a kind of conflict and a tension there as well — a dramatic tension — which kind of makes for a really good relationship on screen, I think.
Do you see a lot of room for character growth?
There’s also a lot of chemistry between the characters, but they’re still figuring each other out at this moment in time. So we will see where that goes. What’s great is that there’s definitely that tension between them.
Can you give us a little bit of the 411 on where your adventures are going, what you’re going to tackle and some of the demons you come across?
Yeah, well I think one overriding theme of this series is redemption. It’s John’s chance to redeem himself with a big mistake that he made at Newcastle, and what we’ll be doing is week-to-week, John will be seeking out these demons, these bad things that are happening to try and figure out what this rising darkness that is coming is. And that’s the overall arc of the season. There’s something big coming. And the line between hell and earth is getting thinner, so things have been able to come through much more easily than they did before, and John’s trying to figure out why that is and what is the cause, so each week he is diving in to try and tackle an individual case and then, through that case, trying to find out what the overall impending darkness is. There are all sorts of different demons and stuff coming up. Then there’s a great storyline with a character from the comic books.
Gary Lester comes in. With that relationship, you get a little bit of John’s backstory with Newcastle. Gary turns up with a problem, and John has to kind of pick up the slack and help him out.
And there’s another great character from the comics, from the DC comic books is being introduced as well, and that’s Jim Corrigan, who also becomes the Spectre, and he’s played by Emmett Scanlan, who’s a fantastic Irish actor. We had such good fun on set, and you’ve got these two really dark characters going toe to toe. They both want the same thing, but they approach it in very different ways, and that makes for a really interesting relationship, and conflict and drama.
What are your beliefs of the supernatural world?
It’s funny; we live in a world with so much technology today. There are all these things going around us which we can’t see with the naked eye. And so there has to be other stuff out there that we can’t see, but we can sense and things like that. There has to be something. I read these comics at night before I go to bed, and it’s probably not the best thing to do because you’re thinking about these things, and I’m in my apartment on my own and the lights are off. You get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and you hear a little sound and you’re like “shit!” And I think, John Constantine wouldn’t be like this! But I believe there has to be energy. Who knows?
Back to the beginning, you’ve done a number of Shakespearean productions. Going from Shakespeare to an NBC series. What are the challenges and positive aspects of switching from stage to TV?
Yeah, it’s quite a switch in medium. What I love about being an actor is just that you get to do film, television and theater. It’s all acting, but a different medium. And I did a video game called Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I was like, ‘Wow, this is a whole other medium within the form of acting that I can get into which I haven’t experienced before.’ It’s always fun switching from one to another. The diversity and challenge of it is great. You do a Shakespeare play and you get at least five weeks rehearsal. When you work for the Royal Shakespeare Company, you get eight weeks rehearsal on a play. (In television) we get nine days on an episode, but one of the days is a double-up day, so you’re doing two episodes at the same time.
Then you’re kind of on this conveyer belt of scripts and stuff that are coming at you, and it’s constant. You flip your head from one episode to another one and you’re flipping from day shoots to night shoots. It’s a completely different challenge, I think, than stage work. It’s a different challenge, but a great challenge.
You come from a creative family.
Yes, my mother is a dance teacher; she has a dance school called Maria Evans Academy of Dance in Swansea, Wales. And I kind of danced when I was a kid and did a bunch of stuff when I was younger. When I was 10, I auditioned for Les Miserables in the West End, in London, and got the role and played Gavroche, the little kid. I grew up in a small town in Wales, and people didn’t really do drama and stuff.
I kind of rebelled against everything. For five or six years I was having fun, being a kid. I used to ride motor bikes and wanted to be a mechanic. And my dad was in the music industry at the time, and he was working for Warner Bros. — Warner/Chappell Music in Scandinavia. And he was like, ‘Look, you’ve got a good ear for music.” I used to play guitar. ‘Why don’t you get into sound engineering and I could possibly hook you up with some jobs.’
So I started in the local theater and then I went to study sound engineering. The course that I took it involved doing everything: singing, acting, dancing. And that’s where I met one of my best friends, Joseph Morgan. He plays the lead role in the show The Originals, and he actually shoots in Atlanta, here, which is amazing. And that’s where we met and I fell back in love with it again, and then I auditioned for drama school, and I went to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. From Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, I went straight into a lead role at the Royal Shakespeare Company. But it was great, because my parents — they’re creative, but they never forced me into it.
Beyond John Constantine, what else would you like to tackle? Perhaps behind-the-scenes?
I have a film production company with my best friend Joseph Morgan. We’ve produced two films now. One is called Armistice, and the other is called 500 miles North. 500 miles North is just in post-production, and Joe and I kind of wrote together when we were both out of work as actors. I really enjoyed that side of it — the producing and directing side of things. I think that down the line, once there’s time to make my own films; that would be something I’d love to do.
In terms of the medium, I love switching between mediums. I’d love to do some more films, and in the theater, one role I want to play is Hamlet. I played Horatio to Jude Law’s Hamlet in 2009, and that was such a great experience. I understudied him, and what was great is I got to learn the role as well as see him play it, which was amazing, and support him as Horatio. I think that’s a role that I would like to tackle on the stage at some point.