On Saturday, Keanu Reeves reunited with filmmaker Francis Lawrence (who still has a replica of The Holy Shotgun in his possession!) and producer Akiva Goldsman to reflect on their collaboration 15 years ago on Constantine, which featured Reeves in the title role as a demon hunter looking to earn his way back into the good graces of the man upstairs. While Constantine was a moderate success upon its release in 2005, the film has continued to gain a strong following over the years (and for good reason – it RULES), and the trio came together this weekend to discuss their experiences working together on Constantine, sequel ideas and more.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the 15th Anniversary Constantine panel, which was moderated by Steve Weintraub from Collider (you can watch the panel in full HERE, too).
Akiva Goldsman on how he initially got involved with Constantine: I had a deal at Warner Bros. at the time. I was trying at the time to convince people to let me be a producer. The script was laying around, which was really compelling, and Lorenzo di Bona Ventura and Bob Brassel and I put it together with Nic Cage and Tarsem [Singh] directing. We started prepping the movie and then we stopped prepping the movie, and the movie went to sleep for a while. Slowly but surely, the idea was durable enough, like many interesting scripts, to outlive whatever struggles it had. There was this video director who was really something and so began this restructuring of Constantine with the three of us playing various parts in order to try to get it up and alive again. I watched it last night for the first time in a long time, and it is really cool.
Keanu Reeves on Why He Wanted to Play Constantine: I wasn’t familiar with the character. I hadn’t read Hellblazer or seen any of the Alan Moore stuff in Swamp Thing, so I didn’t know the character. It was brought to me by my manager at the time, Irwin, and I think that at the time, both Akiva and Francis were already on board with the project. But I really loved the script and then I did some research on the character, and I wasn’t hesitant, but I’m not English and I’m not blonde, but the character is. So, I had to reconcile that and part of that was, “Well, what was the base of this character? What could I bring to the character? Why even do it?”
And Constantine is such a beautiful character; this humanitarian cynic whose tired and world-weary, and tired of morals and ethics and demons, and all of it. I loved his sense of humor so I was really excited. I had seen a few of Francis’ videos, so when I went to the meeting to meet with Francis, he had all the boards up, so a vision was already there, which I really loved.
Francis Lawrence on Passing Keanu’s tests for Constantine and directing a feature for the first time: Actually, I had only had meetings at the time, and you [Keanu] were one of the gauntlets I had to pass before I got the job. But my first meeting was with Bob Brassel who was an exec there at the time. The script had also been brought to me by Irwin, too, who was Keanu’s manager at the time. I basically had to go in there and convince Bob that I had a vision for the movie and that I was a responsible filmmaker. So, I spent a fair amount of time convincing Bob, and then I got past him and then make all the rounds to all the producers. At the time, Keanu was still off shooting the Matrix sequels, so he wasn’t back from Australia yet, so this was about a nine month process where I was slowly building out this visual presentation for the movie. That all culminated with meeting with Keanu like a day or two after he got back from Australia.
Francis Lawrence on shooting in Los Angeles: We had the story in Los Angeles, and it’s not often that you get to shoot in Los Angeles. But one of the great things that Keanu did early on was put it in his deal that we had to do it in L.A., that you were not going to go to Toronto or Vancouver or Atlanta to cheat it for L.A. We were going to really shoot it in L.A., which was great and that battle was done long before we got the green light, which was fantastic.
Keanu Reeves on why it was important to shoot Constantine in Los Angeles: I love L.A., and I love filmic L.A. I love being on the streets, I love the way the weather changes, I like the early dawn, the deep night, and all the people who are on the streets. It’s got good vibes. I want to bring it up as soon as possible but it was Phillippe Russellos, the cinematographer, who did a great job.
Akiva Goldsman on the Los Angeles influence on Constantine: At the heart of why Keanu put L.A. in his deal is that if you’re gonna shoot L.A. for L.A., and you’re actually there, the city starts to help inform every piece of the production.
Francis Lawrence on the film’s R rating: Originally, when we started this, we thought this was going to be a rated R film, and Warner then dictated that it had to be PG-13 because of what it cost. We got the list of guidelines that we had to follow of what you can do and you can’t do in a PG-13 movie, and we followed those rules to a T. The amount of times you can say, “F—k,” the kinds of nudity, the blood, the violence – all of those things – and we screened it for the MPAA. I remember hearing that they got about 5 minutes into the movie and said that we got a hard R for “tone.”
That’s something that’s not on the list, so there’s this overwhelming sense of dread that they had from the opening scene onward, and they didn’t think there was anything that we could do about it. Basically, what we had was a PG-13 movie that got an R rating. That just killed me, because if we were going to get an R rating, I would have made an R-rated movie. We could have really gone for it. So, we got a bit screwed on that, and we did try to fight it, but we obviously didn’t win that battle.
Keanu Reeves on collaborating with Francis, Akiva and the cast and crew of Constantine: I really enjoyed working with Francis and Akiva. Just having Francis’ vision and Akiva’s story sense, humor and experience, and then the crew that was assembled and then the cast, too. I get to have these great moments with all these characters in the film; throwing down with Peter Stormare as I’m bleeding out and he’s leaning into me, or throwing down with Tilda Swinton as she’s choking me out, working with Shia LeBeouf and Djimon Hounsou – there’s just so many great moments with the cast, where the dialogue is so juicy and the scenes, there’s this hard-boiled mystery as you’re walking around. For me, there were so many times where I got to work with such extraordinary artists and we were all just having fun. The crew, too. Everyone came in and rolled up their sleeves, and it was collaborative. Everyone contributed.
Francis Lawrence on the genesis of Constantine’s post-credit sequence: That was Akiva’s idea which I thought was really cool. That was not part of our initial shoot. After we had that screening of the sizzle reel, and we got the studio really excited, Akiva and I went back to them and said, “Hey, guys. Now that you’re excited, there are a couple of other things that we’d really like to do. I’d really love to reshoot this club sequence, and we’d love to do this thing at the end, and they gave us the go-ahead. They gave us a decent amount of money to go and get additional footage.
Akiva Goldsman on a Constantine sequel: It endlessly came up. We wanted to make a hard-R sequel, we would probably go and make it tomorrow if we could. We tried a lot of different ways to find a way. To the studios who made it, which was Village Roadshow and Warner Bros., it was always a bit of a feathered fish. It’s oddness, which I do think is one of the most lovely things about the film, where it’s equally comfortable in a scene with Keanu and Rachel [Wiesz] as it is in a scene with demons flying and hurling themselves at a man who’s gonna light his fists on fire, it’s odd, right? It’s not really action-packed, it just has a bunch of action. This movie isn’t exactly “a thing,” it’s kind of a few things, which is what I think is beautiful about it. Those seem to get harder and harder to make.
We’ve talked about it, we’ve had ideas, one of them being where he wakes up in the cell and he has to identify the prisoner that turns out to be Jesus, and he thinks it’s Beirut but it’s New York.