'The Sandman' Cast and Creators Discuss the Pressure of Bringing the Comic Books to TV (Exclusive)
By Mekishana Pierre
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The Sandman adaptation has been several years in the making and is finally making its small screen debut! The 10-episode series premieres on Netflix this Friday, and the long-awaited adaptation of Neil Gaiman's beloved comic series is packing serious heat for eager fans.
Tackling the comic's story from the beginning, the series follows Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), known as Dream and the titular Sandman, as he breaks free from decades-long imprisonment by humans to return to his kingdom of the Dreaming. The anthropomorphic personification of dreams discovers that his home has fallen into disarray in his absence and, to restore order, he must journey across different worlds and timelines to mend the mistakes he’s made during his vast existence, revisiting old friends and foes, and meeting new entities -- both cosmic and human -- along the way.
The series features a star-studded cast alongside Sturridge that includes Kirby Howell-Baptise, Gwendoline Christie, Vivienne Acheampong, Stephen Fry, Boyd Holbrook, Charles Dance, Asim Chaudhry, Jenna Coleman, David Thewlis, Joely Richardson, Mason Alexander Park, and voice work from Patton Oswalt and Mark Hamill.
The show was originally pitched as a film adaptation by filmmaker David S. Goyer in 2013 but languished in development limbo for years until Netflix signed a deal with Warner Bros. to produce it as a series in June 2019. Bringing the fantastical world of the Sandman graphic novels to the small screen was no easy feat, but it was one that Gaiman was determined to get right.
"[This story] hadn't been told before on television, and so many things have. People know what hospital dramas or legal dramas and things alike because they've seen them before. They've seen space operas. They've not seen Sandman, and the opportunity to actually do something completely new on television, it doesn't come along very often, and we've got to do it," Gaiman told ET.
"And we got to do it for ourselves because we didn't know if anybody else was going to like it, but we knew we had to make something that we would love. And now, people are seeing the episodes, and the response is honestly actually kind of a bit overwhelming. And I feel like, 'OK, good. We made it for us, and they like it too.'"
Showrunner Allan Heinberg shared that the most exciting part of the process had been collaborating with the scores of artists and creators behind the scenes, saying, "Once the scripts were written and you bring everybody else into the process, and it gets elevated, you get to see what props are doing. You get to see what the production designers doing, and VFX, and everybody bringing all of their genius and their magic powers to it, and making it even more beautiful and spectacular than I ever imagined."
Gaiman, who remained in New Zealand during production, said that even just watching the process from a distance via Zoom allowed him to share in the sense of excitement. "This was the thing that I had never believed would actually happen. And for most of the lifetime of Sandman, which begins 34 years ago, it couldn't have happened," Gaiman shared. "You couldn't have made a big-budget TV series and actually made the comics into fabulous television. A lot of that time, people were trying desperately to take the 3,000 pages of Sandman and make a two-hour movie out of it, and the question was, well, what do you throw away? And by the time you've thrown all that stuff away, you don't have Sandman anymore."
That certainly isn't the case with the upcoming series. Previously released photos, videos and the two-minute trailer tease a vibrant retelling of the award-winning comic series that will please fans of all seriousness -- even with a few changes to the original that keen eyes will spot right away.
Before any fans riot, all changes had Gaiman's seal of approval, and resulted in a story that he declares may be "even more weird and heartwarming" than his original masterpiece.
"There were definitely places where we felt that we were allowed to change anything that I had borrowed wholesale from the DC Universe back when I was doing it, so we got to do a completely different take on Jack Kirby and Joe Simon's superhero, Sandman, that is just, I think, as much fun as the one that I did in the original Sandman," the English author said. "And in many ways, it's kind of even more weird and heartwarming, and it absolutely owes everything to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. But it's not what we did in the comics."
So much of the series' potential success can be attributed to the show's cast, which is full of Sandman fans who wanted to do right by their illustrious characters.
Sturridge admitted that there was "enormous fear" of taking on the role of the king of dreams because he is such a devout fan of the original comics. "I understand the feelings that my fellow fans would have about an adaptation about something that is so sacred to all of us. But, that fear is a drive, and it focuses you, and ultimately having the blessing, more than the blessing, of having a colleague in Neil Gaiman, was the ultimate privilege," he told ET.
Acheampong echoed the sentiment, although the former substitute teacher claimed there was no hesitation when she accepted the role of Lucienne, the librarian of the Dreaming.
"I was like, 'Yes, give me this job,'" she shared, laughing. "You've got Neil Gaiman... [and] it's taken him long to adapt this for TV for a reason, and it all just felt right. The right creative team, and it's an absolute privilege and honor for Neil Gaiman to be like, 'Yeah, you can have the role.' So, I felt terrified, but very safe and grounded that we were going to create something really special."
Coleman, who plays occult detective Johanna Constantine and her 18th-century ancestor, Lady Johanna Constantine, felt similarly, sharing that she had "so much faith" coming into the series as a fan. "I think the most important thing often with something, especially when you are reinventing and you are bringing something to screen for the first time... it's always trying to find the pitch," she mused. "What is the live action sound -- like the tone and feel? And I think because this moves through so many different kinds of realms, it was [about] kind of navigating the tone."
Howell-Baptise shared that she found the best method -- in acting and life -- was not to think about what comes after, "whether that be people's opinions or accolades or whatever."
"I think the way to be happy and satisfied is to be as present as possible," the actress portraying Death, Dream's kinder and wiser sister, said. "So for me, being presented with the opportunity to play a role that I loved from the first time I read The Sandman superseded any fears or doubts I may have had about the reaction after."
Christie -- who has more than enough experience bringing book characters to life after her time on Game of Thrones -- agreed with her co-star, saying that although it's "always interesting" dealing with material that already has an eager audience, she focuses more on her character. "It isn't helpful for me to think about [the reaction], otherwise I wouldn't be able to do it," she admitted. "But it's heartwarming to know that there's already a whole world of people that have a meaningful relationship with material."
For Fry, there is grace in the fact that Gaiman is still around and kicking. "If you're taking on a well-known character from an author who has since passed into history, then you're dealing with academics who are telling you what that character means or a fan base," he stated. "The beauty of having the author alive is if he approves, or she approves of your place in the role, then you feel vindicated. And fortunately, Neil was very encouraging."
Vanesu Samunyai, who plays Rose Walker, diplomatically noted that the cast and creators can "only do so much," when it comes to how fans will receive their work.
"Even if people hate it, you can only do so much, and life goes on. If it's the worst thing in the world, I mean, that's also an accomplishment! 'I made the worst thing in the world. I made so many people angry. They burned pictures of me,'" she joked. "But I think it was that kind of thing where it's like, you only do what you can, you try your best, and then you just hope that it is received with the love and received well."
The Sandman premieres on Netflix Aug. 5.
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