Matt Ryan explains how Constantine confronts his dark past (and old shows) in Legends of Tomorrow

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Nov 27, 2018, 5:26 PM EST (Updated)

Let’s face facts. The foul-mouthed John Constantine, as portrayed by Matt Ryan, is hardly a team player. The Master of the Occult prefers to hunt demons on his own and play by his own rules. On television, he has reluctantly partnered up with various heroes or come to their aid. However, after the Legends of Tomorrow defeated Mallus in the Season 3 finale, Constantine showed up to announce they had opened up the door for even more mystical menaces to enter our plane of existence.

He ultimately declined Sara Lance’s invitation to join the Legends… until an evil from Constantine’s past began haunting him.

This month, Ryan spoke to a group of journalists, including SYFY WIRE, about shaking up the Legends of Tomorrow’s status quo, Constantine’s baggage, and his character’s sexuality.

This far in, how is Constantine assimilating to being part of a team?

Matt Ryan: How does Constantine ever assimilate to being part of a team? He’s someone — we all know, don’t we? — who doesn’t work well with a team, but I think it’s a necessity for him and for them as well. I feel that he works well in this team, better in this team than he would in any other, because they are all misfits, they all have their problems. What’s been interesting is seeing the relationships develop. Each episode there’s a little bit more of the relationships between each one of the characters that is expanded even more.

For me, it's great because they are all relationships that I haven’t read about. What’s great about Constantine is all the source material is there, so you can get your head into that, but we’re doing stuff that I can’t get from the comics, so it’s creating that. That’s been the challenge and the fun thing, and working out all those different dynamics and relationships has been great.

He’s got his motives while he’s there. The crew is growing on him. All those relationships are developing, so whatever his ultimate motives are will probably be harder to go through with.

Aside from Gary, are we going to see Constantine get any other love interest this season?

Ahh… maybe. Maybe.

Is Gary it for him?

The one thing I love about John is so many people around him die, and there’s this great thing about him, that he knows that. So there’s a part of him that wants to protect people from him, which is sad for him. It’s ultimately a really tragic thing for him. He keeps people at arm’s length. He’s done that with Gary. It was a little bit of a fling.

Is it because Constantine feels he’s not deserving?

In terms of his relationships? I think it’s more to do with: The shit will go down on them if they open up to him. If John brings them into his fray, they are in for trouble. It’s almost like the more he likes them, the less he’ll get involved with them. If it’s a one-night stand, he’s fine. But if it’s going to develop as a relationship, then it’s more dangerous for them. So there is a loving kind of protecting thing about him that he’s trying to do. But we might see something happen somewhere along the line.

How much of Constantine’s baggage is from what we have seen from you specifically playing this character on the NBC series and in the animated series? How much of that is being brought onto his backstory here?

It’s the same character. It’s the same DNA of the character. The way I see it, it is like I’ve read so many of the comics now. There are so many different artists, different writers. Sometimes you go from one to another. He has the same outline, but he looks different. The hair is slightly different. He has a slightly different cadence sometimes. Different artists and different writers write him in different ways. I kind of feel like Legends is like that.

From the NBC show to Justice League Dark to Constantine: City of Demons, they are different colors. Or, not different colors. They are all different kinds of comic books with different writers and artists who have drawn him. It’s still the same DNA of the character.

In terms of the storyline we did on the NBC show with the Brujeria, we won’t be getting into that. But John still carries that baggage around with him, especially the Astra storyline is so much of a driving force in John’s makeup I think, the fact that he damned that little girl to hell. That is definitely there. We mention that a few times. In terms of the Brujeria storyline, we won’t be getting into that on this show.

One of the reasons Constantine joined the team in the first place is because something from his past started to re-emerge. Can you tease about how that develops in the coming episodes?

What’s great about being on an ensemble show is the fact that it’s not just Constantine. There’s got to be all these other storylines, character development and stuff like that. But, it’s in the background. It’s lingering. Why is he here? What’s going on? What’s following him? What’s after him? That’s a slow burn throughout the whole season, which is great.

I think we do really see a kind of development in John on this show that we maybe didn’t get to see so much on the NBC show since we didn’t finish it. Well, we got to the cliffhanger. We weren’t able to do the arc the writers wanted to do. I think on this show we are really going to see a nice arc for him. That’s great for me to play a full arc on a season, rather than getting cut short and not being able to ride it to the end.

In "Wet Hot American Bummer," the idea of saving an innocent child is still something that weighs on John. Do you think when you are dealing with magical bad guys who kind of know you inside and out, that that’s something we can see continue to be an Achilles’ heel?

Definitely. John’s arrogance is an Achilles’ heel for him. He’s a master of the occult in the DC Universe, but he’s a little cocky. Well, he’s not a little cocky. He’s totally cocksure. And, that’s a total Achilles’ heel for him. Yeah, for sure. I think demons will play on that.

John Constantine, Legends of Tomorrow

Credit: The CW

But, then the great thing about John is even when he’s down and you feel like he’s lost, and the demons have got him, he’s always got a little trick up his sleeve. It’s interesting because when we shot that episode, that line wasn’t in there. It was to do with saving the kids, but that specific line wasn’t in there. I put it in. I wanted to make it directly about, “I’m not losing another kid,” because that’s such a strong drive for him, and especially if he is giving his life force away. He really needs a strong motive for that, especially someone who is as selfish and arrogant as John, who wouldn’t give himself up so easily.

We also saw in the summer camp episode that there is humor in pushing John outside of what he is comfortable with, putting him in shorts and a polo shirt. In the rest of the season, how far are they going to push that, putting him in a place where he’s not necessarily comfortable with the surroundings?

It feels like John’s the grounding body of the show. He’s kind of like this heavy-weight character, but has this wit and cynicism. He doesn’t dress up much. He’s not in a different costume to go to a different timeline. One of my arguments with that was he would just put a glamour spell on himself or he would just go, “Piss off, I’m not doing that.”

John has to have such a motivation to do things he doesn’t want to do. Otherwise, he would just go like that [flips the bird]. To be true to the character, I was like, “He’s not just going to put on a wig and go pretend to be someone somewhere else, unless he wants to.” For each one, it’s been like, "John wouldn’t do that. He’d just be like, 'Piss off. I’m wearing my trench coat.'" Or, he would put a glamour spell on himself so everyone else looks like it. But, even if we did do the whole glamour spell thing in each episode, then that would probably cost a lot of money for him to look like something else. So, the other shot would be a logistical nightmare.

There’s certainly a lot of fun with John being in different scenarios, in different times and different timelines and all that. And finding more of a comedy on this show than we did on the NBC show. The drama was really grounded and rooted in the NBC show. The little quips and the one-liners were funny, but it wasn’t comedy. I feel like there’s been a little more room for me to play that kind of the character. I’ve gone back to the comic books and looked at some of the panels, where it’s hilarious.

I love the character so much because he’s hilarious to me, just his one-liners. He’s absolutely hilarious, but he’s just so dark as well. But it’s been fun to explore a little bit more of the comedy. But I’ve also had to check myself a few times to keep him where he is.

A lot of that comedy in that summer camp episode also came from pairing him with Ray, who is such a great contrast to him. Do we get to see him paired up with any other characters that he gets to know in future episodes?

The other thing I like about that is the kind of tumultuous relationship between him and Ava. Then there’s a tiny bit when they come together, they agree on something. It’s tiny, but it’s just a little light at the end of the tunnel. Yeah, we do see him pair up with a bunch of the other ones, with Maisie’s character, Charlie, which works really well.

What I love about the relationship with Ray is I feel that because Ray is so innocent and so true, John wants to look after him. He kind of fears in this world of magic that he’s going to get burned, and he’s going to get burned bad. So, there’s kind of a fatherly thing going on there as well, which I really like. And the contrast of me and Brandon [Routh]…. He’s like this and I’m like that [uses hands to show height difference]. It’s really fun. It’s great. The one relationship I’m really looking forward to getting into is the one with Mick. I love it. Me and Dom [Purcell] have been coming up with some stuff, because I think they are two peas in a pod. I think they butt heads, but then, ultimately, they are two peas in a pod.

Nora Darhk was recruited to save Constantine in "Tagumo Attacks!!!" Are those two damaged supernatural characters kindred spirits? What’s that dynamic like?

What’s great about the relationship with Nora is she was a kid when John tried to help her, and he slightly abandoned her and now she’s a grown woman, so that dynamic is really interesting. That plays into the whole child aspect that John feels guilty about, with Astra and other children, which is a running theme. And a demon has been part of her, as a demon has with John as well.

But John’s a master of the occult. You’ve got someone on this side, who is a witch and has magic and then someone who knows everything about it. It’s proven to be a really, really cool dynamic. It’s almost as if… I wish… she would have been great on the original show as well, because the relationship he had with Zed at NBC was he was like a mentor figure to her. That’s like that here, but she’s a lot more experienced than Zed was. So, they are a lot more on an even keel, which is a good kind of dynamic to play.

Can you talk a little bit about the person Nora flashes on when she’s helping Constantine?

I think I should leave that for you guys to watch it. That’s going to be part of the storyline. It’s part of John’s past.

The great thing is he has so many demons in the closet and so many previous relationships that have gone wrong, that we can call on. That’s going to be something that we touch on. He’s definitely carrying some baggage and he’s brought some heavy baggage to the Waverider and stuff for him to work out.

DC's Legends of Tomorrow airs on The CW, Mondays at 9 p.m.