, based on the comics series written by Neil Gaiman, recently premiered on Netflix and follows the Sandman (Tom Sturridge), aka Dream, who rules over the realm of Dreaming. After being captured for a century, both his realm and the real world become damaged, and he must go on a quest to recover what was stolen from him and mend both worlds. During his quest he meets Rose Walker (Vanesu Samunyai), who has a connection to him that neither of them can escape.
John Cameron Mitchell plays the part of Hal Carter, the drag queen who dreams of being a star on Broadway, but currently runs a B&B, which is where he meets and mentors Rose. Mitchell recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about working on the series.
The actor had actually worked with Gaiman before becoming involved with the series. “Neil and I are friends,” said Mitchell, “and I adapted one of his stories for film, How to Talk to Girls at Parties
, so [Hal] was a kind of instant offer, which was very nice to have.”
Mitchell said that he is excited to watch full series and talk to Gaiman about it. “I really had a blast…I haven't talked to Neil yet, because I just want to wait until I finish it, but he must be very proud, because he's had a lot of things adapted of his work, and…this one he had a lot of control over, and I think he would be very happy.”
The performer also was excited to become involved in the project because he got to sing songs from Gypsy
, which he hopes to be a part of some day.
Mitchell didn’t have difficulties connecting with the character. “[K]ind of being a mentor to people, that's what my character ends up being for Rose, and I love that, and, to me, I just fell into it very easily,” he told SciFi Vision. “There was the technique of learning the songs and drag, and all of that was part of my past too.”
During the interview, Mitchell also talked about costumes, special effects, metaphors, and much more. Be sure to read the full transcript below and check out The Sandman
, now available to stream on Netflix
. SCIFI VISION: Were you familiar at all with with the story before you became a part of it?
JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL:
I was, but I read it way back. So, there were just strong images, but it was new to me in that I didn't really know, my character. Neil and I are friends, and I adapted one of his stories for film, How to Talk to Girls at Parties
, so it was a kind of instant offer, which was very nice to have. I was excited to be part of it after so many stops and starts for this project, but also because I get to sing songs from Gypsy
, and I would like to play Mama Rose in a major production of Gypsy
I had a blast. I love Allan Heinberg. I really think they've all succeeded in making a very convoluted story somehow coherent. The key things that need to happen, you know, who's trying to stop them, and then the emotional underpinning of all of these characters, dreams, really, and how “dream” is such a flexible word, can mean so many things to different people. I think Allan did a wonderful job of bringing it together. And I love all this stuff, how it's done, in terms of gender, sexuality race, just kind of mixing it up a little; it doesn't feel forced to me. I mean, Neil's world has always been very “come one; come all; What have you got to bring to the party?” so that it doesn't feel pushy. It just feels like “Oh, yeah, of course.” You know, we're all dealing with dreams.
Yeah, I was about to ask you why you decided to do it, but you kind of answered that. So, is that your favorite scene? The singing performance that you got to do?
Yeah, but I also liked the scene where I talked to [Rose] about my character’s own dreams [of being on Broadway], being deferred, and encouraging her to find her own dream of writing. She's definitely got to find her her brother first, but then has to take those risks. I love how the metaphor dream is extended throughout.
Mason Alexander Park, who plays Desire, who actually played Hedvig in our Broadway production, sits with their sister Despair (Donna Preston). I love them saying “What is a Dream without Desire or Despair? It’s just an echo.” That's a fascinating way to sort of extend that metaphor too. It's like, who are…the Endless? These are godlike creatures that [are] dependent on humans; they wouldn't exist without humans, unlike Greek gods or say the Christian God, who are sort of independent of us. We're just pathetic creatures. But I like Neal’s view of Gods as being nothing without us. They have power, but only the power we give them, and the power of Desire, Despair, Death, [that] need for power, and Dream’s touching all of them, all the different Endless. That's the synapse as opposed to the thought.
What part of the character did you have the most difficult time connecting with? Was there any part of it?
There really wasn't. Being a director and kind of being a mentor to people, that's what my character ends up being for Rose, and I love that, and, to me, I just fell into it very easily. There was the technique of learning the songs and drag, and all of that was part of my past too, so that wasn't hard. In fact, it was very fun. Great group of people. To be able to hang out also with Stephen Fry, an old buddy, and I never got to meet [David Thewlis]…I'm such a fan of his…It's just packed with great talent in Britain, of course. I’m not sure if it was green screen, but you did a scene where there they put two both versions of you together in the same scene. How was that kind of put together?
It was fun. I enjoyed that. I mean, I do the classic, you know, “this is not my real face,” and I pull off the drag face, and then I pull off my own face to show a bloody skull underneath. That actually was more fun than anything. I hadn't done as much green screen stuff, because my stuff tends to be small budget films. It can be tedious. A lot of times people are acting to a tennis ball, and they have to pretend things are there. It's more like pure acting in a way. It's almost like being on stage and imagining there's an army in front of you. You have to you have to do that even more for these big visual effects films. And it didn't make me want to direct those, because there's it can be so tedious, the detail of it, but, of course, in the end, it’s gorgeous.
But you had a scene where you acted with yourself as well.
Did they play it back as you did it so you could see or own performance? Or did you have to kind of remember how you did it?
I've directed myself too, and, you know, giving myself notes while I'm in the scene, you almost have to have a little part of you that's aware that you're outside it, but it wasn't a big deal.
Has there been any talk about having another season, and if there is, would you come back?
I certainly would hope so. These streamers tend to give people a couple of seasons, unless it's a real disaster in the first month, but they're probably just checking to see the initial reaction. I would hope they'd be preparing the scripts, because that's the thing that takes the longest. It might be two more years until we see season two. I think my character, because the books jump around so much, I don't think I'm in it until season three, so it's going to be a while.
Yeah, I was going to say, obviously, there's already a story, but is there something that you'd like to see them add for your character to kind of embellish upon it, I guess?
Do you have a favorite costume? Was it when you got to perform on the stage for the show?
Well, I did enjoy my generic drag outfit, which is actually an adaptation of Ethel Merman’s version of Mama Rose. I was a little bit svelter than her, but probably the right age. But I really had a blast, and I'm excited to see it. I haven't talked to Neil yet, because I just want to wait until I finish it, but he must be very proud, because he's had a lot of things adapted of his work, and he's not always happy with them. I think he thought our film was the best up to this point of an successful adaptation, but this one he had a lot of control over, and I think he would be very happy.
You said you've only seen the first four episodes, is there like a certain part that you're looking forward to seeing?
Well, I didn't read every script. I wanted to be fresh to the fun of it, but I was really happy to see that Allan and the directors found a tone that just doesn't get carried away with the so called hardware or software of the magic and the effects and allows each character their emotional dignity. When Constantine's lover dies, and this idea of the metaphor, our dream that loves lasts forever, Dream reminds her that it doesn't…I think Tom Sturridge is wildly successful in playing a very difficult role, which could just come off as very flat, because he doesn't have a lot of humor, and he doesn't have a lot of emotional stuff on the surface, but he's incredibly compelling. I first saw him on Broadway in a play called Orphans
, playing a mentally deficient character, a challenged person, and he was brilliant. When you look at his face, which has a kind of waxen statue feeling, there's a lot going on underneath there. It feels like this person who's in his own purgatory and is kind of trapped, like Silver Surfer or something trapped on Earth. He seems to have lost his empathy, and then periodically is reminded of it, and when he gives the lover a final dream before she passes, it's very moving to me…I mean, you don't find yourself moved much in Game of Thrones
or the other gigantic budget things. They're just more into the the sweep and the blood and whatever. This, I believe, is getting at something deeper, and I really appreciate that.
Yeah, I agree. It had very emotional moments.
Are there any other projects you want to promote and talk about?
I'm acting in two shows now, a new one called City on Fire
, which comes out on Apple next year, and also, I play this recurring character in The Good Fight
where I play a Trump gay. I've been playing a lot of villains lately. I'm also working on my own fictional podcast with a lot of actors called Cancellation Island
. Where do the cancelled people go? They're all on this island. So, it's a crazy satire about the madness of PC culture and the true grievance that it comes from, and the way that it can spin out of control and bite back and divide us when we when we need to be united as trouble happens, as it seems to be doing over and over. I'm also doing concerts here and there in different towns, but I'm having a blast.