Interview: Charles Halford of ‘Constantine’

The actor dishes on filming, being vegan in Atlanta, his rare height, and his time on True Detective.

Charles Halford, fresh off his high-visibility role as serial killer Reggie Ledoux in True Detective, is back as Chas Chandler in NBC’s new drama Constantine, based on DC Comics’ Hellblazer series. The show is filmed in Atlanta, and late this summer, we chatted with the co-star about life in “The Hollywood of the South.”

Charles Halford
Charles Halford

Photograph by Marie Westbrook

Do you guys explore the city much on your off-time, or are you mostly confined to the set?
I try to get out and take in some of the local haunts. I have a lighter schedule than Matt [Ryan], who plays Constantine, so I find myself trying to check out some of the hotspots from time to time.

What have your favorites been?
I’m a bit of a craft beer guy, so I’ve stopped at the Brick Store Pub over in Decatur, I’ve stopped in at Max Lager’s downtown, enjoyed that. We’ve frequented the Bookhouse up near Midtown. I’m still grasping all of the little areas, but we’ve been around, and so far I haven’t found a place that I don’t like.

How long are you going to be in Atlanta?
I think we’re scheduled up until December, potentially longer if the show gets picked up for more episodes. We’re in our first season – they’ve ordered 13 total – but that could balloon into a full season if everybody likes what we’re doing.

What are your thoughts about living here in Atlanta vs. living in L.A., where you’re usually located?
There are a lot of similarities. There’s a lot of entertainment here, and it’s a big city. The traffic is very similar! [Laughs] They’re both kind of transplant cities. I don’t think “Hollywood South” –which I’ve heard tossed around–is inappropriate. Obviously one marked difference is the weather. The giant afternoon summer thunderstorms are something a bit new. But the nightlife’s here, and I think the food might actually have a leg up. I don’t know if there’s a lot of authentic California cuisine, whereas there is authentic Southern cuisine. You have craftsmen and artists, and outside of the weather, it feels pretty similar. It’s an older city, and I think that’s the thing I noticed initially when I came down. The city has so much history in American culture. Even the lay of the land, and I might be wrong, but I assume when I’m driving down some of these roads that these were just old horse trails that have been paved over. The city was built around a very old time, and that’s something that I look forward to, when I have some time, getting into the historical aspects of it, because that’s the kind of stuff that really fascinates me. In California, you’ve got pretty much the 1900s and even then, it really doesn’t start booming out there until entertainment started coming out of there in the 1920s. So far, I’ve really enjoyed my time down here, and I’ve met really good people. I guess the one downside that I’ve heard is that I’m missing out on a lot of excellent food, being vegan, but I’ve actually been really impressed with how accommodating it’s been. When we were down here shooting the pilot in March, I was a little bit worried. I was like, “I can’t eat any more mall falafel!” [Laughs] But since I’ve been down here, I’ve actually found that most restaurants have an option, and I’ve found a couple of really good little—I’m still looking for one, if you’ve got any suggestions for vegan restaurants, send them my way! Café Sunflower has been good, Mellow Mushroom really treated me right when I went in there with some good vegan options, and R. Thomas was a place that I found–that’s just an interesting, cool little find, I found that during the pilot and I was just like, “This is a good spot.” So yeah, it’s been a fun ride, and with any luck, we’ll be spending a couple more years down here.

Does Matt Ryan get any attention for sharing a name with the Atlanta Falcons quarterback?
I’m sure he will. Like I said, he’s got a really busy schedule, so I don’t think he’s had to deal with too many dinner reservations. But we always joke about it! [Laughs]

How did you get involved with Constantine?
It was basically like any other audition. I’m a really tall guy– I’m like six-six–so it’s rare that you see them specifically looking for really tall people for series regulars. It was basically just an audition, and they were looking for my height, and I went in and apparently did a good enough job for them to hire me. You audition, you have maybe a day of chemistry tests, and then you go in and read for the network. That’s the big scary audition, when you’ve got like 20 people . . .  judging you. [Laughs] But it worked out, so I’m happy to be a part of it.

The other notable very large man you played recently was Reggie Ledoux on True Detective, and he was so physically intimidating and downright scary. Do you think that performance helped you land this brawnier role?
I think where it helped me the most was that it was such a high-profile show, you know? And the timing was just right. Reggie Ledoux was a big deal in pop culture right about the time that I was going to the network for this. That’s just really fortunate, that it worked out, but I do think that obviously being involved in such a high profile show helped give the network and studio confidence in my ability to carry my weight on this one. Reggie’s so out there, and while Chas is big and brawny, he’s a bit of a gentle giant. He’s definitely not a crazy person, so I get to go the other way. [Laughs]

How does working on an HBO contained miniseries like True Detective differ from a network serialized show like Constantine?
True Detective was a lot like a feature film. Cary Fukunaga, who directed it, came from feature films. Matthew [McConaughey] and Woody [Harrelson], with the exception of Cheers back from Woody’s career, they’re both very much feature film actors. And Nic Pizzolatto, who wrote it, was new to television in general–so it was wide open for him. So we took a lot of time. They spent something like six months shooting eight episodes, and we’re shooting an episode in like eight days. The workload is a lot different–well, the workload is roughly the same, but we don’t have the luxury of time that they had on that. And for me, it’s different because with True Detective, I was only in New Orleans for about 10 days, and obviously I’m down here for anywhere from four to eight months if things go well. So that’s very different–moving into a new city and all.

You appeared in a couple episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so I’m also curious as to the difference between working in the Marvel and DC Comics worlds.
Marvel is very . . . well, they’re just very strict with the information that gets out there. Obviously that television show is part of this multi-billion dollar film franchise that they have going on, so that’s really the only difference. Shooting a television show is shooting a television show. The facilities are different, the characters are very different. Constantine’s a much darker property–we probably shed more blood in five minutes of Constantine than the entire property of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So the content’s a little bit different, but more or less, the job is the same.

On a more personal note, you played a scene against Sir Anthony Hopkins in The World’s Fastest Indian. What sort of tips do you pick up from working with a guy like that?
A lot. That was actually a really educational day–and it was only a day. I was young, it had to have been maybe the sixth thing or so that I’ve ever done, and I was meeting Anthony Hopkins and had the pleasure of working across from him. He was just such a stellar person. He was so gracious and kind, and he had time for everybody on set. I was lucky enough to be working the last week of that shoot, and he took everybody out from the crew and cast to this awesome dinner at the end of it. We were all certainly appreciative of him and he made sure to reciprocate that. So it’s not surprising that he’s had the career that he’s had, and that he was knighted at one point. He’s just a really solid guy. And he does his work. You’d think that after so many years, he’d just be able to show up and be an awesome actor. But he’s diligent in his work. When he would walk from his chair to in front of the camera, there was very little marked difference – he just had such composure. I was taking notes the whole time, and I feel really fortunate to have worked with him.

Going back to the fact that you’re a really big guy—you’re also vegan. Are people ever surprised?
Oh yeah. They call me “the Brontosaurus” on set, it’s kind of fun. I think people expect you to like a big steak or something when you’re large, but it’s nothing so strange. I guess the strangest thing is when people worry about it a lot more than I do when we’re going out to eat. I can always find a salad or something, but a lot of people go, “Oh man, we gotta make sure they have food for Charlie,” and I’m like, “Guys, I’ve been doing this for long enough. It’s fine.” I’m there for the company, the food will be there, and if I need to eat some tofu when I get home, that’s fine. [Laughs]

Is it a dietary thing, or is it more philosophical? Or do you just not like the taste of meat?
I think it just works for me. I’m not necessarily the type to try to change anybody else’s diets. I got into vegetarianism very young–I was probably like 13 or something when I decided I didn’t want to eat meat anymore–so at this point, 20-plus years later, I’ve kind of gone through all the phases of it. Early on, I was back and forth between vegan and vegetarianism. Initially, it was all activism and animal rights and changing the world, and then I went back to being vegetarian because the animal rights thing kind of got out of control, but then it was a health issue. I was a really unhealthy vegetarian, so I decided to reduce those unhealthy fats. So I’ve been through all the paces, and at this point, it’s a personal choice that worked for me. I think anybody should listen to their body, and fortunately for me, my body and mind agree on my diet. It’s a win-win.

In Constantine, your character’s name is Chas, which in this case is not short for Charles, but it often is. Have you ever had the nickname Chas?
Yeah, I’ve had people call me Chas before. It makes it easy on set–they can pretty much call me whatever, character name or my name, and they know who they’re getting. What’s funny, on the same note, is that character from the comics is named Frank Chandler, and they just call him Chas Chandler after Jimmy Hendrix’s road manager. So it’s funny–my name is a nickname for my character’s name, which is totally off-base because his name is Frank in the comics. [Laughs] So that’s a little bit of trivia.

There was a Constantine movie in 2005 that was technically based on the Hellblazer comics, but didn’t mirror the comics particularly closely. How faithful is the TV show to the source material?
I think we stick a lot truer to it. My character specifically is a lot more like Chas Chandler in the comics–and I never saw the film, and when I got this, I didn’t bother to see it because what’s the point? But I think the changes the film made to Chas, to my understanding, involved a different last name and he’s sort of eager to be a protégé or student of Constantine, whereas Chas in the comic books is John’s oldest, best friend and a contemporary of his. They’re about the same age and they’ve been through a lot together. We’re doing a very faithful adaptation in my opinion, and I’m a fan of the comic books. I think we’re doing a really faithful adaptation of the Hellblazer series.

So your Chas is more of a partner than a sidekick?
Yeah. Well, he’s a partner and a sidekick. I mean, the show’s called Constantine for a reason. I’m definitely in the mix more, but it’s one of those things where John’s going to do his thing, and if John needs my help, I’ve obviously been around and I know how to help him. I don’t know that Chas from the show would want to be involved with any fighting if it weren’t for the fact that his best friend was involved in demon fighting. [Laughs] He goes along with it because that’s what a good friend does, and he’d do anything to help him out.

One of the little tidbits that have been dropped so far is that Chas has particularly powerful survival skills that might be supernatural. How hard of a man to kill is he?
I think you’ll find early on–as early as the first episode–that very bad things can happen to Chas and he can just walk away from them. They’re things that would typically kill any other human being, and that will all get explained through the course of the show, but yeah. He can pretty much survive just about anything at this point. In the comics, John protected Chas and kept him out of the really heavy stuff, but in this one, we’ve sort of taken the opposite approach where Chas is right in the thick of it and he’s going to take the punches if it means saving John, or if it means helping John in some way. He’s been gifted with this ability to take a good beating.