Fantasy author Neil Gaiman has talked about managing the Amazon / BBC production of Good omens for months. Yet he is still emotionally touched about Terry Pratchett, his co-author about the 1990 novel, which adjusts the series. "The only thing I wanted to do was make something that Terry would have liked," says Gaiman. "That was the only rule."
Gaiman is no stranger to working on television. Many of his comics and novels have been adapted for the screen, from the BBC mini series from 1996 Neverwhere to the Starz adaptation of his novel American gods, which he produced. But Good omensthat he wrote and produced, represented a new level of dedication for him. As a showrunner, he personally supervised every step of the production, per Pratchett's dying wish that he made sure that an adjustment was made properly. Good omens is Gaiman's exceptionally faithful adaptation to the apocalyptic story that he wrote with Pratchett. It follows the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant) while trying to prevent the end time.
Director entirely by Douglas Mackinnon (Doctor who, foreigner), the series has an all-star cast largely from Gaiman & # 39; s personal contacts, including Jon Hamm, Josie Lawrence, Adria Arjona, Michael McKean, Jack Whitehall, Miranda Richardson and Nick Offerman. Many of them, Gaiman says, were fans of the novel. Together they eventually wanted to respect the wishes of Pratchett for a good adjustment.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What was your approach to finding out what the story needed to work as a mini series?
Picking up a copy of the book that is approximately 360 pages long in this edition and posting a Post-it note every 60 pages. That gives us six episodes. And then looking at every 60-page piece, looking at episode 3, which says, "That's weird, Crowley and Aziraphale aren't in here. Why don't I just do some sort of pre-credit order – the 6000 alone years of human history in which you can find out how they got where they were? "
Go to episode 6, go: "That's interesting, if I film it this way, I'll hit the plot halfway through the episode, and then it gets really boring. I'll have to fix that, but I don't know how. I come out. I know the angels are in it. And I know hell is in it. Now I'm going to start and let's see where that takes us. "And that was really the process.
Terry was in a coma, I think, the moment I did that. I got a letter from him and said, "Please do this for me." And then he died and I flew to England. I made a 48-hour trip, went to the funeral, flew home, landed, and began to write episode 1, in a world where nothing seemed very funny. That was the process. Write the script for script, try to present the television series that I would like to see.
We had talked, Terry and I, a lot about the angels. The angels actually appeared in a first version of the Good omens we did a film script. For some reason the studio couldn't agree with the idea that Aziraphale had a bookstore, so he had to work at the British Museum. So there was a scene in which he was chased by the British Museum by angels who fluttered at their halos and then threw them as murderer Frisbees.
It was just that thing to go, "Okay, we need angels here to balance everything. We need a few more. We need a few demons." I thought, "Okay, let's see heaven, let's see hell. "All of that just grew organically. And by the time I arrived in episode 6, all the solutions for my clock problems were waiting for me there.
How many of Gabriel & # 39; s character and character were on the page before Jon Hamm came in?
Everything. I went: "Okay, I need someone who must be taller, more beautiful and better dressed than Aziraphale. They must be able to deliver these lines with absolute certainty of their own equal. And you have to face them all the time "So I wrote an e-mail to Jon Hamm and said," Jon, you once told me that Good omens was one of your favorite books 20 years ago. Do you want to be the angel Gabriel? This is what he is. And by the way, it's not in the book. "And I got a one-word e-mail back that just said," Yes. "So now I had a Jon Hamm.
That reveals a lot about the enormous number of fans of the book.
That's why Michael (Sheen) did it. And Sister Mary, Nina Sosanya. She was the first to read it when she was fifteen, and since then she has read it every year, and she loves it. She was the first actor we got, who crystallized for me: "Okay, this is the kind of performance we need." Until then we listened to nuns and they all knew the thing was funny, so we got funny performances from them. And it was like: "No, do what Nina does, where she plays absolutely and completely straight, and it's hilarious."
Did you have any brain confidence or producers that you consulted about the changes you made to the story?
The most important was Rob Wilkins, Terry Pratchett's representative on earth. I remember the point where I found out what I was going to do in episode 6, how I would get a plot that ran all the way to the end. And the idea that I would start episode 6 with the Crowley test. I remember texting Rob & # 39; te: "Oh, this is so damn handsome."
When we worked on the scripts (we only worked) with the BBC. The BBC didn't give the kind of notes you can expect from a studio, I think partly because they knew it had gone so far beyond their budget, as halfway through episode 1. They said, "We just let him write." we bring those scripts to Amazon (who co-produced the series), and they say, "Oh, we love this. Okay." So it was very simple.
But there were surprises at the very end. Part of it was that the show wasn't done until everything was finished, including the graphics, the voices, the last VFX, the layout, the coloring. Suddenly it says, "Oh, that's what we made."
Do you feel the pressure of knowing that this must be the final best adaptation that it could be?
No. All I wanted to do was make something that Terry would have liked. It wasn't like "Make the best." I think things like this are almost like playing at school. "This is our school game Good omens. We have Michael and David. We have Frances McDormand and Benedict Cumberbatch, Nick Offerman, Nina Sosanya, Miranda Richardson, Adria Arjona, Jack Whitehall, all these wonderful people in it. But you can step up your school game next year. & # 39;
How does it feel to know that your version is available?
Great, really great. Especially since I have the feeling that I … it's just like in a cartoon where someone goes to the laboratory, and then you just see the sign "keep out", and you hear hammering for a while and suddenly the door opens , and there is the robot or whatever they have made. And now I show everyone the robot. And that is so exciting. This is four years of my life and I loved it, and I am really looking forward to it being done.
Of everything you've said publicly over the years, it seems like this was a great experience that you look forward to never having.
Yes, I was not put on this planet to argue with someone about damn budgets.
The things you do for Terry.
Yes, there was so much "Great, you saddled me with this and then you ran away."
Probably the biggest reason that I think it's great to have done it is a kind of proof of concept. Over the years I have made many things and they are all a bit strange, but I have always loved them. You look at Anansi Boys, Coraline, The ocean at the end of the course, they are not like other things. Sandman it's not like other things.
Many of them have been adjusted, some have been very well adapted and many of them have not actually gone to the screen. But there is certainly a level where I feel like I can point out something and say, "I think it would be great if you did that thing in the book because I think it will work."
The good thing about it Good omens (the mini series) is that it is quiet Good omens. If you loved the book, this thing was what you loved. And I'll make you fall in love even more with Sergeant Shadwell. I will make you fall in love with Newt even more than you thought you could, I hope. It shows that I know what I am talking about, and that is nice to know.
The adaptation process must have the feeling of seeing something that you have said translated into another language.
There is also just the feeling that you want to show people that things like this really work as written. It does not have to be solved. The number of adjustments from sandman I have read in recent years – most of the time I watch people desperately try to fix the things that they think have broken into it. I look at it and I go, "Actually this works, and you would be much better off if you just did what I did. It would work."
So with Good omensI feel like I need to put the thing I made with Terry on the screen and then have to support it. What I have added is not entirely different from the original. It is not from the left field.
The biggest changes from the book to the show all seem to reflect that it is the story of two friends.
It's true. Although, if you told me that when I sat down to write it, I might have been quite surprised. It became very clear when I wrote that the song "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" is a better place to end the TV show than (the place where the book ended).
You had Tori Amos record an original cover of that song, which is an old standard. What is the meaning here?
It is an English song, although I believe it was written before the war, by an expat from France. (Note: the song was written in 1939, with lyrics by Eric Maschwitz and music by Manning Sherwin.) And it only lists the strange things that happened one night that had never happened before.
The book has the phrase "For the first time ever a nightingale sang at Berkeley Square." That was mine because I liked the idea that a nightingale once sang at Berkeley Square. The whole point of (the song) is, there are all these things that never happened, except this one time … and there is a lyricism about & # 39; there were angels dining at the Ritz & # 39 ;.
And when I wrote, I probably spent four days listening to versions of & # 39; A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square & # 39 ;. Every version of Spotify, every version on YouTube that says: "There is a version that I have in mind and that I have to close with. It must be a dinner piano and it must enter someone who sings it and breaks your heart. & # 39;
I listened to version after version and (the one I had in mind) did not exist. So I reached to Tori Amos (an old friend) and said, "Please come into the cutting room, I want to show you things." And I showed her what we were doing and showed her the end, and I just said, "Look, do you want to do this thing? Go from dinner piano, we'll bring some strings, but I want you to sing the song "
All I asked her was just the first verse or two, and she actually does three verses and a small completion. It seems like the only time I have met people who say they have been sitting and looking at the credits just because they wanted to listen to Tori and hear how it ended.
It is a beautiful cherry on this sundae because there is so much of it Good omens is built around people you already knew.
These are my friends. Like I said, it's just like a school play.
You said you never want to be a showrunner again, but what about this experience that you plan to use in the future?
I think it will be much harder for a future showrunner to make me nonsense. I think there are definitely places where I will be more determined about things that I would not necessarily have been in the past. I'm still going to write scripts, I'm going to make things. I just never want to show a sixth-episode thing again.