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Netflix’s long-awaited The Sandman — based on Neil Gaiman’s much-loved comic series — proved to be something of a hit for the streamer, amassing a billion minutes of viewing and storming to the top of its own charts just three days after its release back in August. The series also managed to charm both critics and fans, praised for its lavish fantasy world and the emotional depth of it characters.
A significant amount of the noise has centered on Johanna Constantine, the occult detective with a penchant for exorcisms. Jenna Coleman plays two iterations of the character: one based in the modern day (effectively a gender-flipper version of DC superhero John Constantine), the other her identical 18th-century ancestor. Although Johanna only appeared in a few episodes, it wasn’t long before there were calls for her to be given her own spinoff series.
Coleman wasn’t around to bathe in the glory, however, having spent the last few months trekking across various parts of North America shooting limited series Wilderness, Amazon Prime’s road-trip love story from director So Yong Kim, in which she stars alongside Oliver Jackson-Cohen. And having finally wrapped in the Grand Canyon in late September, Coleman is back in the U.K. for the world premiere of an entirely different project: actor-turned-filmmaker Neil Maskell’s directorial debut Klokkenluider.
A darkly comic, Ben Wheatley-produced thriller about a hapless government whistleblower and his partner sent to hide in a remote Belgian cottage (klokkenluider is Dutch for “whistleblower”), the movie is getting its first bow at the BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 8. Klokkenluider also marks the first major film role for Coleman following a decade of an extraordinary sharp rise on the small screen after her major breakthrough as Doctor Who companion Clara Oswald back in 2012.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Coleman discusses shooting Klokkenluider in lockdown (while living in a big house and sending people out for groceries), Gaiman’s enthusiasm for seeing more of her Johanna Constantine on screen, and whether or not the public support for her character was behind Warner Bros. finally announcing its long-awaited Constantine sequel starring Keanu Reeves.
You must be delighted about the reaction to The Sandman and in particular your character Johanna Constantine.
I’m so thrilled. It was obviously one of those shows that’s so difficult to adapt and that’s why it’s been 30 years in the making. I managed to get over to Comic-Con and hung out with Neil and everyone there and see the trailer for the first time, so to see the whole Gaim-ian imagination and see his world depicted cinematically, it’s been really thrilling. And I feel like it’s had a great reaction amongst the fans as well as the critics.
Have you had a chance to watch it yourself?
I haven’t seen it yet! Wilderness has been one of those shows that’s so intense that I haven’t actually been able to watch anything for ages. It’s been mad hours and lots of traveling. But everyone else seems to love it!
Have you heard all the calls for a Johanna Constantine spinoff series?
I have, from Neil himself! One of the reasons that I wanted to do it was that the character felt so formed, and what was really thoughtful of Neil and Allan [Heinberg] is that they sent the script over to me, but they didn’t tell me who the character was. So I didn’t know it was Constantine when I read it. So I formed my own thoughts about who this person was without having any preconceptions of Constantine before, which was really smart. But yeah, Neil filled me in.
And is it something he’d like to do?
Yeah, he and Allan are really behind it. They seem to think it would be a good idea.
And have you heard any news about a second season being commissioned?
I haven’t. I know that talks are going ahead at the moment, but I’ve been pretty off-grid in the Arizona desert.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that shortly after The Sandman launched, Warner Bros. confirmed the Constantine film sequel with Keanu Reeves.
I couldn’t comment, but Constantine in his and her many forms seems to be making a bit of a comeback. I’d love to take credit for it!
How does it feel to be sort of related to Keanu Reeves and also taking over from Keanu Reeves?
I know, I’ve been enjoying that. I’ve actually been walking around saying I’m basically Keanu Reeves.
You’re starring in Klokkenluider, which is having its world premiere at the London Film Festival. From the trailer, it looks a little nuts. Can you describe it?
It’s totally nuts. I’ve actually just watched it on the train, and I absolutely adore dark comedy and I’m a fan of Ben Wheatley, who’s produced this. It’s got this very unnerving, claustrophobic, pranging off-kilter feel to it. You have a sense of unease watching it the whole way, but the comedy set against that takes you off in such a different direction. Neil [Maskell]’s writing is so razor sharp and hilarious, so the whole time you have this creeping sense of dread. I have to say, Tom Burke and Roger Evans are absolutely hilarious, and it was one of those jobs where we did a lot of takes and would improvise, and seeing them as a comedy duo, with these dark undertones, was brilliant.
Last time I saw Neil, he was chopping off fingers in the absolutely brutal Bull. This doesn’t sound remotely as bloody.
No, it’s definitely not as bloody. It’s a comedy thriller that sort of sends you in a different direction and then the comedy makes you feel settled for a second and then it’s undercut and it shifts. It’s very much about leading the audience into a false sense of security. It’s very unpredictable.
You’ve obviously been doing a lot of TV over the years. Is this your first film role in some time?
Yes, it has been quite a while. I had a period where I was working on Doctor Who and then three weeks later went straight onto Victoria, and then a play, and then The Serpent, which was a very protracted series, and then Klokkenluider was one of the first scripts I read in lockdown and was a lockdown shoot that we did. It felt joyous to make in so many ways. It was made with such little money as well. What we all had to was pretty much live in this big house together and had three weeks to shoot it, literally sending people out for groceries because we couldn’t leave. It felt like a real labor of love to get it made. And Neil was great. You could see he was in his element for his first movie.
And did it feel nice to take a break from TV? Would you like to do more film?
Yeah, I’d absolutely love to get into the indie film world more. Especially having done a couple of long jobs and the beauty of something being more auteured, you get to step into that world and it’s not such a big commitment. But the thing is, right now there are so many good scripts in TV as well.
You mentioned Doctor Who. It’s been a few years since you’ve been in the TARDIS, but do you still check in with all things Whovian and are you excited about the incoming reign of Ncuti Gatwa?
Yeah, very excited. And obviously to see Russell T. Davies back at the helm. I still speak to Matt (Smith) and Peter (Capaldi). I got a really nice message from Steven (Moffat) the other day saying it was 10 years since I’d been on it, which was terrifying. But yeah, it’s very much like a family. I feel like it’s one of those jobs that never leaves you.
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