Constantine, directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Keanu Reeves, was released fifteen years ago and has gained something of a cult following. It brought John Constantine, Hellblazer to the big screen in an adaptation that strays from the comics in many respects, but remains relatively true to the tone and spirit of the comics. To celebrate a decade and a half since the release of the film, Reeves, Lawrence, and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman gathered to discuss the making of the film and its legacy. The panel was moderated by Collider editor-in-chief Steven Weintraub.
A video of the panel is embedded below, followed by a few highlights and commentary!
At the very top of the panel, it was pointed out that this is the first time that Lawrence, Reeves, and Goldsman have all been “together” or talked Constantine together since the film’s premiere since 2005. It was clear that all of them were chomping at the bit to discuss this cult classic flick for the first time in fifteen years.
The panel began with questions about how the movie began production. According to Akiva Goldsman, the movie was in development hell for years, including one iteration that would have been directed by Tarsem Singh and starred Nicolas Cage. Though that version of the movie stalled, Goldsman continued to try to get the project made.
Keanu Reeves wasn’t familiar with the character when he came on board the film, but he said it was initially intimidating. He knew that he didn’t fit the physicality or nationality of the character as originally envisioned by Alan Moore, so he instead worked to get to “the base of the character.” He also expressed that he enjoyed the character’s cynical sense of humor. According to Reeves, they never considered dying his hair for the role, instead focusing on this new take on the character.
While Keanu Reeves was attached to the film, he was completing filming on the Matrix sequels. Over the course of nine months, Lawrence lobbied hard for the directing gig. Constantine was his first feature, so he had to convince the studios that he was a responsible filmmaker. The studios were impressed with his music videos and he officially got the gig after a meeting with Reeves that lasted around four to five hours.
According to Lawrence, his vision wasn’t influenced at all by other comic book films. He wanted the film to have more of a neo-noir tone, taking influences from such films as The Third Man and Blade Runner.
When discussing the film’s R rating, Francis Lawrence told an interesting story about why the movie (which is relatively tame in some places) got the rating that it did. Apparently, Warner Bros had ordered for the film to come in with a PG-13 rating, mostly due to the size of its budget. According to Lawrence, the film was very carefully shot to avoid an R rating, making sure to avoid strong language and excessive gore. However, Lawrence says that the folks from the MPAA made it about five minutes into their screening when they decided to give the film “a hard R” for “tone.”
Elaborating on that, Lawrence said he was told the MPAA felt that the film had such an “overwhelming sense of dread.” This comment made both Goldsman and Reeves visibly crack up. Despite being happy with how the film turned out, Lawrence said that he wished he’d known the film would be rated R from the beginning. If he had, they would have taken things further.
It’s worth noting that everyone on the panel was so passionate about the film. Keanu Reeves in particular discussed the film much in the way that a fan would. He described his favorite moments from the movie, talking at length about how much he loved the whole cast and crew. Since the script was based in LA, Reeves negotiated a deal to make sure that the film was actually shot there. This made Reeves particularly happy, describing the crew they had as “Killers! A great LA crew, man. Best in the world!”
Speaking of Reeves getting excited, he also seemed overjoyed when Francis Lawrence revealed that he still owned a Holy Shotgun prop that Keanu gifted him after the film. Lawrence described it as his favorite wrap present he’s ever gotten.
On the subject of sequels, it seems like everyone involved would love to do another one, but it doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards. According to Akiva Goldsman, there were talks of doing a “hard-R” sequel, really getting into the nastiness of the original comic books. Guildsman even described a pitch they had for the opening scene of a sequel, which would have involved Constantine waking up in a prison cell with what appears to be Jesus.
Overall, the panelists were pleased with the continued response to the film. Lawrence in particular was happy that the film was receiving something of a “new life” and critical reappraisal. The panel ended as Steven Weintraub urged people to check the film out if they haven’t already.
(And as a fan of the character who has reviewed a good bit of Hellblazer for the site, I concur.)
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