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Director Francis Lawrence Discusses "Constantine" and Keanu Reeves

Interview with Francis Lawrence from the Hollywood Premiere of "Constantine"

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Francis Lawrence Constantine

Director Francis Lawrence at the Hollywood Premiere of "Constantine"

Photo © Jesse Wozniak
Updated February 25, 2014
Music video director Francis Lawrence may not seem like the most likely choice to helm "Constantine," the big screen adaptation of the "Hellblazer" comic book series. But the acclaimed video director was attracted to "Constantine" because of John Constantine's anti-hero status and the tone of the story, and thoroughly researched the source material before deciding to dive into his first feature film project.

Acclaimed screenwriter/producer Akiva Goldsman sums up Lawrence's work on "Constantine" as the real thing, saying Lawrence is "so good he's scary." Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura concurs with Goldsman's assessment. "His talent with visuals was certainly apparent but when we had our first meeting he talked for two hours about the script and the characters and never once mentioned the look. Usually, when directors are making the transition from the video or commercial world, they lean heavily on the visuals because it's what they've been doing, so this was already staggeringly different than anything I had experienced in more than 13 years at the studio," confesses di Bonaventura.

Here's what the rookie feature film director had to say about creating the world of "Constantine" on film and about the reaction of "Hellblazer" fans:

INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR FRANCIS LAWRENCE:

Does coming from a music video background affect your style of directing?
I think it has to, you know? Just doing it for 10 years I have a sort of built up visual language in my head. I think I was able to make that be like second nature for me, instead of trying to focus on visuals for this movie. I had so many other things to focus on. But, you know, having done it for 10 years, I could rely on that.

Was Keanu Reeves the obvious choice for the role of John Constantine after saving the world in “The Matrix?”
Yeah, but he’s not really saving the world in this movie. He’s saving his own skin, you know? I mean, he’s doing this thing for very selfish reasons. He’s a very different character from Neo. He’s not a savior in this movie in any way. He’s out for himself.

But people will compare the two.
Of course, because it’s Keanu. That’s just what people do. People generalize. But the characters are so different. Their motivations are so different. What they’re going through are so different. [They are] very, very different kinds of movies.

Why did you have to cut Michelle Monaghan’s [she plays a half-breed demon] scenes from the movie?
You know what? Michelle was fantastic and one of her scenes – one of the scenes we had to cut – was one of my favorite scenes we shot in this movie. We cut because it took away from Constantine’s loneliness. We have two characters who are very lonely and there’s a sort of feeling of abandonment in this movie that’s very important. It helps connect the two main characters – Rachel and Keanu. And you know, if he has a scene, which the first scene with her is, it’s post-sex. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed. He’s obviously just slept with her. She’s very attractive, demon or not. You’re just not that lonely of a guy if you can go and hook up with girls like this. And so it just affected the way the movie felt and that’s why we had to cut it. Unfortunately, there was a ripple effect.

What’s the reaction of “Hellblazer” fans been so far?
It’s different. It’s like the general audience, people really like it. Comic book fans in general really like it. And then there’s a mix because there’s sort of two kinds of “Hellblazer” fans. There’s the really hard-core fans that won’t because it’s different. And then there’s the fans that like “Hellblazer” but aren’t hardcore and rabid about it – and they like it. It’s a mix. I think in general they really like it. They really responded and embrace it.

How did you come up with the movie's depiction of Hell?
The idea in the movie is that wherever you exist in any given moment, there’s a heaven version of where you are and a hell version. It’s just because the movie takes place in LA that we see LA in hell.

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