Constantine's Michael James Shaw On Papa Midnite: If You Follow the Comics, You Can't Go Wrong

Tonight will see Michael James Shaw making his Constantine debut as the hugely-anticipated character Papa Midnite.

One of the most layered, complex and sometimes perplexing characters in the Hellblazer canon, Midnite is a powerful mystic whose ethical code is...let's just say his own to figure out.

Shaw spoke with ComicBook.com about bringing the character to the screen.

Can you give us a read on how you intend to play the character?

As inscrutable as possible.

Does a character who rides the fence of good and bad gives you more range of motion in terms of your portrayal?

Yes. I think that all the characters teeter on good and bad all the time, even Constantine. You may not even know as a character if you're doing evil or doing good, you're just going after what you want and letting the audience decide if it's good or bad. You can track some things in Constantine's history where he's not totally been on the good side in his actions all the time.

That's certainly been part of a show so far; people come in, they have a history, they don't like him. Is it a fair assumption that Papa Midnite will come in with that baggage as well?

We're definitely jumping in midway through their relationship. It's filled with all the baggage of their history and it's very clear that they're sometimes friends and sometimes adversaries in the first moment. You know there's a huge history here and John is reluctant to actually enter [Midnite's] realm because of that.

In the feature film, Djimon Hounsou was a highlight. Did you look to that for inspiration or did you avoid that to craft your own take?

I kind of avoided it. I'd seen the movie before but I also realized that these are different writers. It's a different team executing this version of the story and I wanted to adhere to what they were doing as opposed to latch onto stuff that was done before.

Also, they're all drawn from the comic books. So if you're going from the comic book material, you can't go wrong.

Is that something that you talk with DC Entertainment about? I've heard that everywhere, from The Flash to Man of Steel.

I think it's common sense but I think DC's done a good job with not embellishing what's already been done. It's great -- that's why it's still around. That's why these comics have been running for so many years. There's proof in the pudding: the stories work, the characters work, you don't have to do more than what's already there.

Did you start with more current comics, or did you primarily go back to Alan Moore for research?

I jumped right in with the Papa Midnite miniseries. That was the first title that I looked at and that was pretty informative [laughs]. That told me a lot of his backstory.

When you play a character with a ton of backstory but most of it will probably be kept quiet for now, do you use that to inform the performance?

Yeah, it makes it fun. It gives you a firmer ground to stand on if you know a lot about the person. You don't necessarily play everything at one moment but as you're reading the script, you can be like, "Oh, that moment ties to this that I read about," or...well, I don't want to give anything away. But you can always reference the moments because the writers are studying the comic books thoroughly and finding ways to bring stuff in. It's great when they're on set with you and you can talk about a moment and flesh out some dialogue or just have a conversation about how great the scene was.

How do you put your own spin on a character with so much backstory and baggage and history?

You're naturally going to. Every human being is different so how you would approach any given character or any given sport, you're going to play it your way. With the same rules, you're going to play it your own way because you're a different vessel. That's part of the fun of it, is to see what another actor would put on this character or what part of themselves they will bring out. That's the joy of it and that's how you make it your own, is bringing out parts of yourself that reflect Papa Midnite. Then that's your own individual interpretation.

Is it really cool that you have your own hashtag? They're making sure that the world knows you're coming.

Oh, it's insane. I was at home, watching the episode on Halloween night, and I was getting ready to go out for a drink, putting on my shoes as I was watching the teaser, and I was like, "Oh!" They put me as the tail ending on the teaser, and I thought the episode was going to come out later in the season. It was a pleasant surprise.

Is there one thing you really want people to watch out for in your performance?

[Long pause] Stick around for the end of the episode. Stick around for the end [laughs].