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TCAs: The Good Omens cast and crew reveal release date, Cumberbatch casting, and more

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Feb 13, 2019

There was plenty of angelic energy in the air for the Good Omens section of today's Amazon panel at the 2019 TCAs. The beloved book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett deals with good, evil, and all of the places in between ... and so will the televised adaptation that Gaiman is overseeing personally. It's almost too easy to say that the panel about Good Omens contained many good omens for how the show will turn out, but that is definitely the case here.

SYFY WIRE was at the panel, and we've got all of the special secrets and details that were shared by Gaiman (creator, author, showrunner, executive producer), Douglas Mackinnon (director), and actors David Tennant (Crowley), Michael Sheen (Aziraphale), and Jon Hamm (Gabriel).

Starting things off with a biblical bang, Gaiman revealed that the one thing that "people have wanted to know for the last two years" is the release date. Well, the wait is over: All six episodes of the series will premiere on May 31, exclusively on Amazon Prime.

Mackinnon (who directed every episode) talked about the show's visual influences, which include Monty Python. "We wanted to make it look epic, glorious, and warm, and we managed," he said. Gaiman chimed in on the look of the opening titles, saying, "Our opening titles invoke Terry] Gilliam, Hieronymus Bosch, and Edward Gorey. Overall, its style is no style. We do whatever we have to do to make it work. We felt like we were allowed to do it."

If that doesn't give you a good sense of what the show will look like, perhaps the opening title sequence will. So why not just watch for yourself, since Amazon was kind enough to release the sequence during the panel?

Gaiman also said that in Episode 3 of the series, they get to "a point where it's 30 minutes before the opening titles, and it throws people." Mackinnon added that they felt like they were "doing a six-hour film, not television," and that opened them up to more influences.

The series boasts an insane cast, and Gaiman spoke about how he went about securing them. "I read as a small boy that they would invade castles by shooting thread with arrow — Michael [Sheen] was my thread. I invited him and then I went to David [Tennant]. From there, it was ransacking my address book and I knew there were hidden Good Omens fans who told me about it, like Jon Hamm. His favorite book in college was Good Omens, so I filed that away."

Even Mackinnon was amazed at the size of their talented cast, saying, "It did get silly as I watched it. The names coming up in the titles, I didn’t know they were in the show!" Gaiman continued, saying that people just loved the project. "At one point, we had a castmember had a family tragedy and had to go. I remember sending a text to Nick Offerman, 'We’re in trouble. Can you help me?' He was with us two days later in South Africa. We have David Morrissey, Michael McKean..."

That's when Gaiman dropped another bombshell. "We kept casting until the end, and in Episode 6 there is an appearance of Satan. [Frances] McDormand is God. With that, we needed someone who could give her a run for her money. We found a young British actor — Benedict Cumberbatch."

Cumberbatch

Presenting Benesatan Khanbersmaug! (Credit: John Lamparski/Getty Images)

That's right, Cumberbatch himself (Sherlock, Doctor Strange, The Hobbit) will play Satan. As Mackinnon pointed out, we can now say, "No S**t Satan." And yes, we intend to. 

When asked about how they brought about the "demon eyes" that Tennant can be seen wearing in the trailers, Tennant said that he wore contacts to achieve the look. "...They weren’t so bad except when we were in the heat of Africa," he said. "You had to manage them a bit. The big ones cover most of the eye, and the smaller ones were for when he’s settled into his life on Earth." 

Though he's sporting the eyes of a demon, Tennant's Crowley will not speak with his natural Scottish accent, and Sheen's Aziraphale won't be using his natural Welsh accent either. Gaiman enthused about this, saying, "I was overjoyed to take the premiere Scottish actor of his generation and premiere Welsh actor of his generation and make them English. It’s from the book. It’s a peculiarly English sense of humor in the book, and they are even more English than if they were English." 

Gaiman was asked about who was "very good" on this planet, and he replied by saying, "Speaking as the person who talked Michael into doing this in the first place, it fascinated me, he tends to play people with sharp, brittle outsides. So, knowing him as I have for the last decade, I thought he would be amazing as an angel who is soft and sweet." 

He continued by addressing the good vs. evil nature of the book, saying that, "The idea that there is good and evil, but you don’t find them in heaven and hell. You find them in human beings. You can find both inside the same people because they are contradictory and frustrating." 

Has the look and feel of the book been updated at all? Gaiman noted that it hasn't been really, but that they "played around with a few things." He said that it is set "in a nostalgic present," adding that, "Crowley is driving around in a Bentley. That kind of stuff felt consistent." He also let it slip that some of the things he added into the show (that were not in the original book), were things that he stole from Pratchett, intended for possible sequels. "It was mostly angels," he said. 

On the subject of the dearly departed Sir Terry Pratchett, Gaiman talked a bit about his process of working with him. "I started out in '87 writing 5K words of a story up to the end of the baby swap. Suddenly, Sandman happened. Then I got a call from Pratchett who said he knows what happens next, let’s do it together — it was like Michelangelo asking to paint a ceiling together," he said. "We finished it, sold it, and were overjoyed. Various people wanted to make it a movie. Terry had Alzheimer’s, and we agreed that we would never do it not together. He basically said you have to do this because I want to see it." 

Gaiman added, "He died, so it was a last request. I wrote the scripts and couldn’t just be an EP. I was determined to make something Terry loved. I helped cast it. I worked with Douglas. Was in video village. Spent 11 months editing it and approving VFX." Mackinnon said that the big thing for him was that the final frame of the series said, "For Terry." He added, "It’s who we made it for." 

Pratchett's memory will definitely live on in the series, in ways both spiritual and physical. Even a corner of Aziraphale's store will have an homage to Pratchett — according to Gaiman, "His hat is hanging in the book shop."

The book is famous for having such incredible (and detailed) footnotes, which can be something of a challenge for a show like this. Gaiman was asked about how they would be incorporated, and he answered, "Two answers, both true. The book is the book. The show is the show. We wanted to make something that would have Easter eggs for both and surprises." He went into further detail, though, revealing that a sequence involving a flaming sword in Episode 3 is lifted directly from the book's footnotes. 

"Sometimes they appear and there’s no commentary at all, so you sometimes have to look hard for them... but they’re there," Mackinnon said. 

Good Omens will come to Earth and Amazon Prime on May 31. 


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