Published: Friday, 12 August 2022 15:55 | Written by Jamie Ruby
Recently, Netflix premiered its highly anticipated series The Sandman, based on the comic series written by Neil Gaiman. When the Sandman (Tom Sturridge) aka Dream, is held captive and kept from the world of the Dreaming for a century, it causes havoc in the waking world as well. Dream must go on a quest to retrieve that which was stolen from him and mend both worlds. Dream meets different characters along the way, including Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie), when he enters Hell to retrieve his helm from a demon, and Johanna Constantine (Jenna Coleman), who can help him find his sand. He also gets some advice from his sister, Death (Kirby Howell-Baptist).
Recently, SciFi Vision spoke with the three actresses during a press roundtable where we asked them about balancing what they pull from the source material and script versus what they are able to add creatively.
“I feel like we've been very, very true,” Coleman told SciFi Vision. “…Particularly in the comic book, for me, the interaction with Mad Hetti (Clare Higgins) on screen, it just felt like literally [a] mirror image. So, I found that very, very, very thrilling. I think our version of Johanna Constantine is, obviously, visually very different from the comic book, but otherwise, I feel like that episode in particular is very, very true to the source.”
“The beauty with all of it, I think, and it was a great relaxation to know that Allan [Heinberg] was caretaking this, is that he is a huge fan,” said Christie. “He always has been of the comics; he's a huge fan of Neil's work.”
Christie added that Gaiman was heavily involved and accessible as well. “It was a delight to see something that's such a visual feast translating very literally, but also with a reality, a total reality onto the screen,” the actress told the site. “That was a great pleasure to see, because those comics are not flawed. They're a very resolved vision, and they're really wild and imaginative. They go into such detail in such contrasting worlds. So, it's all there. It doesn't need much more.”
The actresses also talked a bit with SciFi Vision about the sets. The three, unfortunately, did not get to see a lot of the locations while shooting the series. In fact, Howell-Baptiste didn’t work in the studio at all. “I was one of the few people [who] didn't have a set,” explained the actress. “We didn't shoot anything in the studio at all. I think we spent all our time walking and talking outside with beautiful weather in London.”
The actress did, however, get to walk around Hell after they were done filming and thought it was fantastic. “Seeing that up close and then seeing it on screen was even more amazing.”
“But that was so interesting for me,” she added, “because each of our episodes are so different. We're in isolation. We didn't ever work with each other. We didn't see each other as well. So, as much for the audience as for us, this show is an exploration, because there's so much that we as actors have not seen in this show.”
Coleman also admitted to sneaking off to look at other realms when not filming.
The sets are obviously quite detailed, but so are the costumes, and the three told the press about some of the intricate things that viewers won’t get to see. “We came up on set with the idea of hiding Johanna's crucifix in her boot,” Coleman told the press. “So, that's kind of a cool little detail to know, that it's always hidden there, that she's got her tools kind of at hand in very secret places.”
“With one of Lucifer's costumes, there is an Easter egg hidden in there, but you will have to really look hard, but it's worth it,” teased Christie, saying that it’s a subtle detail that is pertinent to Gaiman.
Although the three performers don’t have large roles in the series, they are important ones. “There are no small players in this,” said Howell-Baptiste. “It's absolutely not about screen time in something like this. There is a magnitude and a weight to every single character that is in The Sandman.”
For more, watch our portion of the interview and read the full transcript below, where they talk more about bringing each of their characters to life. The Sandman is now available to stream on Netflix.
QUESTION: Jenna, I love that you got to bring two versions of Johanna to the screen and that you just fulfill that bloodline so eloquently. Can you talk about the excitement and possible nervousness of bringing that character to life within this overall universe as compared to something like Doctor Who?
JENNA COLEMAN: Yeah, so, I mean, similar to Doctor Who in terms of we explore many worlds, realms, states, travel, but, yeah, I mean, it's so distinctive. I mean, we're talking very much about how hard it is to describe someone; it's so distinctive and so unique. And Neil Gaiman I'm obviously such a such a fan of, so as soon as it was sent my way, it was like a complete no-brainer and, to be honest, just a joy. Like the character is so formed on the page so complex. I like her. She's hilarious, and she's unlike other characters that I've played before. She's cynical, and she's dry, and there's a lot of emotional complexity going on. She's a lone warrior in the world and tortured and wounded but hilarious and pragmatic. Obviously, getting to play Lady Johanna Constantine as well and kind of having the link between those two characters but also being, you know, relatives, but Lady Johanna Constantine having a very different kind of cold, cunning, calculation, and a very different relationship, I think, with Dream as well.
QUESTION: All of your costumes are so interesting and intricate, and I was wondering if there were any parts of your costumes that people might not catch on first glance that they should look for, because they really mean something to you or the character?
JENNA COLEMAN: We came up on set with the idea of hiding Johanna's crucifix in her boot. So, that's kind of a cool little detail to know, that it's always hidden there, that she's got her tools kind of at hand in very secret places.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: With one of Lucifer's costumes, there is an Easter egg hidden in there, but you will have to really look hard, but it's worth it.
JENNA COLEMAN: Will you tell me after this interview?
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: No, I can't.
KIRBY HOWELL-BAPTISTE: I'm going to go back and look for it. I'm so excited to go back and look for it; I can't even tell you.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: It's something that Neil - Giles Deacon designed my costumes, and he came up with the idea of something that was really pertinent to Neil and to the fans to just be a really subtle detail tucked away, and Neil decided what it was.
KIRBY HOWELL-BAPTISTE: Ah, I can't wait to go back and look for that.
QUESTION: Was there something that you truly loved from the comic that was particularly challenging to bring to live action?
KIRBY HOWELL-BAPTISTE: Well, not necessarily challenging. I will say once we shot, we had to take photos in character, and a lot of them you see on the posters and things like that. There was a specific panel that I had always loved from the very first moment that I read The Sandman, which is Death sitting cross-legged with the sunglasses and her hands like this, and she's the peachy keen. When we did our shoot, I had screengrabbed that and sent it over to the photographer and the people who were starting the shoot and said, "It is so important to me, and I hope that photo is somewhere." I was like, "I feel like this was one of the most iconic panels for me, and I think it is also for the fans." So, I desperately want to shoot that. So, at the very least I think I have that photo. I hope it is comes out, but that was really exciting to me, to lift things directly, and there are so many things like that in the actual show, so many things that you will recognize from panel to screen that I think will be really, really satisfying for longtime fans.
SCIFI VISION: For the three of you, can you sort of talk about balancing what you pull from the comics and the script versus how you're able to add to kind of put your own spin on to it? We'll start with Jenna.
JENNA COLEMAN: I feel like we've been very, very true…like, particularly in the comic book, for me, the interaction with Mad Hetti like on screen, it just felt like literally [a] mirror image. So, I found that very, very, very thrilling. I think our version of Johanna Constantine is, obviously, visually very different from the comic book, but otherwise, I feel like that episode in particular is very, very true to the source.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: The beauty with all of it, I think, and it was a great relaxation to know that Allan was caretaking this, that he is a huge fan. He always has been of the comics; he's a huge fan of Neil's work. Neil was heavily, heavily involved and genuinely present and accessible. So, it was a delight to see something that's such a visual feast translating very literally, but also with a reality, a total reality onto the screen. That was a great pleasure to see, because those comics are not flawed. They're a very resolved vision, and they're really wild and imaginative. They go into such detail in such contrasting worlds. So, it's all there. It doesn't need much more.
QUESTION: For [Kirby] and Gwen, can you talk about bringing such important characters and making a mark on fans in big ways with relatively such limited screen time and knowing, I guess, what's coming later for the character?
KIRBY HOWELL-BAPTISTE: Well, what I think is beautiful about all of our episodes is whether you see a character for a single episode or for multiple, each of these episodes stands alone; they're almost like short films. So, there are no small players in this. It's absolutely not about screen time in something like this. There is a magnitude and a weight to every single character that is in The Sandman, and fans of The Sandman will know that, and new fans, people who have figured out Sandman through this show, will see that that every single character, no matter how long you see them, has such weight. So, to me, it is a case of absolute quality over quantity.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: And thinking about the representation of Lucifer, I mean, like Kirby has been saying about portraying Death, it's a concept. You know, Lucifer is the epitome of evil, but, for me, what the comics did so beautifully was that they presented a very human quality. So, you believed that was a person; you could see it. You could see all the complexities and the conflicts, the internal conflicts, the wonderful thing that Neil does so well, which he just turns things on their head; it's the thing you least expect. And I wanted to be really - we all did - we wanted to be really faithful to the comics, but at the same time, it was thrilling to be able to actually bring my interpretation, what the comics had given me, what had fired in my imagination through reading them, through talking to Neil, looking at Neil's original source material, and also looking at my own range of material. Lucifer is a part I played before on stage years ago, and I'd always wanted to revisit it. So, this was like a kind of glorious opportunity to explore something about evil, which is extremely relevant in our modern world.
QUESTION: Sort of expanding on that, all three of you play characters who exist in other ways and other media in other forms. There's other John Constantine. There're other versions of Death, the Grim Reaper. There're other versions of Lucifer, the devil. What did you draw from in pop culture to add to your versions of these things, since they're supposed to be eternal and all encompassing?
KIRBY HOWELL-BAPTISTE: Well, for me, I think that I relied less on pop culture in finding this and more on the idea that Neil had set up in the comics, which is Death is a subversion of what we have seen traditionally in pop culture. It's Death as a nurturer, as someone who is carrying. It's this idea if you think of someone that you have loved and lost, the idea that in their final moments, they are comforted, and they feel no fear. To me, I leaned way more into that, because I felt like that was much [truer] to Neil's dream of Death.
JENNA COLEMAN: Similarly, I stayed away from other versions. I watched the Constantine film, and then I went down a kind of exorcist research route, but the scripts were sent to me without telling me who it was to begin with. So, I had a very instinctive reaction, which was kind of not infiltrated by anything else, just purely to the script on the page and the character, the person in front of me, and I felt it was so fully formed and clear. I just felt like I knew who she was instantly. So, a lot of it was trusting that, and, again, sticking to the source material and reading as opposed to watching any other like live action versions of Constantine.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: Similarly, I went to what had inspired Neil in the first place, which was Dory etchings, and looking at the depictions of Lucifer in those and looking at the muscularity and strange vulnerability sometimes, actually, or the brittleness of it. Obviously, he'd been influenced by David Bowie. So, really, what that means to me in terms of another worldliness of androgyny, and for other pop culture references, in order to learn about evil, I just read the news.
QUESTION: Was there anything that you discussed in particular with Neil Gaiman as far as that gave you some entry into your character?
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: So much. I mean, it was really important to me that if this was going to be going back to the comics, this was going to be a new depiction of Lucifer, that I wanted as much information as possible from the source master. I really wanted to know what was going on in his mind when he created that particular version, because it was such a sort of surprising version when it first emerged, and I thought about what might possibly be surprising now. So, we talked about all those things. We had those conversations, but he also gave me agency. He also said, "I hand it to you. What do you think? I'm excited to see what you bring." That was a great privilege, and it gave me a lot of confidence. It meant an awful lot to me, as a performer, when a brilliant creative in the form of Neil and Allan [said], "We want to see what you think." I mean, that's a that's a great empowerment.
SCIFI VISION: Obviously, this is such a beautiful set, and I know Tom was talking about how most of it's real. What was sort of your favorite part of it, either that you were in or that you saw after the fact? What was sort of your favorite part of it? For all of you.
KIRBY HOWELL-BAPTISTE: Well, I was one of the few people [who] didn't have a set. We didn't shoot anything in the studio at all. I think we spent all our time walking and talking outside with beautiful weather in London. But what was so exciting to me was I remember coming back to the set, and you guys were done, but I got to walk around Hell, and that was fantastic. Seeing that up close and then seeing it on screen was even more amazing. But that was so interesting for me, because each of our episodes are so different. We're in isolation. We didn't ever work with each other. We didn't see each other as well. So, as much for the audience as for us, this show is an exploration, because there's so much that we as actors have not seen in this show.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: Except Jenna. Jenna got to sneak around the sets we've just learned.
KIRBY HOWELL-BAPTISTE: [laughs]
JENNA COLEMAN: I got set free at Shepperton.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: [laughs]
KIRBY HOWELL-BAPTISTE: Oh, that's fun.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: On the loose.
JENNA COLEMAN: I was on the loose. Yeah.
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: You were at large.
JENNA COLEMAN: I was. I said, "I'm going to go find some coffee."
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: Yeah.
JENNA COLEMAN: And then went sneaking around to look at the other realms and the worlds. [laughs]
GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: You're so lucky. I wish I could have [done that].
JENNA COLEMAN: "I'll be back in a minute." Disappears.
SCIFI VISION: All right, well, you'll get to see it when you watch it then. Thank you.