When compared to Gotham or The Flash, Constantine may seem to have pretty small cast of core characters, but every single one of them comes directly from the comics. Well, all of them except for one: Manny, the mysterious angel who was first introduced in the show’s pilot and will play a key role in the episodes ahead.
“The only character that’s our own creation in the show right now is ,” says Executive Producer Daniel Cerone. “There were many angels , but we needed to give John a sort of personal angel.”
Don’t think for a moment that this was an arbitrary decision. As fans of Hellblazer, the seminal Vertigo series upon which Constantine is based, already know, spiritual struggles and questions of faith are a big theme in John Constantine’s world, and the producers wanted to make sure that was represented on the show as well. However, to do this effectively, they needed to adopt a different approach than the comics.
"NBC is very interested in the whole Judeo-Christian, heaven-and-hell, salvation/redemption, guilt/torment… They really wanted to explore those as themes,” Cerone says. “Hellblazer does that really well, but it does it in John’s inner monologue. The greatest quotes from the comic book and some of the deepest thoughts… in the panels, they’re his interior monologue. What Manny enabled us to do was sort of give him a personal angel who’s a very complex, questionable and dubious character himself to bring that out in the dialog.”
“We’re able to have a lot of difficult conversations in terms of why bad things happen to good people,” adds Executive Producer David S. Goyer. “Why does God allow that to happen? That’s certainly a conversation in all its iterations that’s discussed quite a bit on the show.”
Manny is embodied by actor Harold Perrineau (of Lost and Oz fame), who faced a challenge unique among his fellow cast members. How do you build a character who is new to Constantine’s world, and have him feel as natural and well-suited to it as Chas and Zed, two characters who have been a part of Hellblazer since its first few issues?
“I read the comics,” answers Perrineau. “But then in order to start building the character, I talked to Daniel quite a bit and one of the heads of NBC. And then I went back to the Bible. I went back to Christian stories. Angels have really interesting stories that come out of the Bible and out of people’s ideas and spirituality. They’re really questionable characters, angels.”
Viewers can expect Manny to fall in this “questionable” category as well. The angels of Constantine’s world are far different than the always benevolent beings serving a peaceful higher power that may be more commonly portrayed in American entertainment.
“What’s fun for us is that we know why this character was brought into our storytelling,” says Cerone. “We have a design and plan, and Harold doesn’t entirely know it. By design! We talk everything through episode to episode, but we don’t want to tip our hand.”
We can expect to get a clearer picture of what that agenda is as the show goes on and Manny takes a more prominent role. One thing that’s clear, this angel doesn’t seem to be acting entirely altruistically.
“We’ve created a mythology where angels have the power to reveal themselves to us, but they typically don’t,” explains Cerone. “When we created the character, I was really channeling Wings of Desire. There are these beings that have been here since the dawn of time to chart and sort of guide our spiritual development, but they’re powerless. They’re not enabled to do much of anything. They’re there to comfort with an invisible hand and a whisper, but they can’t affect change, and after a millennia of that, I would think you would get a little sick of it.”
Adds Goyer, “We haven’t exactly dated how long Manny has been around. He saw the Great Flood. That gives you an interesting perspective on a character that’s been around that long and witnessed that much human history, but also witnessed a God who has committed a giant act like that. He’s got a very unique take on the world and on humanity.”
As for Manny’s take on John Constantine, well, that’s a lot clearer.
“They’re not !” Perrineau makes clear. “But then sometimes Manny is his guardian angel. It’s complicated. It’s a really interesting relationship. At times it’s really antagonistic. He’s not a likable guy, Constantine! From an angel’s point of view, he’s just not a likable fellow.”
Sounds like Manny’s going to fit in with the rest of the DC Universe just fine.
The latest episode of Constantine, “The Devil’s Vinyl,” airs tonight at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. CST) on NBC.