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SYFY WIRE Good Omens

SXSW: Good Omens cast and creators say series brings much-needed 'optimism'

By Christian Long
Good Omens David Tennant Michael Sheen

"It does feel a little bit timely, and I kind of wish it didn’t," said Neil Gaiman about the upcoming adaptation of Good OmensThe limited series, which debuts on Amazon on May 31, is based on the book he co-authored with Terry Pratchett. Though it was released in 1990, there's something about tales of the end of days that feels particularly relevant today.

Ahead of a special SXSW preview of select scenes from the series, SYFY WIRE spoke with Gaiman, along with stars David Tennant, Michael Sheen, Jon Hamm, and director Douglas Mackinnon about how Good Omens may resonate more today than at the dawn of the '90s.

"It is that weird thing where you make the art the time that it is needed," explained Gaiman, who's also serving as showrunner. "The fundamental optimism of Good Omens, it’s about averting the apocalypses, about not having wars, about the fact that the world is a good place and we need to look after. Maybe those ideas are needed now more than they ever were before."

While Good Omens might have ideas that could be of value for the world, translating the notoriously dense text into another medium was no small task. For that, Mackinnon said his role "was representing the audience," with his role as the director.

"He’s a proper collaborator," said Mackinnon of Gaiman. "He was very generous in opening those doors for me."

It was that collaborative process between the two that allowed the book's wholly unique story to come through on the screen. Sheen, who plays the angel Aziraphale, was also involved from the earliest stages of development. As Gaiman would be typing out the scripts, he'd send copies to the actor. As he'd read them, Sheen ended up drifting from one lead role to another.

"Originally we talked about me playing Crowley, and as I was reading [the scripts], I was thinking, 'I think I'd be better as Aziraphale,' but I was a bit scared to tell Neil," Sheen revealed. "Meanwhile, Neil was writing the scripts and thinking, 'I think Michael would be better as Aziraphale.' So we were both feeling the same way."

With Sheen switching roles, Tennant was brought in to play Crowley, which gave the two actors a chance to explore the relationship that is at the core of Good Omens.

"Amongst all these crazy, absurd, ridiculous things going on around them, there's this relationship at the heart of it, which is very real and relatable," Sheen added.

Of the handful of scenes screened in between a lengthy Q&A, moderated by Aisha Tyler, the audience caught glimpses of some of those "crazy, absurd, ridiculous things," which all struck very close to the heart of the source material, even with some fundamental changes to the story.

One such change is the character of Gabriel, the archangel. Hamm describes his character as "the boss that we’ve all had that everybody hates," but loves the opportunity to "be able to create from a blank cloth, especially with Neil being right there."

Those critical changes aside, Tennant said assuredly that the series is "very ... specific to the minds of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett."

"It’s got the mingling of the supernatural and the fantastical with the domestic and the everyday. Where those Venn diagrams cross, it’s something very special. It’s not really like anything else. It’s not really like worlds that you recognize, but clearly it has its own voice, and that’s delicious, really."

Along with the sheer originality of the story, Tennant did share some of the sentiments about what the show can impart to audiences today. "Yes, it’s absolutely about the end of days, but it’s about how the end of days might be averted by two opposing ideologies sitting down and having a chat and a cup of tea. That, I think, is something the whole world has to aspire to these days."

You can catch Good Omens when it premieres on Amazon starting March 31.