The word ‘iconic’ is perhaps overused among superhero fans; and yet, the truth is that we’re living in an age when comic book icons are being transported on to both the big and small screen at an unprecedented rate. How do actors deal with the pressure of playing such important characters, whose histories can spin back over 70 years? At the Heroes and Villains Fan Fest in London, both Matt Ryan (#Constantine) and Sean Pertwee (Alfred in #Gotham) revealed how they handle it…
Matt Ryan On Becoming Constantine
You can tell the fans love Matt Ryan’s Constantine; one fan asked him how it felt to portray the best incarnation of the sorcerer in popular culture! Visibly touched at such a description, Ryan began to discuss the pressure that comes with the role. For Ryan, there was a deep desire to connect with the character from the comics, to accurately represent his DNA on the small screen.
Back when he was applying for the role of Constantine, Ryan was given comic books by DC, and by his comic book enthusiast friend. Ryan pored through these comics, seeking to fully understand the character in order to truly become the mystical hero. As he read them, he became a fan himself, although he does note that he eventually stopped reading them late at night – after a day playing Constantine, continuing to immerse himself in that dark world was giving him nightmares!
For Matt Ryan, there’s a clear responsibility to appeal to the fans. He matter-of-factly discussed single-issue plot-points, and talked about trying to slip in hints of a Welsh accent (Constantine is supposed to come from Wales, but his accent would have changed as he traveled the world for so many years).
Matt Ryan was quite open about just how much that fan support has meant to him – and how it's kept him in the role, reprising it in Arrow, and now moving over to the animated movies and an upcoming animated TV show!
Sean Pertwee On Becoming Alfred
In a later panel, though, Sean Pertwee gave us his own experience of what it means to play a dearly-loved character. He plays the part of Alfred in Gotham, and he’s made Bruce Wayne’s butler his own. And yet, he reflects, he hasn’t found it too difficult a challenge.
The reason is because the Gotham team took a very different approach to casting roles. The showrunners essentially ‘cherry-picked’ their cast, looking for specific attributes and tips that the actors already had, and then incorporated them into the roles. He describes it as a very interesting, unique process; it meant the actors are uniquely linked to the characters, and change and grow as actors as their roles develop. In Pertwee’s view, it’s the most original way he’s ever been signed up for a particular job.
It's also very different to the process followed by Constantine. Where Matt Ryan swotted up for his role, the showrunners of Gotham subtly shaped the roles to suit their cast. It’s a smart approach; after all, when characters have been in print for so many decades, and we've seen countless different interpretations. Every writer and artist subtly reinterprets the character; from loyal butler to secret-keeper and confessor, Alfred has had so many roles over the years. So the showrunners of Gotham chose a much freer approach, one that has allowed them to hand-pick their actors and let them grow in tandem with their characters.
Two different, contrasting approaches – each one with its own merits. In the case of Constantine, we have what one fan happily referred to as the best incarnation of Constantine in popular culture, where in Gotham we have a fresh new take on a classic role. And yet, they’re both different ways to handle the same challenge; how to interpret such dearly-loved characters and concepts for a whole new medium. It was truly fascinating to get a glimpse of both approaches at #HVFF.
Which iconic DC Comics character would you love to see brought to life on the small screen next? Let us know in the comments!