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The Sandman fans have been waiting for the epic dark fantasy story, and its title character, to arrive in live-action for more than three decades now. Creator Neil Gaiman is very aware of how long it's taken to bring his characters and universe to the screen, so when it came to finally putting Sandman out into the world as a Netflix series, he was determined to get it right.
For Gaiman, who co-created the comic book series with artists Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg and developed the streaming series alongside David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg (who will serve as showrunner), that meant working through many key details of the adaptation, starting with finding the right actor to play the title character. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly about the search for his Morpheus, Gaiman noted he'd "personally seen 1,500 Morpheus auditions," and those were just the ones passed on to him by the show's casting director, Lucinda Syson.
Eventually, of course, Gaiman and company found their Morpheus in Tom Sturridge, who told Entertainment Weekly that he spent a great deal of time working on the "physicality" of the character, taking care to craft a sense of movement and posture that informed the eternal, otherworldly life that the Lord of the Dreaming has led up to the point when the series begins.
As his star worked to perfect how Dream moves through the world, Gaiman spent his time obsessing over another very important detail of the character: Every single word of his dialogue. In the comics, thanks to legendary letterer Todd Klein, Morpheus speaks through distinctive black, irregularly shaped word balloons with white text, underlining that this is a character who just speaks differently than his mortal and even other immortal scene partners. For Gaiman, that meant constantly refining the words, up to the last possible moment.
"Morpheus' dialogue is incredibly specific," Gaiman said. "It was probably the thing I was most obsessive about. Someone would have written a fabulous script, Allan Heinberg would have rewritten a fabulous script, and I would have seen it at every iteration, but there would always be a point at the end where I would still be noodling on the Morpheus dialogue: Making sure the words were right, that the rhythms were right."
Sturridge added, "I remember you said to me that everything he says has to feel like it was etched in stone. He's never improvising. He has experienced and perceived every thought, dream, and moment, and therefore he knows what you're going to say. That was very helpful."
Dream's way of thinking and viewing the world is, of course, very specific, and Gaiman's direction to Sturridge about how he speaks is especially important to the character. Morpheus has to feel like he's seen and done it all, not just because of his long lifespan, but because we need to know that when something comes along to surprise him, that's really worth paying attention to. It'll be interesting to see exactly how that approach to the dialogue, and Sturridge's delivery of it, plays out on the screen.
The Sandman arrives on Netflix later this year.