Comic Book Casting: The JOHN CONSTANTINE TV Series

John Constantine isn’t your typical magician. Bitter and grizzled, he wouldn’t mix well with Gandalf or Houdini, but nor would he want to. Created by Alan Moore and artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben as a supernatural adviser to Swamp Thing during their run on The Saga of the Swamp Thing, Constantine took a life of his own once he got his chance at an ongoing series — coming the de facto pillar of DC’s Vertigo Comics line. In 2005, the blue-collar wizard got his own series in the maligned Constantine movie starting Keanu Reeves, but it failed to create a positive impression on the mainstream public or the hardcore fans that made him popular in the first place. Sorry, Keanu.

We’ve seen other heroes successfully fight back from a poor initial outing outside comics, and John Constantine seems to have the grit and the drive to do the same. Here’s how we’d do it.

The Concept:

While movies seem to be the dream destination for most fans and their comic book crush, television has really changed in what can be done. And in many ways, what can be done better than movies. With dark thrillers like The Walking Dead, True Blood and Breaking Bad making a hit (and making big money), John Constantine could be an ideal wellspring for a new series. It wouldn’t hurt that Time Warner, the company that owns DC Comics and Constantine, also owns HBO and Cinemax.

Imagine a John Constantine series featuring this working-class warlock haunted by the sacrifices and mistakes he’s made for what he thinks is the ultimate good. Liverpudlian accent and cigarettes in tow, Constantine could dredge up demons, monsters and succubi — and see them come to get him for past misdeeds. A key part of this could be Constantine’s constant companionship in the form of ghosts of friends who died because of him, but on the side of the living he’d have his erstwhile mate Chas. There’s a wealth of material to comb through; imagine a season devoted to Delano’s “Original Sins” arc or even his far-future “Bad Blood” one-shot. I’d love to even see Constantine on a road trip across America as seen in Brian Azzarello’s brief run.

The Showrunner:

There’s  not that many people who have the expertise, the writing ability and the free time to jump on a project like this. The best man for the job in my mind is House, M.D. creator and showrunner David Shore. Born in Canada and a former lawyer, Shore bounced around TV writers rooms for decades before he came up with House. That lead character has a similarly acerbic personality that I see from reading Hellblazer comics, and Shore has the weight of being a multiple Emmy winner and House, M.D. on his resume to get a lot of things a less accomplished showrunner could get from the studio.

The Cast:

John Constantine – Christopher Eccleston: This actor made his name when he revived Doctor Who and will be playing a major character in the second Thor film, and the time seems right for Eccleston to step out on his own in a big way. His portrayal of the Doctor was darker than anyone before or since, and he has a big acting presence like fellow Brits Ray Fiennes and Gary Oldman. I’d love to see Eccleston bring all he has into this role, and make people forget Keanu Reeves.

Papa Midnight – Yasiin Bey:  Djimon Hounsou wasn’t bad in Constantine, but I’m hoping for something better and more nuanced and the formerly known as Mos Def would be just the thing. He’s been great recently in Dexter, and he was a bright spot in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy movie. Bey could portray this shaman/businessman with ease, balancing between being a hated enemy of Constantine to sometimes a friend.

Nergal – Philip Glenister: Nergal really grew on me as a character, and he could be an interesting addition to a John Constantine television series. Later on you could even go back to Constantine’s origin and Nergal’s part in that. Taking Philip Glenister into this might be a bit surprising, but I think he could really sink his teeth in his. He was great as Gene Hunt on Life On Mars, but I’m recalling his role as Gunner Hobbs in the Hornblower movies for a real case of villainy.

Chas – Marshall Lancaster: Try as I might, I can’t help but bring in a second Life On Mars alum in casting Lancaster as the cabbie Chas. Shia Labeouf was a bit vanilla in the Constantine movie, and I think Lancaster is more equipped — a bit better, age wise — to play Constantine’s ever-present aide.

Chantinelle – Winona Ryder: Surprised you with that one, huh? This is one place I’d take a different path than in the comics, and give Elle here a bigger role in the series. And seeing Ryder take on a role like this would be interesting, especially opposite Eccleston.

Comments

  1. Josh Flanagan Josh Flanagan (@jaflanagan) says:

    Paul Bettany.

    • Ainslo Ainslo says:

      interesting, at first i thought no, but just had a look at some pics and he could do it, he is a good actor and could pull it off. Ecclestone has the attitude but not the look. can i offer Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy, haggard up a bit might work

  2. kmob181 kmob181 says:

    Not exactly related but I was wondering what everyone’s favorite Hellblazer run is? Read and loved the Ennis run. I felt Milligan’s started out strong but then fell off a bit. Still, overall I love the series and would be curious to know which runs people think are worth owning? Or if you think they are all worth owning, which were your favorite?

    • vinylhed says:

      Before I read the last two trades recently, I went back to the beginning of Andy Diggle’s run and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting those issues. This has led me to fish out some of my older issues. I’m in the middle of Mike Carey’s run at the moment, and have to say, I’m not a fan of his writing.
      Apart from Ennis’ tenure on the book (which is at it’s best when he’s working with Steve Dillon), my favourite run is Warren Ellis’. It was such a shame he cut his potentially lengthy run short, when he left the book after DC refused to release his high school shooting story. For me he was the perfect writer for Constantine. I love his issue of Planetary where he has a John Constantine-a-like transform into a Spider Jerusalem-a-like character, with a few pot shots at the Vertigo universe along the way.

    • kmob181 kmob181 says:

      Thanks. I will take a look at both Diggle and Ellis.

  3. flapjaxx flapjaxx says:

    Really good picks. Not sure about Ryder in that role, but…maybe.

    I’d love to see a Constantine movie that was more faithful to the comics.

  4. Ollywood Ollywood says:

    Marc Warren as Constantine all the way for me. Don’t really think he’s well known outside Britain (he’s not really that well known here either to be fair). He’s got a “cheeky chappie” face so he looks like a bit of scallywag and i like the idea of him looking like a loveable rogue but would actually be a stone cold bastard. He’s who i see when i look at the Tim Bradstreet covers.

    Mos Def’s a good choice. I’d go with Stephen Graham for Chaz. He plays the put-upon sidekick so well (Tommy in ‘Snatch’).

    • vinylhed says:

      Mark Warren is good, but for me he’ll always be the pathetic Dominic Foy in State of Play.

    • Ollywood Ollywood says:

      I never saw State of Play. In fact, other than the Virgin Media / TiVo adverts he did recently (in Britain) all I’ve ever really seen him in is one episode of Life on Mars. He just really looks the part to me.

  5. vinylhed says:

    Eccleston is a top notch actor, but I don’t see him as Constantine (this maybe down to seeing him play the son of God in ‘The Second Coming’). I’d have gone for his ‘Our Friends in the North’ co-star, Daniel Craig…before he became Bond.

    I could see someone like Mark Addy playing a great Chaz.

  6. Ainslo Ainslo says:

    Mos Def is a good choice, Thought Djon was good in the Keanu version.

  7. Ollywood Ollywood says:

    Personally, while i loved House, I’d prefer the showrunner to be English. Maybe even a joint venture between HBO and the BBC. What’s Russel T. Davies up to these days? Could be like a really dark Doctor Who but with magic and demons instead of timetravel and aliens…?

  8. gambit21 says:

    I get so annoyed by people who wanna bash movies because it wasn’t what they wanted it to be. Constantine was an excellent movie and Keanu Reaves, who’s a great actor, played the role very well. People wanna throw their tempertantrums because he’s not blond or British, I say so what? If you wanted it to be exactly panel for panel like the comic then just read the damn comic. Just because changes are made doesn’t mean the movie sucks. These are probably people that probably hate the Batman trilogy because Gary Oldman doesn’t have red hair so he’s a terrible commish or Heath Leadger didn’t look like the Joker in the cartoon so he was bad at it. Honestly if they make anything new that Constantine i’d rather they make a sequel to the movie with Keanu cause he was great and i’d love to see him do it again.

    • Ollywood Ollywood says:

      I don’t think it was that Keanu Reeves isn’t blonde or British, I think it was more that he’s really not a good actor. Constantine is supposed to be a charmer that people naturally gravitate towards (usually until they die a gruesome death), that implies a certain amount of personality and likeability that was severely lacking.

      I totally understand getting annoyed at people who moan about arbitrary changes made in movie adaptations but the fact is that it was a piss-poor movie and had very little in common with it’s source material.

    • UncleBob UncleBob says:

      I’m a devout Hellblazer fan.

      I liked the movie. I thought it was an okay film, if it wasn’t suppose to be Constantine.

  9. Genghis Genghis says:

    So, is Tom Hardy not even a consideration? You can find an image of him in a trenchcoat pretty easily for inspiration. (Wow, did I just type that?)

  10. UncleBob UncleBob says:

    Putting Constantine to film or tv, and to have it faithful thematically to the source material, would be just as difficult as getting Preacher on film/tv.