Tonight’s Constantine “A Feast of Friends” finds John visited by Gary Lester, an old friend wreaking havoc in Atlanta when he unleashes a dark force. John is once again thrown into the middle of a battle of good versus evil forcing him to decide how far he’s willing to go to win this fight.
Executive Producers David S. Goyer and Daniel Cerone took some time to chat about the seasons ever evolving landscape of characters, clear up whether or not Chas is actually immortal and drop a few goodies about the rest of Constantine’s first season.
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David S. Goyer: Oh. Well, I – the genesis of the project is that I had a meeting with Warner Bros. Television. This is sort of right after “Man of Steel” had come out and they asked the – if I would be interested in doing a television show based on a DC property. And so we just started having, you know, a general conversation about which one made most sense.
In the first character, I asked about John Constantine. I’ve always been a huge fan. I was reading Swamp Thing when he was introduced. And, in fact, I have a letter printed in one of the early issues that he was introduced as a fan, I think when I was in high school or something like that.
And there were some sort of legal things to sort out initially and then we start talking about other characters. But eventually Constantine became free and I was really excited.
And the reason for why is the right time, I’ve done, obviously, in “The Dark Knight” film from Superman, you know, sort of kind of the (unintelligible). But one of the reasons why I always like John Constantine is he didn’t have superpowers, he didn’t have a costume, and he always use the kind of sun (unintelligible) at those characters. So it was refreshing for me to tell a story about an antihero as opposed to a hero and he is someone who was really damaged and I just feel like he’s one of the great characters of sort of modern literature and, I don’t know, it was a different change of pace, you know?
I’m really enjoying the show so far. So what can you tell us as far as how far are we going to go into the Constantine/Methos early on? Are you going to introduce a lot of familiar stuff in the comics? Obviously, we’ve seen Papa Midnite. And are there going to be more things like that?
Daniel Cerone: We’re digging as deeply into the Constantine/Methos as we possibly can. I mean, in fact, it really is inspiring much of our storytelling. I mean, the episode that is airing this Friday, which we’re extremely excited about, “Feast of Friends” is the title. And that’s a story that’s literally ripped from the pages of “Hellblazer.” It is the first story… First issue from the “Hellblazer” issue and, you know, it brings back Gary Lester, who is one of the – John’s friend from Newcastle. And it’s just – it’s a fantastic story that translated so well to screen and I would urge anybody who’s listening to this to try to watch it before Friday and get people talking about it because it is – seriously, it’s our show at its pinnacle and it just sort of really kind of set a bar of everything that we hope this show can be and can do.
But in a broader sense, look, over the course of the season, we’re breaking up 17 right now. And we have a fantastic ride ahead. Before the end of the season, you’re going to meet and get to know every one of John’s friends from Newcastle that were involved in the sort of faithful exorcism of Astra that, you know, led to the torment – external torment of John’s soul.
And so you’re going to meet them all. I mean, look, Papa Midnite, I think, we have now in four episodes. Jim Corrigan comes back for a couple of more. I’m reading an outline right now for Episode, what is it, 16 that includes Terence Thirteen with…
David S. Goyer: With Dr. Thirteen from, you know…
Daniel Cerone: Right.
David S. Goyer: …Felix Faust. Felix Faust…
Daniel Cerone: We have Felix Faust. Yes. So we’re really trying to – you know, look, we have this incredible source material. And, you know, we want to honor it and dig as deeply into it as we possibly can and, at the same time, look, we’re a weekly network show and we have weekly stories. And we’re trying to present the best of both worlds in terms of ongoing mythology, you know, with the Hellblazer and DC world but wrapped around weekly stories the viewers can hook into.
David S. Goyer: And I would add one other thing, too, which is, you know, we read the responses to various episodes. And I think we have three episodes so far and some people – I know that people seemed to really like the last episode that introduced Papa Midnite and – but some people said “Okay, so now we know what the formula is going to be week after week and we still haven’t heard much more about the rising darkness or Newcastle well.” Well, you’re about to with the fourth episode.
And we think that sort of the right time to do it, we’re not a fully serialized show. We’re kind of a hybrid between standalone and serialize. And we’re going to start introducing, you know, kind of more back story elements, you know, every few episodes or so.
Are we going to be getting any more episodes that might focus on Chas and his back story at some point?
David S. Goyer: Yes.
Daniel Cerone: Yes. We – Chas is an interesting character because, you know, in terms of – when David and I developed the show and sat down to figure out what characters do we want in a continuing basis. On one hand, Chas was a natural because he’s sort of the most constant companion and long living companion. Maybe the only living companion of John Constantine’s. And – but really he’s not much more than – he’s like the muscle and he’s the driver, you know? Been a cab driver and, you know, John didn’t drive a lot. I don’t think he drives at all in the comic book.
And so, you know, we want to include Chas and he is definitely the strong, silent type, very laconic kind of character we wanted to roll out slowly.
But there – and I know there’s been a couple of issues where they dig in his back story but there’s not a lot there. So we’ve really enjoyed Chas. We’ve really enjoyed opening him up. We will open him up deeper, Episode 10. You know, we came up with this idea, this notion because Chas is, you know, the comic don’t make a…
David S. Goyer: They’ll reveal why.
Daniel Cerone: I’m not going to – I don’t want – no spoilers, promise. But…
David S. Goyer: Right.
Daniel Cerone: …let’s put it this way. In the pilot episode, you see that Chas comes back to life. For some reason, people started translating that to the idea that he’s mortal. We promise you he is not a mortal. There’s…
David S. Goyer: He’s not mortal.
Daniel Cerone: …very good reason that he’s coming back to life and the only spoiler I will give is that, you know, those lives are not Internet. And we do have an episode that involves flashbacks where we basically tell that story and we get to know more about Chas, we can meet Renee and his daughter, Renee’s wife, ex-wife or they’re separated right now and his daughter and we kind of dig into that story and figure out what makes Chas tick.
David S. Goyer: And I would add to that that I – I think when, you know, even when the first 13 episodes are down, people will be surprised at how much kind of background we filled in on various characters and even in terms of the relationship with John and Manny and Zed’s back story and it’s not just taste of the week.
For the first episode, I really like Lucy’s character Liv. I was really into her. So how difficult of a decision was it for you guys to not carry on with her story and is there a possibility that she’ll ever pop up again?
Daniel Cerone: Go ahead.
David S. Goyer: You know, honestly, it really wasn’t that difficult. I mean, it became apparent to us and, look, we’re glad you like her. I think she did a fantastic job. But I think that the character wasn’t – was flawed in its conception. And, you know, we’re – obviously we’re to blame for that. She was the only major character in the pilot that wasn’t from the comic books and sometimes you make these concessions when you’re trying to get a show off and running and, you know, one of the benefits of doing a pilot is you’ve got this initial downtime after the pilot before you’re, you know, filming again in which you can think about retooling some aspects. And once we saw the character in action and we started breaking, you know, Episodes 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, we felt like we were just running into a lot of dead ends. And that’s when we decided to go back to the source material and talking about character Zed and I will say I feel like that the vast majority of the audience seems to have felt that the Zed character was a better match for John and seems to have supported our decision.
Do you want to add to that, Daniel?
Daniel Cerone: Yes. Look, in terms of, you know, David and I received a lovely e-mail from Lucy Griffith, the actress who played Liv, right before we aired and, you know, in terms of whether she’ll be back, look, she’s part of the foundation of the show. I mean the millhouse in which John is crashing and full of, you know, all kinds of magical antiquities, you know…
Daniel Cerone: Yes, that’s her father’s place. So, you know, listen, as we dig deeper into the season, as we start talking about possible arc for next season, there’s – I would say there’s an opening there. Whether it’s an opening we’ll step through or not, it would have to be organic, it would have to feel right and not feel like a device. But if there’s an organic reason to bring her back into the story, we’d love to.
How does the fan base help you develop the storylines you want to produce?
David S. Goyer: Well, I mean, it’s interesting. I’ve – this is David speaking. I’ve adopted quite a few comic book properties now. And it’s a – it’s tricky because I think you have to be really attentive to the fan base.
What we talk about is – but at the same time – I mean, I’m (unintelligible) Steve Jobs. You can’t give the market what they say they want. You want to give them something that they haven’t even thought of. If you give them exactly what they want, they become disappointed by the same token.
The way that we’ve always tried to measure it is that, you know, we’ve tried to dip in with the fans and be aware of what are the issues that are most important to them, what are the core concepts that are most important, with the characters what are the most important. But we, also cognizant of the fact that if the show is going to flourish and broaden its audience, we need to be able to respond to an audience greater than just the core comic book fans. And so it needs to work for both audiences.
Go ahead, Daniel.
Daniel Cerone: Yes, no, no, well finish.
David S. Goyer: No, I was just going to say…
Daniel Cerone: You know, I was going to – yes, finish.
David S. Goyer: No, go. You go.
Daniel Cerone: No, I didn’t have anything on that. I was going to answer my half of the question. But go for it. Finish your thought.
No, I was going to – and I know I speak for David in this, too. I mean, one of the nicest things about us – I mean, rephrase that. David and I came out this as fans of the show.
David S. Goyer: Yes.
Daniel Cerone: I mean, that’s really the bottom line, like, we were – we fell in love…
David S. Goyer: We weren’t new to the character.
Daniel Cerone: Not at all. We fell in love with all the things about John Constantine that the fans did. And – or at least based on what I’ve read of the fans. But look, you know, we needed that smartass, wisecracking, like, just, you know, gallows humor, scruffy blonde-haired, trench coat-wearing, cigarette-smoking breath, you know, with a fatalistic attitude and this, you know, deeply humanist point of view for reasons that he doesn’t even understand. I mean, we like that character. That was someone that just appealed to us. So we’re going to be true to that no matter what.
And then when you start – and we wanted to stay true to the world and the characters. And then you take that foundation and you have to figure out, “Okay, how can we pour that into a show that can last and sustain itself on a weekly basis” and NBC had certain desires for the show. They wanted stories that were told every week. So as David mentioned before, this is a bit of a hybrid. I mean, for us, it was “Okay, how do we figure out how to both, you know, as fans, tell the story we want to tell about the evolution of this character and his relationships, you know, as well as, you know, some closed-end stories to broaden out the fan base?” So yes. I mean, we came out of it as fans.
David S. Goyer: And I’ll give you – to build on what Daniel said, I mean, because we were fans of the character, when we first met with NBC, we said “Look, you know, we know that the counter movie is out there and it wasn’t British and he didn’t have blonde hair” and I think that that movie had a lot of great attributes but because we had fallen in love with the John Constantine as depicted in the comic books, it was our mission, you know, to try to bring to life the character that as accurately reflected the character we had fallen in love with as possible. So when NBC says “Well, does he have to be British? Does he have to wear skinny tie in a trench coat? Does he have to be blonde? Does he have to smoke?” we said “Yes.” And they said “Why?” And we said “Because that’s the character we fell in love with.”
So in that regard…
Daniel Cerone: And I’ll say there every step of the way, they did ask those questions, too, like, they were very open and accepting and loving and they wanted to embrace the fans, too, but at a certain point, like when it came to casting, Matt Ryan does not have blonde hair. And initially, they’re like “Do we really need to lighten his hair” and we’re like “Yes we do.” They got the first draft of the script and they saw sort of all of the kind of British euphemisms and colloquialisms written into his dialog and they’re like “That might be off-putting. Does he really need to be British?” And we…
David S. Goyer: We said “Yes.”
Daniel Cerone: …he does. So at every step of the way, we fought for that. And to their credit, they were very open and they understood our passion and I believe the fans’ passion for the character.
David S. Goyer: But, you know, to put a bow on it, how does the fans, you know, how does the hopes and desires back burn to it, it’s important because we were fans of the character and have been fans of the character for decades ourselves. So we were really determined to try to bring to life, you know, a version of Constantine that was accurate.
I was struck by this, especially in the first episode, but as it had gone on as well, how scary Constantine is as a drama. And I was wondering if there’s anything NBC had asked you to tone down or change in what you showed so far.
David S. Goyer: Not really.
Daniel Cerone: Yes. I got the same. And they – it’s funny because they pushed us not so much anymore now that we kind of understand – and, look, you know, I was a show runner the first two seasons of “Dexter.” David has done, you know, a ton of, you know, feature films where, you know, pretty much anything goes.
But we’ve also done network shows over years and we’ve kind of self-censored ourselves in the beginning. And, you know, at every step of the way from the network be it in the outline phase of the scripts or the cuts that the network were seeing they’re like “Go further,” like “Push it further” like they – I don’t – I’m not sure what changed the network landscape.
David S. Goyer: Yes, I don’t…
Daniel Cerone: The day…
David S. Goyer: I don’t know if I could think of any instance in which they said “Tone it down.”
Daniel Cerone: Yes, there wasn’t one. They have pushed us to go bigger. They have pushed us to go darker. They pushed us to go scarier. There’s constantly – if I had a broader note down to one, it would be “Just make this as big and scary as possible,” like, that’s what they want to see. So it’s been really framed for us. I mean, look, we have to do what we do with them but budgetary limitations and capabilities. But no, they have not censored us at all.
So for Constantine kind of along the lines of what you’ve been discussing a little bit, he’s not like Arrow, he’s not like The Flash, he’s kind of a different kind of hero/antihero. So how does that factor into your writing and the portrayal of this character in order to still make people want to root for him? How do you make your antihero the hero?
David S. Goyer: Well, this is David speaking, first of all, I would say, I mean, there are heroes and there are antiheroes. And they’re both a lot of fun to write. But in some ways, writing antiheroes, antiheroes are more fun to write for because they’re not bound by the same moral code that the heroes are.
And in some ways, antiheroes are more human because most of us have variables. Most of us are imperfect. And, you know, he’s doing what he’s doing for fundamentally noble reasons but he doesn’t really have a code of conduct.
I do think that audiences also like antiheroes. I mean, if you look at House, if you look at Luthor, if you look at Sherlock, I would categorize these characters more properly antiheroes than heroes. They can be fun. And different and it’s – they’re not operational. You don’t – you know, people want to be them and people want to be Superman. I don’t think people want to be Constantine because he’s kind of a miserable thought. But he’s also fun. And it’s fun to – you know, it’s a reverence and it’s just a different way to go.
Daniel Cerone: A lot of characters that are out there are doing what they do because it’s their job or because I have a badge or because I have a calling. As David said, you know, Constantine is doing the right thing but he’s doing it for totally humanist reasons, you know? It’s one of those fascinating aspects of the character to me is if you ask him why he’s out there, you know, helping humanity, I’m not even sure he can tell you.
David S. Goyer: Yes.
Daniel Cerone: You know, is he doing it because he wants to save lives? Is he doing it because, frankly, chasing demons is a bit of a fix for him and he’s just challenging for the next kill? Is he doing it, as he said early in his career, for the women and to get laid? Is he doing it to, you know, because it’s kind of self-empowerment? You know, it’s just never really clear.
And what’s great about him is I don’t even think he’s clear. But yet, he keeps doing it and he keeps fighting this fight. And yes, as David said, one of the funest things is that there’s no code of conduct that he operates by. He’s doing the good things that all the cops and lawyers and whatever kind of other heroes are out there doing. But there’s no checks and balances for him. And that’s where he often gets into trouble.
And that – I think when you ask what makes him relatable, I think that’s it because he’s his own, you know, he has a self-sense to himself and he frequently goes over the line and he frequently makes bad calls and, you know, the fact that Constantine, if you – anyone who gets close to Constantine dies. I mean, that has proven itself true, you know, for years in the comic books. And, look, in our – very early in our series, you’re going to see that, too, where he makes the hard calls and he loses friends over it, sometimes literally.
And so that’s kind of his curse and it makes him, hopefully – hopefully, that’s what makes him – it’s easy to vote for him.
David S. Goyer: I would also add that I think that these things are cyclical and I think that they come in waves and maybe it’s a common – a broader commentary on where we are in society right now. But the television landscape right now is, you know, it’s flourishing with the really flawed characters.
And for whatever reason, audiences are responding and fascinated by these flawed characters. And it’s not so much – I think if you look at the television landscape now, you know, it used to be that there were a lot of – the black cats were the black cats and white cats were the white cats and it was very clear who is who but there are a lot of shades of grey right now and that seems to be kind of, you know, what’s happening with the right guys, you know, in terms of the role.
I was interested in finding out how much of the Pre-52 influenced the series as well as the Post-52 and how difficult is it to ride that line of horror and suspense without crossing over to get the censors on your case?
David S. Goyer: I would say as the sort of the resident comic book nerd, I would say that the show is almost exclusively influenced by the Pre-52, you know – the Hellblazer comics, you know? If for no other reason then Hellblazer ran for 300 issues and the new Constantine is – I know it’s less than 20. I’m not quite sure where they’re at now, 15, 16. They’re just not the body of work that exists in terms of what we’re influenced by.
So without question, and I know this is really inside baseball, but the show is primarily influenced by and inspired by the Pre-52…
Daniel Cerone: Yes. If I can jump in on that part, David is completely right. I don’t think we’ve – other than, you know, we do look over – I mean, look, we have the whole sort of Constantine cannon at our disposal in terms of storytelling. We do look to the newer issues, you know, to see if there’s interesting story ideas for us or stories that we can use or adopt.
But, look, the Web described what we’re doing on the show as, you know, Constantine is this amazing mythology. And there’s this amazing character and, you know, it’s just like this fantastic car that we’ve been given the keys to, to take it for a spin and we’re doing that on network television. And, you know, the writers of the new 52 Constantine, they’re doing the same thing as we are. They’re basically rebooting the franchise. We’re rebooting for television. They’re doing it for sort of a new generation of, you know, of comic book readers.
So we’re kind of charged with the same task, you know, in terms of taking what was there, the foundation of what was there and, you know, just try to honor it and do the best that we can with it for our medium.
So yes, it’s all as cool. I mean, you know, one of the most fascinating things about Constantine to me is that it was the longest-running comic book series. According to my understanding of any imprint of any comic book publisher that was never in its 30-year run, it was never rebooted, it was never renumbered, it was never reissued, you know. It just stayed in continuous publication as a guy who can – who aged on the page, you know, in real-time. And I just think that makes him such a unique character.
And what we’re doing on our show is we’re going back to beginning. We’re basically meeting roughly the same time that you met him in Hellblazer in the very first issue. So our timeline, you know, when people are like “Wow,” you know, in terms of the cancer story and all the great arcs that he has, you know, we just hope and pray that this show has legs because we’ll get to him like we love those arcs, dangerous habits and all the arcs that everybody else is excited about, we’re excited about. And what’s great is that we’re choosing an entry point where the character is young and all those adventures are ahead of him and we hope to dramatize as many of them as we possibly can.
What is the second half of that question, David? I don’t remember.
David S. Goyer: Oh, network censorship or not – how was it – it’s not network censorship, per se, but it’s – I think has it been a challenge to sort of ride the line between, I guess, broadcast standards and coming up with something that’s scary and suspenseful. Right?
Daniel Cerone: Yes, but, look, we could give you, you know, if you read the network’s standards that we get, it’s like “Can we please not hear him urinating? It’s okay to urinate on screen but as long as we don’t hear it.” Or there’s a shot where Zed is like painting this young guy and he’s nude – like a nude model and it’s like “He can be nude but can we see him from the sides so we don’t see his butt crack because it’s like – it’s okay he’s nude but we just – we can’t see the crack.” So it’s – those are the kind of – those are the censorships…
David S. Goyer: It’s not too bad. Yes.
Daniel Cerone: No, it’s not at all. It’s not at all.
Constantine airs Fridays 10pm on NBC.