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Set Visit: Constantine includes Keanu Reeves interview

02.25.2004


< Part 1 of 2 >

For his first major post-MATRIX project, Keanu Reeves wisely chose to do another action/sci-fi flick, CONSTANTINE. Based on the comic "Hellblazer", a Vertigo title with a dark edge and a massive cult following, it tells the tale of John Constantine, a hard-boiled detective who’s been to hell and back, literally.   

Last December, Warner Bros. invited a select group of online outlets to check out the Constantine set in Compton, California, proud home of those gangsta rap pioneers, NWA. Immediately after the set visit, however, the folks at WB slapped us with an embargo that only recently got lifted. Though no one is exactly sure why the studio folks kept it down for so long, I’ve got a feeling it may have something to do with a few of the comments made by first-time director Francis Lawrence. Check out his interview and decide for yourself.

The shoot took place at a shady mausoleum built back when Compton was just another middle-class white suburb. Filled with an odd collection of relics owned by the character Midnite (played by Djimon Honsou), it seemed apropos for the movie’s dark, noirish tone. Between takes, I got a chance to chat with Keanu and Lawrence, who gave us a taste of what to expect when Constantine hits theatres in September. The film also co-stars Rachel Weisz, Peter Stormare, Shia Labeouf, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tilda Swinton and Gavin Rossdale, among others...

Click here to read Francis Lawrence's interview

KEANU REEVES

Can you describe the scene you're shooting today?

Right now I've asked the character Midnite to use the chair which, turns out to be the electric chair from Sing Sing, and right now this is his reliquary where he's collected all of these objects, religious icons and things like that. So right now we're walking toward the chair where John is going to get electrocuted.

Why is John using the chair?

Supposedly the dark side has the Spear of Destiny and so I'm trying to find out who has it, so he uses the chair. What's going to happen is they're playing with an aspect of time. You've seen this kind of scavenger character who's found the Spear at the beginning of the movie and every time you see this character, he looks like he looks over his shoulder like he's being watched, and ultimately John goes and it's kind of tying in time. We play with time often times and it turns out that John was a guy who saw this the whole time. It's in the future. When John crosses over, he crosses over into hell a couple of times and we play with time so that when he does do that, time in the real world slows down or almost stops and so we can go off to these other places and then come back and almost nothing has happened.

What are those glasses in Midnite’s reliquary?

Those are some kind of nice kind of pinup girls with months on them, so I think again this is illustrated the kind of humor that you have all of these religious iconography and he's also collecting high ball glasses with girls on them.

What are the burns on your shirt?

Oh, there's a character, Midnite, and I want to use the chair to surf the ether and he doesn't want me to, so he digs his hands into me and it burns, so I beg him.

The character in the comic is British. Did you have any desire to play it British?

We spoke about it. It seemed in terms of the platform that we were using, the world in terms of heaven, hell and Los Angeles seemed to be attractive and make sense. We're kind of doing a hard-boiled kind of take on the piece, so we kind of went this way. Kind of a more Gothic aspect.

He's known for having a very dark sense of humor. Is that reflected in the dialogue?

It's serious and hopefully funny at the same time. Again, go back to that hard boiled motif. Constantine in this film is in a hospital and he finds out he's dying of lung cancer, lights a cigarette up inside the doctor's office. She says, "That's a good idea." He gets into an elevator and this character comes by and the elevator doors closing and the person says, "Going down?" and he says, "Not if I can help it." The next scene is he's in bed with a half breed demon drinking whiskey with scratches on his back and the scene ends with her tail kind of swishing underneath the sheets laughing, going, "Lung cancer? Ha! That's funny, John!" So hopefully we have the spirit of the Constantinian factor. I'm always asking, "Is that Constantinian enough?" I think I need more Constantine in my Constantine.

It sounds kind or noir.

Well, there is that kind of aspect to it, but I'd say more kind of Californian noir from a literature standpoint. So there's light and shadow. There's a couple of shots of Constantine just smoking in a doorway. You see the smoke rising behind him. It's bright outside, but it's dark in the hall and there's a stairs going up before he does his first exorcism, so there's that kind of cinematic motif.

Does that come out in the dialogue too?

Yeah, that short, clipped kind of thing. There's that thing where he's with that character of Ellie, the half-breed demon that he's just had sex with right after he's found out he's got terminal cancer. She's like laughing. "Terminal cancer, that's funny, John. I bet he can't wait to get his hands on you after all the half-breeds you've sent back. He's really going to have fun with you. He's going to rip you apart. You're the only soul the man himself would come up to collect." And John's like, "Yeah."

Why did you choose this as your first major post-Matrix film?

I was looking for a good script and this kind of came my way and I really liked the writing and the character itself and what happened in the piece and ultimately there's a line in it where Constantine says, "God has a plan for all of us. I had to die twice just to figure that out. Some people like it, some people don't."

Is it nice to do a movie with horror elements where you don't yell and scream but get to play it cool?

Well, Constantine gets his ass whupped a lot in this movie, but he keeps coming. And we got some fun stuff. We've got some Ceplavites, some kind of demon aspects and they fight. Demons are coming up onto our plane, which isn't supposed to be happening. So yeah, there's elements where he does play it cool, but he also gets thrown on his back and choked and thrown against walls and hit and all sorts of fun stuff like that.

It sounds like a pretty physical role.

Yeah, there's certain elements that are physical, yeah, but I think it's part of the hero journey that you gotta go through. You gotta run and jump and get hit and kind of pull yourself back together again and shake it off and keep going.

There's a lot of CG stuff in this. Have you seen any concept art of the demons?

They're really cool actually. They've got half their skull cut off, so they've taken out kind of the seat of the soul, and with that, no eyes and the skull is open and yet they have these long limbs and they're quite humanoid and yet the whole seat of the soul has been removed and yet they have this… the Ceplavites themselves can fly and they can kind of smell and attack and they're part of the motif of devouring the damned and yet they have no feet. So they can fly but they can't rest and so even the demons are tortured and they have nothing but their desire. So that's a cool kind of concept, I thought.

Will you talk a bit about your gun?

The holy shotgun? Yeah, there's a half-breed that kills a couple of the characters who are my friends so I'm seeking revenge. So, I put together this 'holy shotgun,' which again I think is kind of fun - 'killing with God.'

What's it made out of?

Yeah, there's a bunch of Latin on there. It's made out of different elements. There's a character in the piece called Beeman who is kind of Constantine's Q. In one of the opening sequences, I'm reloading and I've got this coat and he's handing me dragon's breath and a part of a shroud from Moses which is highly flammable and these little balls of holy water that I can throw.  That character gets in jeopardy and I go into his workshop and out of a cane and a clock and this hand-sword, I pull together these pieces that go back together to create the holy shotgun.

What is Francis Lawrence like as a director?

He's great. He's really inventive. He's got a real fresh feel to his cinema. He's really great with storytelling and the camera. He's great to work with. He's a great collaborator and yet has a strong voice. He's got good taste. With actors, he knows what he's looking at and he knows what to ask to make it better or to help you kind of discover the scene. It's great.

Is Constantine more vulnerable than Neo?

I don't know. I thought Neo was a very vulnerable character.

Well, he became a superhero in the last movie.

Yeah, but he's also full of doubts. He doesn't win. He has to lose his life. That's not very invulnerable. Constantine, there's an element of the greatness, the great Constantine is kind of faded. He's in a vulnerable state and this character Djimon is playing, Midnite, he has a line where he's like… because I'm asking him for help and he's saying I'm neutral. I don't work on any side of the balance. I have this place, this club where half-breeds can come and be themselves and "before you were a bartender, you were one witch doctor against thirty Askar and I was…" and he goes, "You were John Constantine. The John Constantine once. Times change. Balances shift and I have always been a businessman, John. You know that."

How does this film depict hell?

This one is orangey. There's dust in the air, a charcoal kind of dust. There's a real strong soundscape to this film. One of the things that we came up with and you'll see this a couple of times is that when someone dies and they go to hell, part of hell is just at the moment when they die and I guess you're seeking release, these soldier demons, scavenger demons come in and they just eat you. Part of these empty skull folks is that they have these really huge maws with teeth and so instead of getting release, you get consumed and then instantly you're back to just about where you were going to die again and then come in and get you again. And so there's one element where I walk out onto a hell freeway, coming out of this character's apartment where it transforms from a real world to a hell apartment and that is just basically, you know, there's rubble and decay. Everything's broken down. Cars on the freeway have almost melted and there's just these demons with these people screaming being consumed and then they're back and then screaming and consumed and screaming and consumed.

Are you ever in makeup in the movie?

No, but there's some cool elaborate makeups in this film. They're really kind of doing a nice mixture of having in camera effects or makeup and then having CGI supported, so there's a cool mixture with that. I always find that works best instead of just pure CGI because it becomes kind of flat, though it's getting much better.

Is this the first time you've shot in a cemetery?

No, I've shot in cemeteries a lot.

You ever get creeped out?

No, it always brings on a reflective moment. You're respectful.

Click here to read Francis Lawrence's interview

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Source: Warner Bros

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