“I get by with a little help from my friends.” So sang the inimitable Billy Shears. It’s a sentiment we can all relate to, to one extent or another. And for all he might protest, the same is true of DC’s gruff demon hunter John Constantine. Damian O’Hare would know. In addition to playing Constantine himself in ‘Justice League Action’, he has also given voice Chas Chandler, John’s oldest (read: longest surviving) friend for the recent animated release ‘Constantine: City of Demons’. As you might imagine, this gives him a somewhat unique sense of the two characters’ relationship, which did not escape our notice when we sat down to chat with O’Hare in advance of the film’s New York Comic Con premiere.
Can you sum up your take on the character of Chas?
Well, it was great to be asked to do this, because I played Constantine in ‘Justice League Action’. So to be asked to do this was wonderful. I’m a great fan of Matt’s, obviously, and the live-action show and everything. And this story, it was a lot darker than the ‘Justice League Action’ ones. But Chas and Constantine are friends. They’ve been friends since they were kids, and they grew up together. There’s a lovely little montage at the start of the movie where you see them growing up in Liverpool together and being in a band. Something awful happened twenty years previously, so they haven’t seen each other in a long time. And we get to find out what that is throughout the movie. Chas’s daughter is in a coma at the start of the movie, so he goes and asks because he thinks there’s something magical behind it. Something dark magical behind it. So he goes to his old friend to ask for his help. And it’s great and it sort of starts off this relationship between myself and Constantine in a bar. We actually played it as if it was a live action movie, you know? We played it at that pace and it was sort of as emotional and as real as that, which is a great springboard then for the rest of the movie. And the writing is so good in it that it plays out like a real movie. And of course the movie’s ninety-odd minutes long, so it’s a great amount of time to spend with the characters, and then when things start to get crazy, it’s grounded in that sort of reality. It really sort of works. But Chas is, as J.M. (DeMatteis, writer) was saying earlier on, he’s sort of the audience’s eye into the picture. He’s very much the everyman, even though he’s seen a bit of this magic before. Every situation he goes into, he’s a bit like the audience, whereas for Constantine this is a daily occurrence. But it was great to play him, and Constantine have a great relationship, there’s a lot of banter, a lot of back and forth. There’s a lot of comedy in it as well, which is nice to see because it can get very dark.
Having played both characters how would you contrast Chas and John?
Well as I said, in ‘Justice League Action’, I think John Constantine – the version I’ve played – is obviously more of a peripheral character in that, because the stars are Batman and the like. I would say he’s… lighter? Definitely a lot lighter in tone than in this one. This guy here is so dark, whereas in ‘Justice League’ he’s quite mischievous. Here, John is very dark. But as opposed to the John in ‘City of Demons’ and Chas, Chas a bit like a Labrador. he’s sort of a faithful puppy to John’s cynical sort of… I don’t know what kind of dog he would be, maybe a Rottweiler in a trenchcoat or something like that? [laughs] Smokin’ a cigarette. Maybe a beagle. But there’s a great relationship with the two of them. They’re very different and yet you can see why they would be friends as well. But certainly, John is the more hard-bitten character between the two. But the relationship is wonderfully explored in it. And as I say, there’s a lot of comedy in it.
Why do you think the movie will appeal to comic book fans?
I think because they love Constantine as a character. As I was saying earlier, I think it is that darkness and that anti-hero in him that appeals to people. He’s not clean cut, he does get into scrapes, he says things that maybe we’d want to say at that time but there’s that sort of filter in your head that says “No, don’t say that!” He’ll just go in and say it, light a cigarette and walk off. And I think that’s very appealing to people. And it’s very true to his character in the comics as well. And I think J.M. was saying that in this it’s a meld of three of the ‘Hellblazer’ stories, so without giving anything away at the end, under pain of death, there’s a great springboard. An opportunity for more, I can say.
How would you describe Chas’s relationship with his wife Renee?
Well, we see them… I don’t know what I can say.
The premiere’s in a few hours, you can tell us!
They have… it’s grounded in them having a great relationship. And the whole premise of why he comes to Constantine is because of the love him and his wife have, and the little triumvirate they’ve got with the daughter as well. And that’s basically what the whole story hinges on. And there’s a huge thing at the end that happens – which I cannot reveal as this man looms into view – which sort of tests the love that they’ve got. It’s really emotional and it’s real, and it sort of sets up the whole chase across Los Angeles. And John knows that. There’s a great sort of platonic relationship that John and Chas have as well. So hopefully love will win out at the end of the movie, but maybe not in the resolution that everyone thinks. That’s a cop out! [laughs] But it’s my cop out and I’m sticking to it!
Is there a storyline you’d like to adapt, given the chance?
Well, Chas’s character might go a different way at the end of the movie, so we’ll have to see what that entails. But there could be a Chas movie. Who knows? Why not?
‘Constantine: City of Demons’ stars Matt Ryan, Damian O’Hare, and Rachel Kimsey. The film is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms.