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SYFY WIRE The Sandman

Neil Gaiman apparently begged Warner Bros. not to adapt 'The Sandman' comic in the early '90s

Morpheus wasn't ready to wake up all those years ago.

By Josh Weiss
The Sandman Season 1 Episode 3

Fans of The Sandman can blame Neil Gaiman for why it's taken so long to see the acclaimed comic book series adapted for the screen. Warner Bros. hoped to bring the sprawling fantasy saga to theaters as early as 1990, but Gaiman purportedly begged the studio's former VP of production — Lisa Henson — not to move forward on the project. "Nobody's ever come into my office before and asked me not to make a movie," she told the author, according to an anecdote Gaiman recounted to Empire for the magazine's August 2022 issue (now on sale). Henson allegedly shrugged her shoulders and relented: "Okay! We won't make a Sandman movie!"

And so, the adaptation fittingly went back to sleep for several decades, never quite crystallizing in the waking world, until the summer of 2019 when Netflix and Warner Bros. Television handed down the greenlight for a small screen translation overseen by Gaiman, David S. Goyer, and Allan Heinberg. Goyer agreed to be a part of the show (premiering next month) on the sole condition that its creator be brought into the fold as an executive producer and writer of the first episode. Gaiman's role as co-showrunner and executive producer on Amazon's Good Omens went a long way in proving his ability to handle live-action productions, particularly ones based on his own work.

"All of a sudden, instead of [just] being the guy who wrote the comic, I was an established showrunner," remarked Gaiman. "For 30 years, I'd refused to come on board. Even for the adaptations I'd liked the look of, because I knew the only power I had [as the creator] was the power of walking away. I'd been frustrated with American Gods, where my notes on scripts would be ignored. But finally, I was in control, and finally, we were at a point where I had the power to bring into existence the kind of Sandman I would like to see on screen."

The "hardest part of making the show," Goyer revealed, was casting Dream/Morpheus, an immortal and god-like entity who rules over the sleeping world. His ethereal kingdom slowly falls into ruin and disrepair when he's held hostage by an arcane society hoping to cheat the finality of Death. Morpheus ultimately escapes his mortal captors, but faces the nigh-insurmountable challenge of reclaiming what was once his, embarking on a journey that takes him from the rain-soaked streets of London to the fiery pits of Hell.

"I don't even know how many people auditioned. Could have been over 700," Goyer added. "Morpheus is not a superhero, but if you look to the casting of Superman, it's helpful that you don't cast an actor with too much baggage. You don't want someone who's bigger than the story ... If we didn't get Morpheus right, the show would be a failure."

Netflix found its titular Lord of Dreams in 2020 with Sweetbitter alum, Tom Sturridge. "The casting process was an incredibly long one, so it gave me the opportunity to read everything over and over to the point where it got into my blood and bones," the actor said. "I am now Sandman's biggest fan ... What's so amazing is the diversity of experience that it describes, by which I mean there's an opportunity for everyone to find something for themselves inside it. Neil was way ahead of his time."

He later went on to describe Dream's home dimension as "the best parts of Hogwarts, Narnia, and Middle-earth."

Gwendolyn Christie (Lucifer), Sanjeev Bhaskar (Cain), Asim Chaudhry (Abel), Charles Dance (Roderick Burgess), Vivienne Acheampong (Lucienne), Boyd Holbrook (The Corinthian), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Death), Mason Alexander Park (Desire), Donna Preston (Despair), Jenna Coleman (Johanna Constantine), Niamh Walsh (young Ethel Cripps), Joely Richardson (modern day Ethel Cripps), David Thewlis (John Dee), Kyo Ra (Rose Walker), Razane Jamma (Lyta Hall), Sandra James-Young (Unity Kinkaid), Stephen Fry (Gilbert), Patton Oswalt (Matthew), and Mark Hamill (Merv Pumpkinhead) round out the ensemble cast for an ambitious television show that spared no expense and made no creative concessions.

"I've been around the block in Hollywood enough times to know it is very common for people to go, 'Hey, we love your pizza. The only thing wrong with it is that it is round and flat and covered in cheese and tomato sauce. Can you change these things?'" Gaiman added. "So we made it clear to everybody that the pizza was the pizza ... We're bringing it to the screen with no comprises. There are no apologies. There's no feeling of, 'Oh, I wish we had more money to do this. I wish we had more time.' I'm quite proud of it. I love what we're making."

The Sandman awakens on Netflix Friday, Aug. 5. While there's no word on a second season, there's no shortage of material to tackle "We have many, many, many volumes of Sandman we would love to adapt," Heinberg concluded. "Our hope is that enough people love Season 1 enough, so that we can."

Looking for some fantasy content to tide you over for the next two months? Click here for our list of the best fantasy films available on Peacock.