Writer and series creator Neil Gaiman and director Douglas Mackinnon spoke with FanSided about Good Omens at New York Comic Con last fall.
Armageddon, the End Times, the Antichrist and his hell hound, all of it. Those are the circumstances that surround Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s comic masterpiece, Good Omens. Forget the final season of Game of Thrones: Good Omens proves to be a far more satisfying entertainment event.
At the heart is the charming bromance of Aziraphale, an angel, and Crowley, a demon, who have been thwarting their inept bosses in heaven and hell for 6,000 years. The characters of Aziraphale and Crowley are such richly drawn creatures, and here Michael Sheen and David Tenant create magic with their electric chemistry.
Gaiman and Pratchett co-wrote the book 30 years ago. The two of them had approached various writers to take on the seemingly impossible task of adapting one of the best collaborative novels ever written. Pratchett’s untimely death due to Alzheimer’s in 2015 motivated Gaiman to helm the adaptation himself.
Gaiman spoke about the decades’ long process of bringing the beloved novel to the television screen.
“The biggest challenge in the adaptation process was that it’s impossible, which people had been telling us for 30 years, that this book is actually un-film-able. And we’d gone out to many of the top names in writing and said ‘would you do the adaptation?’ And they had come back saying, ‘no… it’s too formless and weird.'”
Gaiman had promised Pratchett that he would adapt it, and decided to start penning the script himself as “a last request.”
“I think what made it possible was knowing the characters as well as I knew them. You cannot write a novel like that without the characters living under your skin, breathing there,” he said.
Good Omens is a six-part limited series for Amazon Prime.
“All I knew was going into it, I knew it was six episodes,” Gaiman said about how he selected that format. “I took the book, counted the page numbers, divided by six and went, okay, one episode has to end around here, [and another] has to end around here.”
Sheen and Tenant match each other in acting prowess, and their chemistry oozes off the screen. One of the fun bits of the series is watching them play off each other throughout history, beginning with the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark and including Rome, the Globe Theatre, and the French Revolution, to name just a few.
Gaiman said he conceived this charming innovation after realizing that Aziraphale and Crowley didn’t have much dialogue in episode 3, on a show that relies very heavily on their characters carrying it.
“[I] realized that episode 3 had no Crowley or Aziraphale in it, which would be a problem, given that they were going to be our stars, so decided on the spur of the moment that I would do a half hour… history of Crowley and Aziraphale, what they’ve done on earth, in the last 6,000 years, how they became friends, and I would just do that.”
Pratchett’s presence was felt throughout filming, and Gaiman reminisced on how much he missed his writing partner while adapting the novel.
“I cried a lot,” he said. “There was a lot of weird crying in the writing process, and the leading up-to-it process… While I was making it for him, while I was building the script, it was funny and sad.”
Director Douglas Mackinnon noticed times when it would hit Gaiman during the filming process.
“I became aware at really strange moments… we’d be shooting a scene, that seemed to me to be a straightforward scene, like the sushi scene, and then suddenly, I realized he’s upset,” Mackinnon said. “Something or another, because they had a particular memory of it.”
At the London premiere, there was a heartfelt moment when a seat was left for Pratchett, set aside with his customary scarf and hat.
When watching the series, it’s clear that Gaiman’s deep friendship with his writing partner had inspired the dynamic between Aziraphale and Crowley. In fact, the writing partners had always planned a cameo if their masterpiece was ever to get adapted.
“We have a scene where Aziraphale is eating sushi. And that scene exists because Terry and I had a joke, that at some point in Good Omens, we would need a scene where people had sushi, and then Terry and I were going to be extras. We were just going to be in the back, doing our invisible cameo, eating all the sushi they would bring. And that was our sort of joke.
“And then we got to shoot the scene, and I’m not in it as an extra because I couldn’t face the idea of being there, without Terry.”
Mackinnon said there are hints of Pratchett threaded in.
“He’s present physically here and there. Like we have his hat in the book shop… The first time you see Aziraphale in the book shop, you see the hat… He’s right at the heart of it. His name was at the top of the call sheet every day, so he was there, every day.”
At the center of the story are a pair of blokes who see through the incompetent orders of their (literally) heavenly and hellish bosses, who ask them to pretty much invalidate each other’s results. Instead, they hilariously cover each other’s tracks throughout time, and form an irresistible friendship along the way. And this is the glorious strength of the series. By the sixth episode, you wish you could see these two beguiling actors perform in any production together, of anything.
Much has been written about Aziraphale’s and Crowley’s relationship elsewhere, and Gaiman referenced their bromance.
“When I was constructing the TV series, I was very consciously constructing it as if you were constructing a love story.”
Mackinnon said that the relationship between the two inspired him.
“It’s very unusual to see two men being in that sort of relationship… When I read the book, after I read the script, that’s what I loved about it, here’s a relationship so honest and straightforward, and yet not perfect. One’s an angel, one’s a demon, so it’s going to be tricky.
“When they’re together, they’re bigger than the individuals.”
The full limited series Good Omens drops on Amazon Prime on May 31. Don’t miss it.