At a simpler time, when Alan Moore was on more positive terms with the rest of the comics industry, he shared a now-famous anecdote of meeting his creation John Constantine in the flesh.
Thanks to the talents of actor Matt Ryan, a lot more people may be coming out of the woodwork to share their own, similar stories.
Originally created as a supporting character in the Swamp Thing comics of the 1980’s, he swiftly became a fan favourite and was given his own series, Hellblazer, under DC’s more adult-oriented Vertigo publication. It was a boon that Moore didn’t express his usual protectiveness of his brain-children over one snarky British magician, as the publication went on to let character and writers alike flourish. Prior to the series end in 2013, Hellblazer boasted one of the longest-running continuous publications in comics history with 300 issues. Not letting the character be laid to rest, DC then announced a televised series through NBC, starring Matt Ryan (Assassin’s Creed IV’s Edward Kenway) as the iconic dark mage. Although the series was cancelled prematurely, Matt reprised the role for a cameo on Arrow, as well as providing the character’s voice in the animated Justice League Dark film and CW’s upcoming animated series. And unlike some other John Constantines, he can speak with an English accent.
During the New York Premiere of Justice League Dark, we got to catch up with Matt and take a walk on the dark side with him.
The Young Folks: So, you get to play John again in this film, as well as the upcoming animated series, what can you tell us about that project?
Matt Ryan: I’d had some e-mail conversations with David Goyer, who produced the live action show. He asked if I’d be interested in doing it and I replied to him by saying, “I’m in!” I love the character, and I feel really lucky that fans have embraced me as him. I’m excited to dive into it.
TYF: How’s the recording booth compared to a film set?
MR: It’s a different kettle of fish, really. You don’t get to interact with the other actors as much, which is a lot of what acting’s about. But it’s exciting to mix it up, like with the voice and motion capture I did for Assassin’s Creed.
TYF: There’s a very loyal fanbase for Constantine, where do you feel it comes from?
MR: He’s been around since 1985, there’s 300 comics plus the New 52 and Rebirth titles, which I’m actually about to start reading. People love an anti-hero, someone who deep, deep down somewhere, has a light in him. At the same time, he’s willing to sacrifice his best friends to get what he wants. But, he carries that with him, he’s got a lot of weight on his shoulders.
TYF: Yeah, not the most morally upstanding individual.
MR: Oh no! He does what he has to for things to get done. At the end of the day he’s got a much broader scope than most people for his morality. He’s looking at the bigger picture, which doesn’t always go down well with some of his friends.
TYF: In Justice League Dark, he has to deal with people like Batman. How does he reconcile dealing with characters like that, more glamorous and less morally grey?
MR: He finds a way! There’s some great one-liners between him and Batman. Ultimately, they both go about things in the same way, willing to go to extremes. But Batman is skeptical of magic at first, and John is…John. So there’s some great lines between them. That relationship was one of the funnest things about doing this movie. I’m Welsh, and Jason O’Mara (the voice of Batman) is Irish, so sparks fly.
TYF: There is a linguistic element to your role, since Constantine is from a different region of Britain. What was the process for changing your accent for TV like?
MR: We talked a lot about the kind of accent John should have, because he is from the North of England, specifically Liverpool. We decided against a strong Liverpudlian accent, but it does bleed into his dialogue.
TYF: You’ve also got a new TV show right now, The Halcyon, which has you filming in London.
MR: Yep, we wrapped the first season and it’s on air at the moment. Hopefully it’ll be on in North America soon. Very different from Constantine, it’s a 1940’s drama set just before the Blitz. I play an American broadcast journalist, Joe O’Hara, he’s based loosely on the great Edward R. Murrow.
TYF: So do you find there’s a learning curve with the accents you do for roles?
MR: Yeah, but I like to do things that are a challenge. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the role. I got a dialect coach for it, because the whole idea of it excited me.
TYF: There’s a lot of dialogue about representation in comics at the moment, and how it’s important for fans to feel like they belong. With that in mind, there is a lot of talk about Constantine as a character being bisexual. Does it factor into how you play the role? Are people ready for it?
MR: I think that what you do is, you just play the story. We’re not following from exactly where we were in the TV show. There’s different character traits from all of the comics and my research, and it’s all in there, somewhere. So I just take the story and play it.
TYF: Would you want to come back and play in a live-action film?
MR: As an actor I do what excites me, and John is someone who excites me. If something came up, I’d definitely like to keep doing it.
TYF: He ages in real time in Hellblazer, so hypothetically, you could have a gig indefinitely.
MR: Ha! Well I am aging, that’s for sure.
Big thanks to Matt for taking the time for a chat, and all the best for future endeavors.