Set Visit: Interview with director Francis Lawrence for Constantine

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 Keanu Reeves' interview


How do you take a really British comic and turn it into an American studio film?

Ah, interesting question. Well, I think you start to take...what I think first attracted me to this project was just the character himself - not the fact that he was English, not the fact that he had blonde hair and not the fact that he wore an olive-colored trench coat. It was sort of what made him who he was. And I think we've maintained that.

And what is that exactly?

I think it's the whole idea of an anti-hero, this guy that sort of understands the world to place that normal people don't know exists.  I think that he's sort of a supernatural, hard-boiled detective.  He reminds me of the Sam Spade's and characters from the classic film noirs.

Will you talk a little about the style of the movie? Are you shooting it like a film noir?

I would say, yeah. I mean, you know, one of the ideas for this was we brought it to Los Angeles. It doesn't take place in London. Los Angeles is considered a classic city for noir. We're establishing it in the real world, which is sort of a noir element. We're leaning towards the noir sides of Los Angeles with parts of downtown, parts of Hollywood - Echo Park. We're shooting scenes in places where they shot films like 'Chinatown' and things like that. But what I'm trying to avoid as well is just going down the cliche route of comic book films - doing things at dutched angles and bright colors. We're sticking to darker muted tones. I don't know if it's just classic noir in the look considering most noir films are black-and-white anyway.

Are there any films in particular you looked at before shooting this?

Since the film is set in Los Angeles and deciding to shoot what kind of Los Angeles to show - you know, Los Angeles isn't one type of city. There's a lot of different angles. So, I was looking at movies like Amores Perros and Training Day and things like that. Films that have an ethnicity to them and a specific sort of color palette to them. So, I watched films like that to sort of see the kind of textures and things I wanted to get out of Los Angeles.

Did you and Keanu immediately agree on your concept of the character?

I think we did. I think, you know, it's interesting because I think Keanu actually has a lot of John Constantine in him, personally.  I don't think he's really portrayed anything like John Constantine before, but just the way he is in his every day normal life and the sort of experiences he's had and his view on the world and on people is really sort of similar. Keanu is kind of a haunted guy and he's sort of elusive and he's kind of mysterious. He's had some sort of tragic things happen to him and I think sort of kind of lives that life a little bit. He's also, I would say, a little self-destructive, which I think Constantine is, you know?

This movie almost sounds almost like a horror flick.

I don't really think that the studio understands this movie completely and it's one of these...and to be honest, I sort of feel like we're getting away with something because there's a lot of strange things in this.  There are some issues in this that are not [in] your typical studio film. There's John and his lung cancer - not brain cancer which all the fans think. There's a bunch of suicides that we deal with. There's some sort of religious themes, religious philosophies on how the world works. There are a lot of layers to this movie that I don't really think the studio understands, which is actually fine by me. But what there is, is some comedy. There is horror, there are scares, there's some violence...

Are you concerned with comparisons to Hellboy, which comes out next spring?

No, I don't think so. I just recently saw a trailer for Hellboy and I don't think it's going to be similar at all - in terms of tone, in terms of look.  Having a character that sort of runs around with all the prosthetics and stuff is one thing - this is going to feel so completely different.

How do you make a film with some of those dark themes and keep it PG-13?

We went in, the studio wants it to be PG-13. The script never...we never intentionally went in and changed anything in the script in terms of like, taking out a sex scene or taking out a lot of blood and gore. It never really had that. We always had the intention of going into this movie and sort of treating it...I'll use the movie 'Jacob's Ladder' as a reference in the way that you sort of, it's what you don't see and things that are hidden in shadows. The tough part is, this movie has a lot of things that you can't take out. There are multiple suicides in this movie - multiple. You can't take it out.

What do you think the studio is expecting?

I don't know. The studio's been watching the dailies, so they see what we've been getting and there've been no complaints so far.  I just...there's part of me that just thinks that the studio really, sort of, doesn't understand it, which, I guess - for now - has been a good thing.

Have you already considered who you're going to have to score the movie?

Yeah, I mean, I've actually talked to Lisa Gerrard who used to be in the band Dead Can Dance and she has worked with Hans Zimmer a bunch on movies like 'Gladiator' and Black Hawk Down. She and I talked before the movie started filming and she composed an 11-minute piece that I've been using on set and putting it over...we've been cutting stuff here with the video guy and putting the music with it to see how it feels.  And playing it on set.

What kind of sound can we expect?

If you know Lisa Gerrard's work, she's a little like world music. She sort of broadens the scope. Since this just takes place in Los Angeles, but the themes are so much more universal, it sort of makes the movie feel like it's on a much broader scale than just in Los Angeles.

Click here to read Keanu Reeves' interview

Source: Warner Bros



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