Q & A: Matt Ryan Talks ‘Constantine’ and the “Longest” Audition Process He’s Even Been Through

Matt Ryan is Constantine

It’s not looking good for Constantine. No, the character that’s based on DC Comics’ wizard John Constantine, is always in good shape by the end each show. This is something that even Constantine couldn’t stop: NBC. The network has just stopped production on the show. I’m hoping it makes a comeback because the episodes I’ve seen, I’ve really enjoyed.

The show comes from DC Comics’ Hellblazer series and is about demon hunter and master of the occult, John Constantine (Matt Ryan, Criminal Minds). With his soul already damned to hell, he’s decided to abandon his campaign against evil until a series of events thrusts him back into the fray, and he’ll do whatever it takes to protect the innocent.

Series star Matt Ryan recently jumped on a conference call to help promote the show and in the interview below, he talks about his audition for the show, preparing for the role, working in theater and more!

Constantine airs on Fridays at 10pm on NBC

You’re playing a character that people already know from comic books or from the movies. How is that different in your preparation?

Matt Ryan: It’s different in the fact that there’s so much source material which is a great thing actually. It’s different and it’s a great thing when you create a character because you start from scratch and you kind of build it from the ground up.

But with this you have such amazing source material that you can keep on going back to that and keep on finding new things. There are so many amazing kind of obviously (unintelligible) on and so many amazing writers have written him.

And, you know, they all have their own little takes on him so it’s great that you have the opportunity to have so much material in terms of viewing and keep on going back to.

With that wealth of material to dig into, was there one thing in particular that you really latched onto about John, like who he is and how that provided entry into the character?

Matt Ryan: I think – I think basically the – the – the history is obviously very important to any character that’s had – when you create a character normally you, you know, create a whole back story for him, you know, no matter how big the role.

And I think that all – all the back story that you get throughout the comics, all the flashback stuff, the stuff of his – his family, his – his sisters, his niece and all the aspects is fascinating.

His relationship with all the Newcastle crew is something that kind of, you know, you – it’s something you can root the character in, you know? So that was kind of probably the most important thing for me as – is the back story really which was something that you build upon from there.

Can you just take us a little bit through the casting process? How did you come to learn about this part and how – how extensive was the audition process for you before you got it?

Matt Ryan: Oh wow, it was – it was quite a ride to be honest with you. I was doing Henry V in London in the West End with Jude Law and the Michael Grandage Company. And at the audition – it was pilot season obviously, so there were a lot of auditions coming up.

So Kate Dowd was casting it in the UK so I went in for an audition, did a tape, we sat at the table. I actually had really long hair and a big – a big bushy beard. And I can remember them – my agent calling me and saying look, they really, really like you but I – they can’t really see past the beard, you know?

And I was like well, you know, I’m in the middle of a play. There’s – there’s not really much I can do about that.

What – what was my favorite – I’d been on a movie called (Sunday Paper) about four or five years ago or something, and I actually bleached blonde my hair for that so it was kind of a similar look.

So we sent out all the – but by that time I think I’d already done about four or four tapes or something, you know, with different notes. And I talked – I already had a conversation with Daniel and David as well, via Skype to give me notes and stuff.

So kept on doing all of these tapes and – but still, I had this – this big beard. And then I was going to kind of try and get a night off the play to fly over to test. But unfortunately due to some circumstances with a member of cast in the play, I wasn’t able to take a night off.

So I kind of had to let that test go really, in a way. And – and I think they used my tapes or something. But I think they couldn’t see past my beard. So I think everyone – they went back to the drawing board and started looking again.

And then they – and then they came back about a kind of week or so later and said look, we – we still really like you and, you know, we want you to – we want you to retape. So retaped again. So I ended up doing about – about six audition tapes or something.

And I think one of the – one of the notes which was really funny was my agent said that David Goyer had mentioned that we really liked Sasquatch, no but he’d seen the beard. And eventually the play ended.

I ended on a Saturday night when I would have the kind of – the wrap party so to speak, of the play and jumped on a plane first thing in the morning, flew over. I think it was a holiday in America on that day so all of the – all of the hair salons were – were shut.

So I had to have a friend of mine come over – come over and cut my hair. And – and then the next day I went in and tested and then, you know, went to the – the studio – the studio network in process – testing process and then the – and then the network testing process.

And – and then eventually got there man. It was – it was – it was quite a ride to be honest with you. You know, it was quite a long process in that – it’s definitely the longest kind of audition process I’d been through. And it – and it was such a thrill then when I actually got the job, you know?

How did you work on developing a different accent for John, than the one you normally have.

Matt Ryan: Yeah. I mean to be honest with you, because John’s originally from Liverpool and then, you know, he’d been in London a lot and it’s a comic book so it’s – it was kind of up for grabs, you know? And so I – I talked to a lot of the guys about it.

But I thought that the main thing that was important was for me to kind of try and get the essence of John rather than kind of playing an accent, you know? But then I didn’t want to do something that was exactly the same as my accent, you know?

I just wanted to kind of make a kind of sort of nod to him really. So I – I kind of worked with – first I think I was in a play in London. I worked on doing this with a London accent for a while. And there was something that just wasn’t sitting right with it, you know?

And then I started playing around with a kind of – a Northern accent, a British Northern accent which is a lot stronger than the one that I – I’m actually doing now. And it – and it – and it kind of felt right because it – it felt like working class and kind of gritty and it was in the – in the – in the right ballpark.

But at the same time, I didn’t want to just spend so much time, you know, playing an accent and making him all about an accent. I – so what I decided to do was just concentrate on the – on the essence of the character and then – and then kind of giving the kind of subtle nod.

So I changed – I changed certain vowel sounds and – and just (decided) to give a node to him then. So it’s kind of a – a Northern accent based on some – some of the Liver – Liverpudlian sounds but obviously it’s not a strong Liverpudlian accent.

I don’t think that that would kind of be very accessible to – for a network show on television. But, you know, I’d like to think that that’s – there’s a subtle nod in there to where – to where John’s – John comes from.

And also, you know, like – I’m from Wales but my accent isn’t exactly very strong Welsh anymore because I’ve traveled so much. So I left Wales when I was 19. And John left Liverpool when – when he was younger as well.

So I kind of took that balance of if he – if he’d left somewhere when he was younger, then he’s traveled and kind of – yeah, so I just added a subtle nod of Northern.

Did you have any hesitations taking the role knowing that it’s based on the DC Comic and there are a lot of fans that are dedicated to the comics?

Matt Ryan: Oh, interesting. Well first of all, like when I was auditioning I’d actually just been offered a play in London. And I think there was a time where the play was going to go away. They need – they needed to know before I had the time to kind of fly out and test.

So there was a moment of me going should I – should I just do the play, you know? It’s a pilot, I don’t know if I’m going to get it. It’s a pilot, you don’t know if it’s going to get picked up. I was offered a lead role in a – in the National Theater in – in London.

And I was kind of going I don’t know if this is maybe something I want to do. But after a kind of – the more research I did on the character I was just like it’s such a great opportunity to play – to play a character like this that I couldn’t kind of pass up on it.

But I didn’t really have any reservations in terms of, you know, how – how iconic the character is. I think that’s something that, you know, that can make you nervous but at the same time it’s a challenge. And I like that challenge.

And I think that, you know, you throw yourself into it and, you know, you give your interpretation of it and try and stay true to the DNA of the character and hope that the – that the fans of the comics, you know, kind of like it. But – so there is always a little bit of pressure.

But, you know, you just throw yourself into it to be honest.

So coming from theater, to this kind of show, it’s a unique TV show just in general. But coming from theater it’s obviously a big shift also. What has been kind of a challenge for you for this show, in getting into this character?

Matt Ryan: First of all I think that – I always love switching between mediums. It’s – it’s always a great challenge. You know, you do theater for six months and then you – you – you do a film and, you know, it’s just such a different medium, you know?

And – and I think that that was kind of one of the biggest challenges at first is, you know, I’d been on stage doing a Shakespeare play swinging a sword and then the next minute, you know, there’s – there’s a camera in my face.

And it – it takes you kind of a day of being on set to go oh, hang on, what’s this thing in my face again? And, you know, just, you know, getting back into sync with working with a – with a camera operator and all that sort of stuff. So that was probably the biggest challenge.

I mean in terms of – in terms of character and development and all of – all of that, that’s all kind of based on – on the same stuff anyway and the same kind of techniques. So you, you know, you kind of approach it the – the same way. I think it’s more to do with the different kind of medium.

And – and that is the biggest challenge.

Did you always want to work in this industry while you were growing up? Or did you have other professions in mind?

Matt Ryan: Oh man. Well first of all, when I was – when I was a kid I – I used to – I was in Les Miserables. I played Gavroche in Les Miserables when I was like 10 I think, in the West End, in London. And then I always wanted to kind of do something in the arts, you know?

But when I went to school it kind of all dropped away man. It just like falled all away and I was a dropout teenager kind of running around on the village green having a – having a crack, having a laugh and stuff. And my parents are great. They kind of like just let me go and be a kid.

And then I kind of came back to it. So – in the meantime, when I was on that kind of five – I think it was about five years when I – when I didn’t want to do anything in the industry, I was into motorbikes a lot and I used to ride motocross bikes.

And so I wanted to be a mechanic and a motocross racer at one point, you know? So that – that – that was another ambition that was – that was going to be mine. And I still have a huge passion for motorbikes now. But I’m – but I’m kind of glad that I didn’t go into it.

Given that you’re the star of this show and this is a big American TV production, are you feeling any sort of pressure or – or how are you acclimating yourself to being sort of the focus of this new series and all of the attention on you? How are you handling all of that?

Matt Ryan: It’s a – it’s a – it’s a new experience, you know? It’s something that – that I’ve never encountered before. So, you know, there’s – at various different points there’s been different turning points where – in Constantine that I’ve never come across.

And I feel like, you know, you just throw yourself into whatever work you’re doing. You know, you just – and you concentrate on that.

And we work so many hours as well that there’s not the time to stop and think oh my god, what is this I’m doing, which is – which is kind of a good thing because you kind of have to be in the moment and just go with it and keep your work going, which is what I love doing. You know?

It’s not – there’s not so much kind of perspective on it then. And I think – I think that if we had a three month break right now I’d probably go what the hell just happened, do you know what I mean? But at the moment I’m still kind of like right in the mix of it.

Kind of down in the dirty kind of working every day. And that’s kind of where I like to be as well. You know, with my head in the work and kind of concentrating on that, you know? I think it’s been a hell of a ride and it’s been really, really good fun as well.

And I just, you know, I’ve really enjoyed it man. And I’m just taking it all in my stride and trying to enjoy it.

How do you get into the place mentally, to successfully portray your character who deep down is seeking that redemption that we all see him have a lot of pain over?

Matt Ryan: It’s interesting. I used to – depending on the scene or depending on my mood, you know, it – in the day and what kind of scene we’re shooting, I’ll use music mostly I think. I’ll listen to kind of classical music for the darker stuff. I listen to like Schoenberg and stuff.

And then with some of the other elements of the character, I listen to (unintelligible) punk rock or I’ll switch it up as well, you know, with music. I like a broad range of music so I’ll switch it up depending on kind of what – what the mood takes me.

But I use kind of music as a – as a motivation. And also the comics. I always have a comic with me. And I – and I’ve jumped around so much in the comics that I couldn’t tell you how they go in any order to be honest – honest with you.

But – but I always have a comic with me so that if there’s any time that I’m not feeling kind of connected to it, I can just pick it up, look at a panel and go oh, yeah. And what’s great about them as well, there’s always a physicality to – to John in the comics.

So there’s always something to connect you to – to it that way as well. So yeah, there’s music and carrying a Hellblazer with me everywhere I go.

In addition to Constantine, you worked on the film Armistice. What did you enjoy most about playing that character? And maybe some of the challenges in working in that type of story and production.

Matt Ryan: Well what’s interesting is that’s a movie that we produced with my – with – with my film company and it was directed by a friend of mine, Joseph Morgan, who is my best friend who’s actually here in Atlanta which is – which is amazing, on – on the Originals.

And what was the most challenging thing about it was I was doing Hamlet at the time with Jude Law again, back in – in London. So I was doing all – all my – all my stuff on a Sunday. So I was doing eight shows a week and then traveling up to Stratford Upon Avon which is where we were shooting.

And – and shooting this moving, you know? And I think, you know, we came across all of the challenges that you do on a low budget movie. And especially when it’s, you know, it was our first movie we – as a company.

We – we hadn’t made anything so we came up against a bunch of obstacles in that way. And I think kind of – trying to kind of executive produce something and overlook something at the same time as doing eight performances of Hamlet a week, was – was – was quite a challenge.

But – but it was good man. I – I – I enjoyed it, you know? And we – we – the second movie we did which is called 500 Miles North, where me and Joseph play characters opposite each other again, but it’s just such a different movie, you know?

Armistice is a genre thriller movie and 500 Miles North is this kind of comedy road trip movie. So – so it was really great to kind of – to play something completely opposite with him.

And we learned a lot on the first movie, a lot – made a lot of mistakes that we kind of put into practice for the second where you’re better, you know? And hopefully when we go to our third, if we get there, then, you know, we’ll – we’ll – we’ll – we’ll have learned even more.

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