During The Sandman’s journey toward its Netflix debut, fans not only learned that Game of Thrones vet Gwendoline Christie was taking on the role of Lucifer in a way that is completely distanced from Tom Ellis’ titular TV role, but that former Doctor Who star Jenna Coleman would deliver her own gender-swapped role in the streaming fantasy series. Coleman portrayed the role of Johanna Constantine, both as the present-day comic book occultist and her 18th-century ancestry, which had previously been portrayed in live-action by Keanu Reeves on film, and by Matt Ryan for the small screen’s Arrowverse. And you better believe she was extremely pumped to get the opportunity to play a character outside of her traditional wheelhouse.
Ahead of Netflix subscribers digging into The Sandman, which has been at #1 on the streaming service’s most-watched shows ever since, CinemaBlend and other press spoke with the gothic fantasy’s star Jenna Coleman, who sat alongside the aforementioned Gwendoline Christie and fellow co-star Kirby Howell-Baptiste. When I asked the actress how joining this highly anticipated adaptation as Johanna Constantine compared to all things Doctor Who, Coleman had nothing but happy and positive things to say. Here’s how she started off, as seen in the video above:
Yeah, I mean, similar to Doctor Who in terms of we explore many worlds, realms, states and travel. But yeah, I mean so, so distinctive. We’re talking very much about how hard it is to describe Sandman. It’s so distinctive and so unique. And Neil Gaiman, I’m obviously such a fan of, so as soon as it was sent my way, it was like a complete no-brainer. And to be honest, just a joy. The character is so formed on the page, so complex.
Though it’s not clear if Jenna Coleman would have been just as excited to join The Sandman if Neil Gaiman hadn’t been so involved in co-developing the meticulous adaptation, we thankfully don’t need to worry about such hypotheticals, since his fingerprints are all over the whimsical ten-episode series. One of the bigger changes that Gaiman and showrunner Allan Heinberg (as well as EP David S. Goyer) made from the comic book source material was John Constantine becoming Johanna Constantine, and though it was mildly surprising that it happened, it’s easy to understand why. Not only did it give The Sandman an opportunity to stand apart from previous live-action takes on the Hellblazer grump, but it also gave Jenna Coleman more chances to shine within this fantastical universe.
The Sandman’s narrative flow intentionally takes Tom Sturridge’s Dream on a location-jaunting journey throughout the course of Season 1, as it goes in the comic, which meant fans didn’t get a huge abundance of Johanna Constantine. But what’s there is worth savoring, both for viewers and for Jenna Coleman herself, who spoke further about why she dug the roles so much.
I like her. Like, she’s hilarious, and she’s unlike other characters that I’ve played before. She’s cynical and she’s dry, and there’s a lot of emotional complexity going on. She’s a lone warrior in the world, and tortured and wounded, but hilarious and pragmatic. And obviously getting to play Johanna Constantine as well, and kind of having the link between those two characters also being relatives. But [with] Lady Constantine having a very different kind of cold, cunning calculation, and a very different relationship, I think, with Dream as well.
The way she talks about the character, it seems clear Jenna Coleman took the time to figure out what made John Constantine tick, and how that would work with a different kind of energy. (Although with the same bi-friendly vibes as the male version of the DC character.) And just as clear is how much of a hoot it was for Coleman to play.
(Image credit: Netflix)
Johanna Constantine definitely held her own in the annals of Constantine performances, though the only version that Jenna Coleman was familiar with going into The Sandman was Keanu Reeves’ film. Elsewhere in the interview, she and Christie were asked about their engagement with previous iterations of their characters, to which Coleman said:
I stayed away from other versions. I watched the Constantine film, and then I went down a kind of exorcist research route. But the scripts were sent to me without telling me who it was to begin with, so I had a very instinctive reaction, which was kind of not infiltrated by anything else, just purely to the script and the page and the character, the person in front of me. And I felt it was so fully formed and clear, and I just felt like I knew who she was instantly. So a lot of it was trusting that and, again, sticking to the source material and reading, as opposed to watching any other live-action versions of Constantine.
Interestingly enough, former Legends of Tomorrow star Matt Ryan, whose Constantine was written off of the show ahead of its final season, actually reprised the role in animated form for the latest episode (opens in new tab) of HBO Max’s Harley Quinn, after having voiced the detective in both features and TV projects over the years. Will Jenna Coleman’s version live on beyond The Sandman? One can only…dream. (Sorry, I had to.)
The Sandman is currently available to stream in full on Netflix (opens in new tab), with hopes for a Season 2 renewal presumably strong within most people who’ve watched. While waiting, head to our 2022 TV premiere schedule to see what other new and returning shows are on the way.