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Tuesday, February 1, 2005

CONSTANTINE'S FRANCIS LAWRENCE

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The Continuum continues its series of interviews from the Constantine movie press junket with director Francis Lawrence.

Following is an edited transcription on Sunday's roundtable interview.

QUESTION:So it's hard to make heaven look cool, huh?

LAWRENCE: Why, because I didn't show it really?

QUESTION: Was that really your reasoning?

LAWRENCE: No, no, no. It wasn't really written into the story at all, so it wasn't there. So we didn't have to worry about it.

QUESTION: During filming, you were saying that you felt like you were getting away with something and the studio really didn't know what you were coming up with. How did that ultimately go?

LAWRENCE: They really embraced it. I think, from the beginning, they never really understood the tone of this movie. I think they originally thought this movie should be like Ghostbusters or Men in Black or something like that, something like a fun, tongue-in-cheek movie. And we always fought against that.

But I have to say, to their credit ... We sort of put together this 25-minute package of clips that we showed them to get them excited about it and then they got excited about it and then they completed supported the movie, which was great. We got our R-rating and they wanted a PG-13, and they didn't make us change it. So they were really, really supportive. I have to give them credit.

QUESTION: What about the push-back in release? Was that your decision?

LAWRENCE: No, that was their decision. They thought this was going to be this small film that they were going to release in September, and what they realized is that they wanted to make this one of their tentpole movies. And they had too many because they had Troy and they had Ocean's Twelve and they had Phantom of the Opera and they had this and that, so they made this the first tentpole of '05, their first big movie of the year in the first quarter. So I think it really focused their attention and their marketing and all this kind of stuff on it. It was because of the excitement from showing them that footage that made them do it.

QUESTION:It felt like a real summer movie for February.

LAWRENCE: I don't know. It's interesting. I was obviously worried when they first told me, but I'm not an expert in release times. But they show you these charts and how much money people spend on weekends and this and that, and people spend money, man. There are $50-plus million openings. It could be a really good thing. I'm glad it's not a summer release because summer movies can come out and be gone in a week.

QUESTION: After doing music videos, this is your first feature and it has a large budget. Did you ever think that you wished you had done a small independent film first?

LAWRENCE: The only time I think about that is when I think about how much money this movie has to make to break even. And then, I think I should have made a smaller one.

But in trying to tackle it, no. On a day-to-day business, it's kind of the same. It's the same amount of equipment and the crew, and I felt like I had the same amount of time that I have on videos. If it's a small, indie film or a big movie like this, it's the same sort of story and characters you have to deal with, so that wasn't the issue.

It's just sort of the pressure with how much money it cost.

QUESTION: What's the kind of direction you want to go into?

LAWRENCE: I like all kinds of movies. I would love to do a small one and big stuff. The story matters to me.

QUESTION: There seemed to be chemistry between Keanu and Rachel, but they don't even kiss. Was that your intention?

LAWRENCE: That was our idea, sure, there might be something there between them -- there might be some kind of sexual energy -- but we didn't want them to get together. It's not what the movie's about. I think it would have been kind of predictable and kind of cheesey if they had gotten together, or especially if they had kissed at the end. That's not what the movie's about.

QUESTION: Can you talk about what the movie is about, its themes?

LAWRENCE: On the surface, it's a really simple story about this guy who's dying of cancer and he knows he's going to Hell and he's trying to prevent it. He's a great anti-hero. He doesn't want to be doing what he's doing, but he has to. He's doing what he's doing for selfish reasons. I love that story simply on its own.

Beneath that, there's some really interesting ideas with this movie. And it's really the idea of blurring the lines between good and evil and people's perceptions of good and evil. One of the best instances I can talk about is a scene at the end -- and it might give things aways -- but there's a certain character could be portrayed as evil, but thinks that they're really good. I think it's kind of fitting for these times when we're sort of in a world where we're told what is evil, when it might not really be evil. And I just think it's really important for people to sit down and think about what is evil.

I like that about this movie, that it's not just black and white, that those lines are blurred.

QUESTION: You stated that you had a number of ideas with this movie that caught the studio off guard but they got excited about. Were some of those casting choices?

LAWRENCE: Yeah, one of those was the casting choice for Tilda (Swinton) as Gabriel. She was my only choice from the very beginning, so I think that was one of the casting choices.

I think the other thing was this idea of Hell. In the script originally, it was kind of this black void. And I just thought, "Whatever version of this I come up with, it's alway going to be a void and I've seen it before."

So I came up with this idea that I thought would work logically with some of the ideas in the movie and that was that whereever you exist at a give time, there's sort of the Hell version of where you are and the Heaven version of where you are. And it worked nicely because it just gave us a geography. It sort of grounded it a little bit and made it a little more tangible. It let us play with time in an interesting way. When you cross over, it's sort of present time in the real world but Hell time stops because it's eternal. It was just kind of a fun thing to play with.

QUESTION: So you had an idea of what Hell was going to look like?

LAWRENCE: Well, yeah, because of that idea, Hell would be based on the geography of what's around us now.

QUESTION: Who came up with the wind idea?

LAWRENCE: That was actually a combination of me and the visual effects supervisor and the production designer sitting down and sort of coming up with the biological growth that's growing all over the cars and the color palette and what that looks like. We looked at these nuclear test films from the '40s after a nuclear blast and decided it would be great not only if the landscape would be sort of violent with these creatures, but also the atmosphere. We decided to do an eternal nuclear blast, but nothing ever really gets obliterated because it's eternal and it's constantly going.

QUESTION: Was there a scene you shot where he had sex with a demon?

LAWRENCE: No, we didn't actually shoot a scene where he had sex with a demon, but we did have a character in the film that will hopefully be on the deleted scenes in the DVD. There's this great actress we had, Michelle Monahan, who played this character Ellie, who was this half-breed demon.

And there was this scene after he found out his cancer is terminal, where we cut to him and he's sitting on the edge of the bed after he's just had sex with her. And he's smoking a cigarette and she's giving him shit and laughing at the fact that he's dying of cancer. And he's asking her for information, if she knows what's going on, because something weird has been happening. And she was sort of brought in throughout. She was there at Club Midnite and she was there at the end in the hospital.

Because we cut her hotel room scene out because one of the key elements in this movie is Constantine's loneliness. And if you're a guy who can go and sleep with a real hot girl -- demon or not -- you're not that lonely. It just didn't work as well. It was sad because it was one of my favorite scenes we shot in the movie, the feel of that scene. So we ended up cutting her out for most of the moviel.

QUESTION: Did you work with Keanu (Reeves) on his movement and way of speech?

LAWRENCE: Yeah, we worked really closely for a while. Once I came on board, we were working on the film for nine months or a year before we worked with Akiva Goldsman, one of the producers on the movie who did the last draft. And the three of us really worked hard together, working on the script and working on the character and really creating a language we could talk about Constantine with. He's a really dedicated actor.

QUESTION: Are you pleased with his depection?

LAWRENCE: Yeah, I'm very pleased.

QUESTION: How much of the visual effects were you able to do in camera? And how much were there things that you wanted to do, but weren't able to do either in camera or with CGI?

LAWRENCE: It's hard to remember now, but there was a time in preproduction and we were budgeting, and we were over-budget. And the studios do these great things called "Scene Cost Analysis," which is like they break things down by scenes and how much this scene costs and how much that scene costs. And certain scenes had to be changed because of that. One of the positives that came out of that was we used to have a big car chase sequence that was really expensive and timely that was in place of Angela getting ripped through the walls. And because we had to come up with something else for that because it was too expensive, we came up with something that I think is really, really cool and I don't think I've seen something like that before. And we were able to do that.

But there were other scenes where things kind of got whittled down. The scene with Hennesey where he drowns himself in alcohol was something else. I think this one fit the story better; the other one might have been a little more spectacular in terms of effects.

In terms of not being able to do things, it was really for budgetary reasons in the beginning.

I tried to do as much as we could in camera as possible. Even when we're in Hell, we built a huge stretch of freeway on a soundstage and some of the creatures are prosthetic and some of them are CG. So we did mostly sort of set extensions and the atmosphere. A lot of Angela getting ripped through the walls were real things, sort of put together as opposed to just CG. We had a plate of her on this hydraulic rig and then a plate of our real set getting ripped apart by cables and mixed the two together.

QUESTION: Do you believe in Hell?

LAWRENCE: Do I believe in Hell? I'm a skeptic. I don't know. I'm not going to say there is a Hell, and I'm not going to say there isn't a Hell. I don't know. For all I know, you die and you rot in a box and that's it. Who knows?

QUESTION: It seems that in this movie that the demons are really bad, but we don't see anything on the other side. We don't see any really good angels. Do you have any thoughts about why you did that?

LAWRENCE: First of all, it's part of the story. It's an interesting question. I don't necessarily think that the demons are really bad. Certain ones, Balthazar, yes. Some of those demons, if you noticed, they have no brains. It actually came from an idea I had in trying to find a new way to portray demons. They usually have big fangs and they're all muscular and they'll have horns and they're really evil.

And I wanted to do something else and to think that these demons were once people. So they're more tortured. They're skinny, their stomachs are bloated, they're all twisted up -- but they have no brains.

I'm a scuba diver and I went cage diving with sharks once. And there are blue sharks going around, and, you know, they're man eaters. And I remember looking at these things and thinking, "These aren't evil creatures. It's just all they know how to do." They're kind of dumb. That's what I thought of these guys. They're just programmed to eat and feed. They just sniff stuff out and go and eat it. They don't have this hatred or this evil compulsion to go and attack. It's just what they do.

And Satan I think its kind of fun, in a weird way.

QUESTION: How about sequels?

LAWRENCE: If people like the movie and embrace the movie, I think there's always a possibility for that. You could tell tons of stories with Constantine.

QUESTION: Do you know what you would like to see?

LAWRENCE: I've thought about it, but I don't think anything's solid yet until we see what happens.

QUESTION: Are you and the cast obligated for sequels?

LAWRENCE: No, I'm not obligated, but I would do one in second. I don't know if the cast is or not. I don't know what their deals are.




E-mail the Continuum at RobAlls@aol.com



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