At long last, Netflix has announced several cast members for its hotly anticipated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s award-winning graphic novel series Sandman. As Deadline Hollywood reports, Tom Sturridge (Being Julia, Pirate Radio) snagged the coveted role of Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming, while Game of Thrones alums Gwendoline Christie and Charles Dance will play a gender-swapped Lucifer and the charlatan magician Roderick Burgess, respectively.
(Mild spoilers for the graphic novel series below.)
As we’ve reported previously, the titular “sandman” is Dream, aka Morpheus, among other names. He is one of seven entities known as the Endless, and he is seeking to set right his past mistakes. The other Endless are Destiny, Destruction, Despair, Desire, Delirium, and Death, portrayed as a perky punk/goth young woman. They became almost as popular as Dream himself (especially Death) and were featured in several spinoff comics. The series opens when Morpheus, the King of Dreams, escapes from a 70-year imprisonment by an occultist (who actually wanted to capture Dream’s sibling Death but trapped the Sandman by mistake).
Gaiman’s 75-issue revival of the character, published from 1989 to 1996, is an odd mix of mythology, fantasy, horror, and history, rife with literary references and a fair bit of dark humor. Count me among its many loyal fans. There really is nothing quite like it, and the series proved to be hugely popular and enduring. One standalone story, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (The Sandman No. 19) even won the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction, the only time a comic has been so honored.
There had long been interest in adapting the series for film, with multiple failed attempts at creating a viable script by Warner Bros. Gaiman deemed one of those “not only the worst Sandman script I’ve ever read but quite easily the worst script I’ve ever read.” But everyone, including Gaiman, still held out hope for a successful adaptation eventually. One of the last screenwriters to work on the project, Arrival‘s Eric Heisserer, opined that Sandman should really be a TV series. So Warner Bros. started shopping around a TV adaptation of The Sandman. Netflix pounced, with a straight-to-series order. Gaiman serves as an executive producer along with David Goyer, whose filmography is nothing to sneeze at. Allan Heinberg, whose credits include Wonder Woman and Grey’s Anatomy, signed on as showrunner.
Production on the series halted last April due to the coronavirus pandemic, resuming last October, albeit only in the UK. Per the official synopsis: “A rich blend of modern myth and dark fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama and legend are seamlessly interwoven, The Sandman follows the people and places affected by Morpheus, the Dream King, as he mends the cosmic—and human—mistakes he’s made during his vast existence.”
Christie is an intriguing choice for Lucifer, a regular character in the DC Comics world. Gaiman’s version was influenced by John Milton’s portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost, and in the second Sandman volume, he has become bored with ruling Hell and hands over the keys to Dream, ultimately building a life in Los Angeles. That’s the premise of the TV series Lucifer (formerly on Fox, now also on Netflix), starring Tom Ellis in the title role, who assists the police in solving crimes. As I’ve noted previously, it’s a fun series on its own merits, but Sandman fans will expect something quite different from Christie.
Dance’s Burgess is styled after real-life occultist Aleister Crowley and is Crowley’s arch-rival within the world of DC Comics. In Gaiman’s Sandman, it is Burgess who seeks to capture and bind Death and kidnaps Dream by mistake, imprisoning him in a glass globe—which then passes to the Order of the Ancient Mysteries and his son Alex upon his death. Boyd Holbrook (Logan, The Predator) plays The Corinthian, one of the (failed) nightmares created by Dream, intended to be “a black mirror, made to reflect everything about itself that humanity will not confront.” He goes rogue during Dream’s imprisonment, becoming a serial killer known for removing his victims’ eyes.
In another gender-swapped role, Vivienne Acheampong (The Witches) plays Lucienne, chief librarian of the Dreaming. (Here’s hoping the series also includes her pet werewolf, Rover.) Finally, Sanjeev Bhaskar (Yesterday) and Asim Chaudhry (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) play Cain and Abel, respectively. These characters provide a dark kind of comic relief in the Sandman graphic novel series. (The recurring “joke” is that Cain keeps compulsively murdering Abel over the slightest provocation, like choosing a name for Abel’s pet gargoyle. Abel usually revives after a few hours.)
Gaiman has released the following statement:
For the last thirty-three years, the Sandman characters have breathed and walked around and talked in my head. I’m unbelievably happy that now, finally, they get to step out of my head and into reality. I can’t wait until the people out there get to see what we’ve been seeing as Dream and the rest of them take flesh, and the flesh belongs to some of the finest actors out there. This is astonishing, and I’m so grateful to the actors and to all of The Sandman collaborators—Netflix, Warner Bros., DC, to Allan Heinberg and David Goyer, and the legions of crafters and geniuses on the show—for making the wildest of all my dreams into reality.”
An audiobook version of The Sandman launched last year exclusively on Audible, with James McAvoy voicing Morpheus and covering the first three of the series’ ten volumes: Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country. It quickly became the Amazon-owned company’s best-selling original to date. Two more seasons of the audiobook have just been greenlit. According to Variety, “Part two will cover the Season of Mists, Distant Mirrors, A Game of You, and Convergence volumes of The Sandman series, and the third installment will adapt Brief Lives and World’s End.”