After a very long wait, fans of The Sandman comics were finally given one of the best gifts of all time: a live adaptation series on Netflix. While it mostly received rave reviews, however, some die-hard fans expressed their disappointment in some of the casting choices. We got to meet Neil Gaiman over Zoom and ask him about the casting choices made for the series and he perfectly explained the situation to us.
In fact, he started by saying how strange it is that people were saying things like “How dare you make Desire non-binary?” when there were many gay characters in the comics to begin with. Neil shares that they basically dealt with the casting by interrogating each other first and foremost as each character would turn up.
Neil shared, “We’d say, ‘Okay. Here’s a white character. Is there any reason they need to be white? Here is a male character. Is there any reason they need to be male?’ Sometimes, the answer is yes.” At this point, Neil points to Gilbert as an example, who is modeled upon the English writer, G.K. Chesterton. A large, rotund gentleman of advancing years; the role was given to Stephen Fry.
However, Neil also pointed out that sometimes, they would look at somebody and go, “Okay, well, this character is the librarian of dreams. And they’re a white male named Lucien. Is there any reason why they need to be white? No. What’s important is that once upon a time, they were a raven and now, they’re a librarian. Librarians come in all shapes and colors. Is there any reason why they need to be male? No. There is no point in which they use their penis to pick anything up or anything like that. The only thing that is important here is that they are a librarian. Librarians can be of all genders. Great.”
What this ultimately did was double the number of people that they could audition for the role. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are going to not cast a white person or a male person. What it means is we get to audition everybody. And what’s interesting is when you start auditioning everybody, you wind up getting some amazing performances,” Neil explained. The role of Lucien(ne) eventually went to Vivienne Acheampong.
Another casting decision that Neil spoke up about is that of Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death. “People are like, ‘It was brave of you to cast a black woman as Death.’ I’m like, ‘No, it really wasn’t brave.’” Neil explained that they had auditions that we haven’t seen where 700 different women read the part of Death, including supermodels and women of all ethnicities.
Neil shared that the only one of them who said, “You’re the sorriest excuse for an anthropomorphic personification on this or any other plane” and made him believe that line was Kirby Howell-Baptiste.
He added, “She’s Dream’s big sister. I believe he loves him and isn’t going to take any shit from him and I’d really like to meet her that day that I get hit by a car crossing the road. If that happens to me, I want her there saying, ‘You really should’ve looked both ways crossing the street.’ Because her performance was that good. So from my perspective, that’s not brave. That’s not even going, ‘Rah, rah, rah, diversity.’ That’s just going, ‘Who’s the best person for this job? You are. Great!’”
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