With one actor playing John Constantine in two different versions of the DCU, it’s getting hard to imagine anyone besides Matt Ryan playing the wise-cracking character.
Ryan has the unique honor of playing John Constantine in both the current season of Legends of Tomorrow and voicing the same character in DC’s latest animated feature, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, released digitally earlier this month and available on DVD on May 19. He played the title character in the fan-favorite-but-short-lived Constantine TV show for NBC, but since the show's cancelation, he's reprised the role in animated films and in various shows for CW’s live action DCU.
With Justice League Dark: Apokolips War serving as a finale to the animated universe, Newsarama talked to Ryan about whether he’ll be in another season of Legends of Tomorrow and why he feels like one of the fans when he watches the animated films.
Newsarama: Matt, you are in such a unique position, having played this character for animation and for live action. What are the biggest differences?
Matt Ryan: I don’t get to wear the trench coat and the loose tie, but it’s the same DNA, really, of the character.
What’s interesting is, having played the live action first, there’s a real physicality to John. He has this walk, this strut. There’s a kind of way he stands. Because that’s become such a part of the character that I’m doing, when I get into the booth, I don’t have all that physicality to portray, but there’s a little bit of it that, hopefully, transposes into the voice. You know?
It’s fun. I love getting into the booth and playing John in these movies. It’s great.
Nrama: This movie in particular involves a huge number of characters, and larger-than-life type action. Do you think the animation frees John up to interact in a blockbuster-type environment?
Ryan: Yeah, in the animated universe, you can do so much more with the practical effects and everything. It’s a whole different ballgame. With the live action, there are all sorts of things that go along with it — the cameras, the costumes, the hair, the makeup. But with the animated universe, you can walk into a booth and play the character just by speaking.
I will say, though, it’s down to the voice direction as well. Those guys — our producers who are in the room — they know exactly what they want. I mean, you’ve read the script, but you don’t know how they’re going to do it, really. So it really is up to them and their guidance.
Nrama: Can you talk about John’s role in this film?
Ryan: Yeah, so, when we find John at the beginning of this movie, he’s in a unique place for John Constantine where he’s somewhat content. You know, he’s in a relationship, and he has love in his life.
Once that is taken away from him, there’s classic John Constantine “I’ll drink myself to death; it’s my fault; it’s my fault; it’s my fault; guilt; torment; self-deprecation” — all those things.
That’s until there’s a spur that comes along, and John is someone who needs a spur, I feel. Like, he’s someone that goes in himself when he does something wrong. He blames himself and takes it on himself. And there’s something I really love about him, that he takes it on himself. There’s an arrogance to John, but the arrogance doesn’t quite transpose to him — he doesn’t blame others. He blames himself.
There’s something tragic about that.
There’s this huge motivational fact in this movie of a huge loss of something that John has gained, and he blames himself for it.
And then he needs this spur, and Clark Kent provides that spur.
John is a real driving force in helping the world — helping save the world.
What I love is the way, in the movie, little bits of the script — there’s tiny little bits of realization from John, or a little bit of his wit or cunning that actually are big, pivotal points and help the story along.
That’s great to see, that a character like John Constantine — with Superman and Batman and all of these amazing characters in the DC Universe — there’s blue collar John Constantine, arrogant, chain-smoking, demon-hunter guy that actually is one of the integral people to help save humanity.
Nrama: This movie is the conclusion of the story that the animated universe has been telling. How do you think fans will like the conclusion?
Ryan: Well, I grew up watching Batman on TV — I think it was Kevin Conroy I watched. And I was always a huge fan.
So watching the animated movies, first, when I watch live action stuff of myself, I find it quite difficult. I watch it and I look at it and I see what I could have done differently, or how I can be better next time. There’s always this analyzation of what you’re doing.
With the animation movies, I can watch them as a fan. And even though it’s my voice, there’s a certain detachment where I can really, really enjoy it, where I can’t so much the live action stuff.
And so, watching this movie as a fan, I just think that, if those fans feel the way I do about these characters, then they’re going to absolutely love it. I think they did such a good job of tying it all together.
As you said, there are so many different characters and plot lines.
What we find with a lot of movies is, when there are so many characters involved and so many plotlines, they get tied up very quickly and don’t get too much attention. But I think they’ve done a great job in this film with every storyline and arc and Easter egg and one-liners.
They’re all really specific and great and given the time they need.
So I really do think — and this is going from my own point of view here, as a fan — I think they’ll love it. If they love it as much as me, then I’ll be happy.
Nrama: Fans have enjoyed what you’ve been doing in DC's Legends of Tomorrow. Will we see more John Constantine going forward? Are there plans to continue John’s role in Legends or anywhere else?
Ryan: Well, Season 5 of Legends of Tomorrow is airing at the moment, and we are looking to go back for Season 6. We have talked about Constantine being involved in that, and that’s something I would like to do.
Obviously, it’s always about the storylines of these things and where John fits in. But from the beginning of being on Legends, at the beginning, there was this concern of mine because John is … you know, he walks his path alone; he’s a bit of a loner; he’s not a team player. But the way he’s fit into Legends has just been great, and they’ve really written him well.
So I love the character. I don’t think that he needs to just be on Legends of Tomorrow. I think John is a character that can pop up across the DCU. That’s how he started, in [The Saga of] Swamp Thing in 1985 — he popped up and said a few things and then two years later, he had his own comic book series because he was so beloved.
So we’re working toward season 6 of Legends. We don’t know when that will happen because of the current situation. But there’s lots of stories that can be told, that John Constantine has to tell — lots of stories with John Constantine in them that can be told, from all of the comic books and across the DCU.
Hopefully, we’ll get to explore some of those next season and I’ll continue to explore this role.
Nrama: I know there are a lot of fans who worked hard in the past to keep live action John Constantine alive, so I’m sure they’ll be happy to hear that.
Ryan: They did. They worked so hard. You know, the funny thing is, when the show was canceled, there’s this thing — you get a role like John Constantine, an iconic role. It’s like getting a role like Batman or something and then it not working. And then you’re like, “Oh my God, was it my fault?” You know? “What did I do right or wrong?”
And what’s been really great about this whole journey with the character is that, literally, the fans have been on my side, from what I’ve read anyway, the fans have been on my side throughout the whole process. And I’ve learned so much from them as well, doing the comic cons and things, where I’ve had in-depth talks about specific comic books.
I’ve entered into this world of fandom, and I’m also a fan. And I just love exploring that world and being part of it.