Interview with Constantine Screenwriters

Interview with Constantine Screenwriters
Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello talk about the many incarnations of the Constantine script
Updated: 02-10-2005

Q: How did you come onto the Constantine project?


KEVIN: I was living in London at the end of the 80s/start of the 90s and I was a fanboy of Hellblazer. I have the first issue, and everything. When I came over to Los Angeles to work in film, people would ask me, ‘What’s the next thing you’d like to do?’ and I’d always had it in the back of my mind that Constantine was such a brilliant character and I wanted to see if I could get involved in it. I mentioned it to an executive at a totally different studio, and he helped me track down the people who owned the rights. We brought it to a couple of studios with John as English, and blonde, and you know, exactly as he is in Hellblazer. Nobody really responded, I think because nobody was aware of the comic book. It’s not like an X-Men or a Spider-Man and something [everyone knows, growing up]. We brought it to Warner Bros. and said, you know, ‘The character can be American.’ We thought as long as we got his voice right, changing his accent wasn’t going to be a huge thing. In the first draft, it was about keeping in that he’s a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, cuss word-using trickster and con-man. I went through about five versions of the script, and in 1998 a couple of other writers came on board and took it in a very different direction. It was going more towards being a ‘Dirty Harry of the Occult’ or kind of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ in some ways, in terms of the hunt for the Spear of Destiny. And then Frank came on board.


FRANK: I came on board in ’99 and worked all the way up to the start of production. I’ve never read Kevin’s original draft; they never gave them to me. I’ve got the two other writers’ between us, and I thought… I was offered it, and I’d never read any of the comics. I didn’t know it existed, honestly. I was handed it based on being a character writer. I’d written stories that were about people, and Lauren Donner approached me and said, ‘We have a problem. We have this material but we don’t know where to go with it.’ So I read it and I thought, ‘Well, this is a bunch of guys in China Town shooting each other over religious artifacts; it’s not appealing.’ But then she gave me the comics. She gave me Dangerous Habits and Original Sins, and I started reading them and I go, ‘My god. I’ve never seen a character like this — not just in a movie, but in a comic book.’ Some of the dark stuff they did in that comic made me go, ‘This is the story! It’s about this man, not all these plot machinations.’ So I went in a pitched a character version of the story that, probably in a way, was very much like Kevin’s version even though we never met until two months ago. So I just handed in a draft, after throwing out everything they had and starting over using the comic books. And I pissed off a lot of people when I delivered it because it was throwing out everything they had up until that point, but eventually they saw the light. They saw that there is a real story here, and it’s about the man.


KEVIN: You actually came back to a lot of my stuff. When they were in production, they started adding more of that stuff back in, which was kind of interesting to see it kind of pop up out of nowhere.


FRANK: The idea of the Angela character, and, uh… I was trying to find somebody that John could really affect. Somebody that he could change their life, because basically he’s not supposed to change much — your hero, in these kind of movies. And so she evolved out of the whole idea of someone who’s hiding out from their own ability and that’s the only thing that’s kept them alive. That is one of the big ideas that I started putting into the whole story was Angela’s back-story of her twin sister and basically how she feels guilty…


KEVIN: Angela was a character in it from the first draft…


FRANK: But she was a cop.


KEVIN: She was a cop, and in way she was more like… In a way, our point of view of the story is through Constantine’s eyes but our introduction to the world and its rules is through Angela.


Q: Who came up with all the Catholic stuff?


KEVIN: It was never firmly in one religion or the other.


Q: But you have the Spear of Destiny, which rooted it in sort of a Christian framework.


KEVIN: Yeah, well I didn’t actually have the Spear of Destiny in mine. At one time, it was one of the Nine-Inch Nails that Christ was [crucified with], which is kind of in the same vein. Constantine knows there’s a God, knows there’s a Devil, knows there are these half-breed demons and half-breed angels who are here to tempt us or to help us, but it was never that firmly entrenched in the Judeo-Christian basis. But it was never firmly in one religion or the other. During the process it changed a little bit.


FRANK: Christianity, religion, Heaven and Hell, is a big part of the comic. It is in there a lot. He walks the line between both worlds, but he could care less [sic] for both in the comics. He pretty much thumbs his nose at Heaven and Hell because he knows the rules that they’re playing us all under and he doesn’t like that. He’s more here for humanity that’s here on earth, not about ‘up there’ or ‘down here’. He deals with both as if they were just allies and…


KEVIN: He just walks between them and he does respect Gabriel, especially when Gabriel refuses to help him. There were different versions where, you know, at one point he made love to a demon. He was kind of looking for a way out from his death sentence. So it has always been a thing where he’s caught between two different worlds.


Q: We hear that line from Keanu himself, that we’re caught in the middle, but we see a lot more of Hell in the movie than we do Heaven. We see a lot of demons fighting for evil, but no angels really fighting for good.


FRANK: There is one in the Hennessey scene, where Hennessy is dying.


Q: In the store. The angel comforts him, but he doesn’t help.


FRANK: Well, that’s the point of this story, is that it has changed — the balance is shifting. Something is going wrong and that’s the whole point. They’re supposed to be equal, they’re supposed to be balanced. So why are we seeing these things? That is the point of this movie, that the balance is upset. As a matter of fact, in the comic book adaptation of the movie, they used something from one of my drafts where there’s a [sculpture] of the planets all balanced. In my draft, Midnight was looking at the universe and everything wouldn’t balance. It just kept falling. And John says to him, ‘You’re never going to get that thing to balance.’ And John had something on him throughout the whole story so that at the end of the story, was placed in this thing, and it balanced it out. Which was to try to show that Constantine was actually a part in the universe, that he actually helped balance it out. He doesn’t know why he was fighting, he didn’t know why he doing the things he was. And it’s in the comic — which I saw here just recently, and I go, ‘How in the hell did they find that?’ It was in one of the 30 drafts I did, and it was buried and it was never even done, but everybody seems to have grabbed the pieces that they seem to be most interested in, as writers do. We grab things that we go, ‘This interests me, and I want to expand on it.’ If we’re allowed to write what we want to write, it does have a little bit of our reflected viewpoint in it. Of course it gets shaped by what a studio wants, what an actor wants, what a director wants; and we’re at that beck and call the same way.


KEVIN: Yeah. Your first draft is where you get to do everything you want to do, get the voice of the character, tell the story the way you want to, and then every draft after that becomes all the voices that have something to say about which way it goes. The director, the executives, the producers, actors…


Q: So is that why you didn’t show Heaven more?


FRANK: The true reason for that is, no one knows how to depict it in a cool way. It seems like an audience will love to see Hell — they want to see demonic images. But if you show them angelic, and you show them light and white, they go, ‘Oh, gosh.’


KEVIN: Even Jacob’s Ladder had that little bit of light, leading him towards Heaven or whatever.


FRANK: Francis even said that one time, he’s you know, ‘How do you depict Heaven in a really artistically cool way that we haven’t seen before?’ That’s the other trouble; we’ve seen it in so many movies where Heaven is right here — it’s in a subway, it’s a this, it’s a that. It’s just in how you look at life. But when you’re doing a visual film and you want it up there on the screen, it is hard to get away from that classic image of light, angels, and that sort of thing. It is a practicality in that you’re trying to do something cool. It just comes back to filmmaking. What does the audience want to see?


Q: Does the religious aspect concern you? Do you think some will take issue with this film?


KEVIN: No. It’s…


FRANK: Which way, though? That’s the thing that I question. Which way will they…


Q: Some Christians, when they hear the ant farm thing, you know, won’t like the cynical take on Heaven and God.


KEVIN: That’s a character thing. Constantine hides himself behind sarcasm and he hides his vulnerability behind fast quips and quick asides.


FRANK: But it also brings up discussion, which I think… If a character from a comic book can make people talk about their beliefs, it’s gone a little farther than a movie that’s just pure action.


Q: What are your own beliefs? Do you believe in Hell?


KEVIN: I’m not sure. I think I’m more agnostic or whatever. I think that the movie deals with stuff that we’re all aware of, whether we believe it or not. It’s part of our lives. For me Constantine is… I always love a cynic. Even when they’re doing something good, or when they’re you know, dealing with these big questions about, you know, ‘Why are we here? What are we doing?’ Those big spiritual questions. I always prefer someone who’s a bit cynical about what’s he going to find, rather than somebody who’s… Constantine comes from a religious perspective [but] he doesn’t do exorcisms necessarily because of religious reasons. He does them because he’s a thrill junkie. He likes taking on demons, you know? He’s a rock n roll exorcist.


Q: But he does seem to be working out his redemption in some way.


KEVIN: That’s it: he’s trying to buy off God.


FRANK: We start the story off with that he’s dying, so I don’t care how cynical you are; at that point in your life, when you realize it’s going to be over soon, you’re going to align yourself to the side where you’re going to feel the least pain. Truly, it’s a selfish thing even in the end. It’s still selfish because, ‘I’ll feel less pain if I go there, than if my soul is ripped apart for all humanity [sic].’ That is what he tells Angela, her sister… So himself [sic] already states what he believes going to Hell is in this movie by saying, ‘Your sister will be ripped apart for all eternity, and blah-blah-blah.’ I had a longer speech beyond that, it just got terrible! But, uh [laughs] and I’m going, ‘Holy crap, I don’t want to go to Hell!’ My belief, and this has nothing to do with the character, is that when I go to church, I find that the people that are sitting in those pews are skewed older. I asked myself why that is, because, are they reaching the end of their existence here and are starting to hope that there is something beyond this? They’re trying, in a way, to save themselves in the end. They have this incredible life, and that’s what Gabriel says in this movie: ‘All you have to do is just say, OK I accept you.’ And you’re saved. And it’s too easy. It’s just too easy.


Q: Is Gabriel in the movie the archangel of scripture, or is it a half-breed?


FRANK: He’s supposed to be the real Gabriel.


Q: Then how can he be on earth? You set it up that full angels and demons can’t come through.


KEVIN: Gabriel is like, [the other? Muffled…] half-breed. Like, you know…


FRANK: It’s like, Gabriel was in the comic from the very beginning and so Gabriel was placed into the script and then all of the other things came around it. So you’re right: it could be an inconsistency there that, ‘How can one angel be there, one devil be there?’ I think Gabriel represents God in some ways, I think, anyway.





by Staci Layne Wilson


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