SXSW: Neil Gaiman Talks Casting ‘Good Omens’ Through Email

Neil Gaiman
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When it came to getting the television adaptation of “Good Omens” right, author and showrunner Neil Gaiman mentally ran things by the ghost of his novel writing partner Terry Pratchett. Keeping it true to what he and Pratchett would have wanted was a “mad passion project.”

“Normally if you are the writer in television, your control extends up to the moment that you stop typing and you hand the thing over and people will do with it what they want to do with it. The great thing about ‘Good Omens’ was because I made myself showrunner, it meant that the director Douglas [Mackinnon] and I got to work together and nobody go to out vote us and I got to make the thing that I wanted,” Gaiman said at SXSW Saturday.

The series premieres May 31 on Amazon and has an all-star cast that includes Michael Sheen as earth-dwelling angel Aziraphale and David Tennant as his demon counterpart Crowley. Jon Hamm is the angel Gabriel; Benedict Cumberbatch is the voice of Satan; and Frances McDormand plays the voice of God.

Gaiman said that getting his dream cast onboard wasn’t particularly challenging: It only took one email to convince Hamm to take the supporting role, even though the character is not in the book and therefore Hamm did not have the additional source material from which to further flesh out the character that the show’s leads did. Gaiman’s email to convince Hamm, the showrunner said, was “I want it to be you and I know that you loved the book because you told me you loved the book.” Gaiman shared that Hamm only wrote back a one-word email, and it was “yes.”

Gaiman also shared that the role of God was extended to McDormand after she sent him an email, and her affirmative response was communicated back to him the same way, although lengthier than Hamm’s. “She said, ‘Yes, that would impress my family,'” Gaiman revealed.

Gaiman shared some exclusive, first-look footage from the six-episode limited series in Austin, Texas, before being startled by the a throng of nuns, the Chattering Order of St. Beryl, who approached the stage and broke out into song.

Now that “Good Omens” is wrapped and in safe hands, and “American Gods” Season 2 launches Sunday, Mar. 10 on Starz, Gaiman says he plans to get back to writing, picking up a novel he started in 2017 and working on a children’s book, “Pirates Askew,” based on “a few lines of scribbled poetry.”