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February 2005
Constantine: An Interview with Djimon Hounsou

Constantine: An Interview with Djimon Hounsou

By Todd Gilchrist

Djimon Hounsou began his career as a slave in Steven Spielberg's "Amistad", and in his latest film, "Constantine", he plays a half-breed deity; it appears that turnabout really is fair play in Hollywood. The actor, a native African who found his way to tinsel town via fashion catwalks and a few sporadic appearances on TV shows, has in recent years continued to prove that he is capable of playing challenging roles, and playing them well; last year, he enjoyed the spoils of an Oscar nomination for his supporting turn in "In America". Hounsou recently spoke to blackfilm.com about his career, his character in "Constantine", and his continuing development as an actor.

What's the worst pronunciation you've ever heard of your name?

Djimon Hounsou: You don't want to know. I've heard some things that are close to the line of a demon or something like that, so I don't really want to repeat it.

How much fun did you have playing this character?

DH: Oh, it was fun, it was fun. You could obviously tell that Papa Midnite was fun and I had a great time with him. Obviously, Papa Midnite has a great sense of business, I guess.

Did you do a lot of research or was it all in the script?

DH: I really think this is one movie you don't want to research, you know, because of the subject matter. You know, I don't really want to go and see Hell, you know, or see anybody performing exorcisms, so...

You have some great costumes. Do you get to keep them?

DH: Thank you. I'm about to pick it up. It's upstairs, I think.

What are your own views regarding the idea of good and evil?

DH: Um, it reflects a lot on what we do here on earth; how we go about dealing with each other with one another, and how the state of our mind is in this world. I mean, I think if there is hell, I can't be certain, but I can talk about it's really the negative mind breeds the greed of people. That's really, that's hell.

How do you work as an actor?

DH: It's not so much about doing things differently- yes and no- but I think it mostly has to do with complementing the text and being accurate to the moment and keeping that moment, uh, making that moment accurate, really. Whatever it takes, or if you have to alter it and there can be different ways of saying the same thing, like how we relate to the feeling, but there can be different ways and it's the choice you make then and also the choice the director chooses to take you on.

Do you prefer to be directed, or do you like your freedom?

DH: I like it, well, yeah, I do like direction. I do like, because my point of view is not necessarily the best point of view, and can never be the only point of view of things, and that's Papa Midnite talking. He's a politician, so you have to rely on the great vision of a director who's completely removed from the performance, in respect to each performance, you have to be removed, and you have to be completely objective with the story to be able to...

Did you read any of the comic books for inspiration?

DH: No, I didn't. I did not. I found it could be too distracting, because obviously I don't, the comic books are one story, and I think this story I think also has a lot to do with the fact that to give credit where credit is due. Akiva Goldsman did great work in making the story stand on its own without having to go to other areas.

Western audiences relate to your character a bit like he's a voodoo priest. Do you relate to his mystical ties?

DH: I definitely relate to his witchcraft, sort of signs, I mean, that I that's where I draw some of the experiences have to do with my traditional, my traditions in Africa. So those were some of the areas where I drew some experiences, just seeing some people do spiritual or Bible sort of ceremonies and so forth..."

Was Papa Midnite's world created the way you envisioned it?

DH: Uh, not quite. I mean, obviously I never thought it was that huge, and I never thought that I was going to like, and trying to think of now, it's a very, very powerful household. I mean, you have the luxury for the breeds and the half-breeds to coexist in one place, that place has got to be very strong. No matter how you look at it, it's very powerful, so that part of it came later, realizing, 'wow, how heavy that room must be.'

What was it like to get there after it was built?

DH: It was great. I mean, everything, everything is a plus to make your character and to make you respond and be receptive to a character or all of the elements of the character. So yeah, I mean, it really did hit home once, yeah...

What was it like working with Keanu, and how does he stack up against some of your former co-stars?

DH: At the end of the day, we are all different people anyway by just our conditioning and so forth, and Russell Crowe is Russell Crowe and Keanu Reeves is Keanu Reeves and they are all special in their own right, but I had a great time working with Keanu Reeves and working with him and seeing how anal he is about work. I mean, he works hard at his craft, and the dedication, looking at his body of work it's like 'wow' because the guy is still very serious about it.

How has your life changed since the Oscar nomination?

DH: How it has changed, I never really will know, because this is still the beginning of things of new things, so I'm still just coming to continue experiencing and living and benefiting all of the great things that came from the nomination. All of this is part of the learning process. So I'm having a great time and it does change no matter how you look at it. I don't know all of the aspects it has changed about my life yet, because I'm still living and some of it you don't necessarily know what it's changing, because it's taking its own course so for a lot of it you don't know what's happening to you.

Do you feel more pressure to accept 'serious' roles?

DH: I don't know. Honestly, I don't know. I mean, it certainly carries a certain weight, I mean, you know, and it certainly commands a certain respect and obviously I get some more phone calls, and that's a good thing. But again you'll never know until farther down the line what the benefits of it are.

Are you interested in returning to this role again?

DH: Oh definitely. I loved to play the part of Midnite. I love to comprehend and dig in deeper to Papa Midnite. I think Papa Midnite is very complex. He's the one politician who's there and John Constantine doesn't really see his politics to be good politics.

Do you think it's good to be neutral like he is, or should you pick a side in conflicts?

DH: Yeah. We all are ultimately responsible for picking a side or not picking a side. Staying neutral, it's a chosen route, really. We are all responsible for what we do in life, but neutrality may just be another way, I think the same way God looks at things and the Devil to coexist, you know. You do have to allow the balance of things; things take their own course really in life.

When you go home to Africa, are you greeted as a celebrity?

DH: They do celebrate me a lot of times; they celebrate me more than I know they celebrate me. Because I'm mostly never there and they always every month, they bring the movie out, or some of my movies out, and they always get sold out. So they do celebrate me.

Do you contribute to charities in Africa?

DH: I do certain charities but I also try to look at all of the charities that are out there to really make the choice to be part of a charity that can benefit my countrymen.

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