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From MTV to wrestling with Satan

February 19, 2005|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

The upshot? "I responded," Reeves said. "I wanted to work with him. I felt he had a classical narrative impulse in his work."

As production progressed, departing from the accepted norms of the genre's material also became a concern. "We were treading over things that we had seen in other movies," Lawrence said. "I had to try to show new approaches to things like angels, demons.... Satan was one that I struggled with."

In the end, Lawrence's take on He Who Must Not Be Named, as played by brooding character actor Peter Stormare, resulted in what is surely the most homoerotic Satan in mainstream movie history.

MTV generation

Lawrence was born in Vienna, Austria, where his father, a physicist, taught at a university, and he moved to L.A. at age 3. His music video career started almost accidentally. After graduating from film school at Loyola Marymount, he shot low-budget videos in the mid-1990s for a friend's indie record label.

Within five years, Lawrence had risen to the top of his field, working consistently through what he refers to as the "golden age" of MTV -- not coincidentally, a time when directors such as Antoine Fuqua, Simon West and Spike Jonze began to make the jump to directing features.

"At the time, music videos were viewed more as short films and less as marketing tools," Lawrence said. "Somewhere in the late '90s it began to shift from this creative medium into something very homogenous. Suddenly, you found yourself surrounded by publicists and project managers."

The video industry began to peter out largely because of record-industry cutbacks, around the time the "Constantine" script arrived.

Some reviews of "Constantine" criticized Lawrence for not leaving more of his music video background at the door. But Goldsman and Stoff have already agreed to produce the director's next four projects, including "Eddie Dickens and the Awful End," an animated movie Lawrence calls a "Gothic Victorian fairy tale," and "I Am Legend," a remake of the 1971 sci-fi thriller "Omega Man."

That doesn't mean MTV has seen the last of Lawrence. "If the song's cool and the artist is cool, I'm not done with music videos in any way," he said.

And despite his initial reluctance, Reeves has more than gotten over his aversion to music video directors.

"Francis was -- is -- an accomplished video director," the actor said. "Now he's an accomplished filmmaker."

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