On May 3, Warner Bros. Animation will release DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery, a new collection of short movies that also includes Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth!, Blue Beetle, and The Losers. Produced by Rick Morales (Mortal Kombat Legends, Injustice), these shorts boast an incredible array of talent both in terms of the creatives and phenomenal A-List cast members.
Earlier this week, we spoke with director Matt Peters about taking the helm of stories focusing on John Constantine and Kamandi. In this interview, the filmmaker talks in detail about picking up where Justice League Dark: Apokolips War left off with The House of Mystery, bringing Matt Ryan (Legends of Tomorrow) back to play the demonologist, and whether there's more to come.
Peters also talks about the incredible Jack Kirby-inspired animation used for Kamandi, casting Cameron Monaghan (Jedi: Fallen Order) as that hero, and the possibility of a feature-length sequel.
We've seen all four shorts and you're in for a treat when May 3 rolls around. Each of them puts a fresh spin on its lead, and should leave you wanting more. Hopefully, these DC Showcase Animated Shorts become a yearly part of the DC Animated Universe slate; Peters (who also helmed the Injustice movie) certainly sounds willing to continue telling stories in this format, anyway!
With Constantine - The House of Mystery, how soon did the idea to make this a continuation of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War come up?
Well, it wasn’t discussed while we were making the movie actually. When I was co-directing with Christina Sota and we were just focusing on bringing an end to James Tucker’s universe essentially. He did such a long run with so many movies, once it got to Apokolips War, we looked at that as an opportunity to put the final chapter on it. That was what we were all thinking and, as soon as we were done and we were wrapping up, they put me on my next production and then Rick [Morales] approached me and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a House of Mystery short we want to work on with Constantine and it’s going to continue what was left out from Apokolips War.’ I said, ‘Wow, this is great! We can put a little epilogue on the movie we just worked on.’
Do you view this as an epilogue to that movie or perhaps a tease laying the groundwork for more stories to come, particularly with John Constantine?
[Laughs] Well, I think Constantine is a really bright and colourful character and a lot of people love him. I can’t imagine we’re not going to end up seeing him again in the future. It really comes down to what the other creatives and Warner Bros. is thinking. It’s also about whether James wants to get involved, whether Rick wants to do something, or even if another executive comes in with an idea to pitch. Whether it’s a continuation or not, we’ll see, because it’s too good a character to pass up and I can’t imagine we’d stop, but I have no idea what will come next!
Matt Ryan obviously voiced Constantine in Apokolips War, but how important was it to you that he reprise the role for this short as well?
I’m so grateful that we got him because I personally could not imagine how we could make this without him. He’s such a treat to work with and such a great guy. Our voice director, Wes [Gleason], did such an outstanding job working with him and they’d worked together before. Obviously, I just consider it a blessing that we got to work with him again and I hope he feels the same way. I know he put that into his performance, but it must have been a treat for him to come back as well.
We see a mixture of that Apokolips War-era animation with a new style in the House of Mystery, so what were some of the biggest inspirations for the latter?
I think it’s great to start with one thing where we have the look and feel of Apokolips War, but to then put a slight spin on it by saying this is something unique and different. Of course, it’s also technically a House of Mystery short, so we were focusing on exploring the house itself in its own style and make it stand out as its own separate thing. We definitely wanted it to feel like a continuation of the other movie and didn’t want it to feel like we weren’t involving the other film. If you watch Apokolips War, you’re definitely going to get a lot more out of it as it feels like the epilogue we wanted it to be. However, it also works as its own individual piece where you can make it a character study about Constantine and how he denies himself satisfaction and enjoyment.
I was blown away by the Jack Kirby-inspired animation in Kamandi and honestly think it might be one of my favourite styles I’ve seen in one of these movies; where did the idea for that come from and how challenging was it to pull off?
Well, thank you first off for saying that. I’m glad you liked it as much as we did. I’ll tell you, it was really Rick. Rick was the one who pushed for it. He sold me the idea and told me that was what he wanted to do, and he worked super hard with the designers to really cement the style, giving us that Jack Kirby style, but also make it work with a 2D animation. Rick knows so much about animation and design, it was just perfect that he was able to get the two of them to marry. For me, it was just a matter of reading the comic books and trying to draw out as much inspiration as we could from them. Being a fan of Planet of the Apes, it was just a delight being part of bringing that to life. I always say that the look and design of that film are what carries it more than anything and I think the designers and Rick should get a special award just for all the hard work they did on this one.
You’re someone who has worked on quite a few of these DC projects now, and I know some do take inspiration from comic book artwork, but would you like to see these movies also translate other specific artists’ work to screen as Kamandi does with Jack Kirby?
Oh, absolutely. I think the best thing about animation is there are so many varieties of what you can do to create stories or the look of something. With live-action, you’re dealing with cinematography and lighting, but you’re still filming a real person. Whereas with animation, the sky is the limit. You can make characters look different with various styles and designs, and it changes the entire tone and rhythm of the movie. That’s what makes animation so exciting. I love it whenever they find an opportunity to do different styles and, in this case, this style was such a fun thing to work with. I think it turned out fantastic and I would love to see them do more of this kind of stuff.
Like Matt Ryan, Cameron Monaghan is a great choice of actor for that role; what was it like bringing him into this world and what was it about him that you think made him right to play Kamandi?
The casting was out of my hands as Rick was more involved with that, but when he told me, I said ‘Oh my God, this is great. Are you kidding me?’ Then he played the audition and I thought Cameron just nailed it. I remember listening to them and using that for inspiration with how we would make the character move and act. A voice actor brings so much to a character that people just don’t understand; we, the artists, listen to that performance and really try to capture it in an artistic way. They’re able to do the vocal end of it, and we’re the ones who try to adapt that into something visual. It was a blast. He really threw himself into the role and was an absolute professional. He looked like he was having a ball and I hope he had as much fun as we did listening to him. I’d love to have another opportunity to work with him again.
Without getting into spoilers, I was so invested by the time that big ending rolled around, are you hopeful the door is open at DC to perhaps return to this world in a feature-length format?
I think it’s great when people don’t know these characters that well because it means they’re getting something new. That’s great. It’s great to have something new enter a person’s life. I wasn’t alive when the original comic was published, but I discovered it later as I started to explore Jack Kirby’s work. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be that way for people with animation as well as it can help them discover new things. The feedback we’ve got for the film has been great and a lot of people have said really wonderful things, like yourself. We loved working on it, so it’s really a matter of whether Warner Bros. listens to the fans and if the fans are vocal enough and how much they like it, I can’t imagine we wouldn’t get another opportunity.
As a filmmaker, how does your approach to storytelling differ when it comes to telling a self-contained story within a feature-length film or short movie?
It’s actually fun to work on the shorts because you’re trying to keep the emotional arc consistent when you’re making any kind of film, whether it be a short, feature, or TV show. When you have something that’s a feature, you have to have that emotional arc carry over from act to act and tie up all loose ends and feel emotionally satisfied by the end. That lends itself to a lot of variety which is interesting and fun, but sometimes when you’re dealing with a short, it can be short and sweet and you feel like you’re dealing with a classic episode of The Twilight Zone where you can jump into an idea or concept and jump out just as quick. You don’t really have to get lost in adding extra detail or exploring it any further than time allows. In an odd way, that’s liberating. I love working on shorts and features, but each of them has its own potential for different kinds of storytelling. They’re both fun.
With these being shorts, does a lot of material end up on the cutting room floor? In Constantine, we see him put through the wringer in a big way, so are there a lot of death scenes that you didn’t have room for, or are you very specific with the story you’re telling due to those time constraints?
It’s a fun thing. We always have time constraints, so sometimes you have to be shorter and just jump into a story and jump out. That’s when you end up wishing it was a feature because you’ll say, ‘Oh, we could have really explored more of their personality here,’ but we just don’t always have that luxury!
DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery arrives on Digital & Blu-ray on May 3.