David S. Goyer is no stranger to bringing comic book characters to both the big and small screens. The prolific writer/director/producer was responsible for re-defining DC Comics biggest heroes by penning the screenplays for the Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel. He wrote the Blade trilogy (and directed the third installment,Trinity, as well). And let’s be honest, Blade is too often overlooked as one of the precursors to the current trend of dark toned comic book movies. Goyer also created Da Vinci’s Demons, currently in production on its third season for Starz.
His latest project (as executive producer) is Constantine the highly anticipated adaptation of DC Comics’ Hellblazer, which debuts on NBC this Friday and stars Matt Ryan in the title role as the antihero occult detective. I was among the invited press to participate in a round table interview with Mr. Goyer in the Warner Bros.Television press room at New York Comic Con. During our Q&A, he shared with casting Matt as John Constantine, which supernatural DC heroes he’d like to see guest star (Swamp Thing?), the character’s smoking and bisexuality, plus how the dark show fits into the unlikely network mold and its place in the rapidly expanding DC television universe.
QUESTION: You’re obviously a big fan of characters since you were young. You read the Swamp Thing comics. I read that you wrote a letter into the [comic book]…
DAVID GOYER: I have a letter published in Swamp Thing! Yes!
QUESTION: So, going back, you’re obviously well-versed in it. How true to those comics are you going to keep? Obviously, it’ll go its own way, but in the initial episodes and arc?
DAVID GOYER: Any sort of adaptation of something in a different medium is going to change a little bit, but it skews fairly closely. I think by the time people watch the first 12, 13 episodes, they will be shocked at how much of that original Hellblazer milieu is embodied in the show. I would say now we’re going on probably over a dozen characters from the Swamp Thing and [Jamie] Delano episodes that roll out that show up. We’ve been dipping in. We’ve already adapted some specific issues within the first season.
QUESTION: Do you have a favorite run from the author?
DAVID GOYER: A favorite Hellblazer author?
QUESTION: Yeah, run, you know?
DAVID GOYER: I mean Innis. [Garth] Innis is great. You can’t beat Alan Moore and his original arc on American Gothic. Delano. I mean they’re great. [Brian] Azzarello did a good run. There been so many great runs.
QUESTION: You’re just going to pick and choose from everybody?
DAVID GOYER: Yeah, that’s the idea. We’re kind of weaving in and out.
QUESTION: Was there any temptation, I know it’s probably not likely, to set it in London with a sort of Punk soundtrack.
DAVID GOYER: We do have, kind of, a Punk soundtrack. I mean, we’ve got Buzzcocks in the show, and Ramones. I’m incredibly proud to say in episode three, this may be the first time this happened in network television, I could be wrong, but I got them to license a Sex Pistols song. Yeah so John is listening to the Sex Pistols in that episode in a scene in which Papa Midnight is in which is kind of fun. This show ultimately will take place all over the world. Even in the first season, we’re out of America for some of the show. We’re not in London yet. But you know the comic book also, I mean if you think about when John was first introduced, it was in America. And American Gothic took place in America. But we’ll go back to London at some point and we’ll be dipping back into what happened in Newcastle.
QUESTION: How difficult was it to produce a show that is so dark and macabre for a basic network television?
DAVID GOYER: I mean, obviously there were some constraints that you have to deal with that in network that you don’t have to deal with perhaps on pay cable. Having said that, we’re on the network in the same time slot that Hannibal also inhabits. I’m shocked by some of the things that they do on Hannibal. I don’t think we’ve toned it down that much actually.
QUESTION: What do you think it is about NBC that makes it a good fit for Constantine?
DAVID GOYER: Well first and foremost, we have an executive at NBC, Pearlena [Igbokwe], who’s been a fan of the character even when she used to work at Showtime with Bob Greenblatt. So she’s been wanting to do a Constantine show ever since then. And Bob Greenblatt came over from Showtime. They came from a pay cable sensibility and watching what’s been happening with cable versus network, clearly networks had to change. And so I think it’s a comfortable fit. Of all the networks, it’s hard to imagine Constantine working on any of the other networks.
QUESTION: Do you feel that it was hard to drop the polarizing view of the movie version to do your own thing and get this one up and running?
DAVID GOYER: Not at all. I mean, I think to a certain extent, people are used to there being different iterations of things. You’ve got, Lord knows, there have been multiple iterations of Batman and Superman, and whatnot. You know, the movie was polarizing. I enjoyed it for what it was. But you know first and foremost we cast a British actor to play a British character and I know the people that have seen the show, so far, almost to a man, or woman, feel like Matt has completely embodied John Constantine. And by the time you guys, I’m excited for you to see the subsequent episodes because what you hope with a show is that they get better and better with each episode. And episodes three, and four, and five, six, seven: it just ramps up and ramps up, and he is just mainlining John Constantine. And God is he funny later on in this.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the casting process, and what specifically stood out about these actors?
DAVID GOYER: We saw over 500 people. It was really hard because we had this, sort of, impression in our mind of who John should be, and Matt did a self-tape. He was on stage in London and with a giant beard and he looked like Sasquatch. Uh terrible lighting, and I said, “That’s the guy!” Showed it to the studio, and they said, “That’s not the guy,” and I said, “That’s the guy!” And, “That’s not the guy!” and I said to our casting lady, “Don’t let him out of his option.” We ended up, kept on seeing people, and I did my best to sabotage all those auditions. And eventually Matt finished his run and was able to shave the beard, and he came in and I said, “That’s the guy,” and finally, we cast him.
QUESTION: What was the initial idea that you did have in your head for Constantine before you saw Matt?
DAVID GOYER: I wanted somebody that looked like he leaped off the page from the Delano comic books. Or the Tim Bradstreet covers. And Matt looks like John Constantine. And he acts like John Constantine. All those years, for decades I had this kind of idea in my head of who Constantine should be, and then to actually cast someone who brings that to life is amazing.
QUESTION: In terms of the adapting the series to the comic, which iconic elements did you know you absolutely had to have? I mean I know you’re not going to go whole cloth, but…
DAVID GOYER: I mean, he had to be British. Had to have the trench coat. The skinny tie. Even though he’s on network he had to still be a smoker. There have been some negotiations with that because that’s just part and parcel of his character. I mean, we all know that he gets cancer later on, and that’s something that we wanted to give a nod to. He had to be a bastard. You know, sometimes, an asshole. I don’t know if you can print that, but that’s just who he is. He’s snarky and he lies, and he’s terrible to the men and women that he sleeps with. And he’s just not your first choice when you think of someone to save the world, but unfortunately he’s the guy we’ve got, and that’s what makes him so fun. And we said those things to NBC at the beginning. We said, “If you can get behind this guy. He’s not like a shiny, you know, matinee-idol guy. Then we’re good.” And they’ve embraced that.
QUESTION: And what part of the trench-coat brigade are you going to bring in? Because my heart skipped a beat when I saw Doctor Fate’s helmet in one of the shots. Are you going to be bringing in a lot of that end of the universe as well?
DAVID GOYER: If we continue on long enough, you may see the Nelsons at some point. We’ve already filmed an episode with Jim Corrigan. There’s another episode coming. He’s not the Spectre yet, but we’re getting there. I’d love to bring in the Phantom Stranger at some point.
QUESTION: Swamp Thing?
DAVID GOYER: Swamp Thing if we can, we’ll see. If we can pull off the s-effects makeup. That’s a hard character to pull off. We’ll see.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the larger DC Universe? It’s getting extremely big on television right now. It’s going to TNT and CBS. Do you feel like you’re safe in your own supernatural pocket?
DAVID GOYER: Yes. Because we’re safe in the occult corner of the DC Universe. We have access to those characters. Those characters are kind of reserved for us. And the longer we’re on, the more of those characters we’ll be introducing.
QUESTION: DC wants to keep the TV universe and movie universe separate. So any character you introduce, Dr. Fate or whoever on the TV show, will never show up in the movies?
DAVID GOYER: Never say never. For now there’s a kind of blood-brain barrier between the two, but you never know. Who knows?
QUESTION: You mentioned just a minute ago, about “men and women he sleeps with,” so are we going to at least see part of that aspect of Constantine’s…?
DAVID GOYER: We never said he wasn’t bisexual. I think it took eight years for them to get to that in the comics. I at one point I said 12, but I believe it was eight years. We never said he wasn’t.
QUESTION: What was the situation with changing the Lucy Griffith character? Why did you get rid of that one?
DAVID GOYER: Why? You know, when you first pitch a show, it was a decision that, “Oh, he’s involved in on this occult world, and we need someone who’s a point-of-view character who’s not part of that world.” So, we created a character that didn’t exist in the comics, this character of Liv. And it worked fine. But it felt like a little bit, something that we’d kind of added on in order to make everyone feel more comfortable. And we wrapped the pilot and we started writing subsequent episodes, and we just thought “Wouldn’t it be better off if we could just bring in one of the characters from the comic books? And that person could go toe-to-toe more with John.” And fortunately, NBC agreed with us at that point. They’d seen the pilot, and so we were able to make that change.
Constantine debuts this Friday, October 24th at 10pm and also stars Angelica Celaya, Harold Perrineau and Charles Halford.