Neil Gaimanis groundbreaking graphic novel series The Sandman is currently the source material for two very different adaptations — a highly anticipated live-action series for Netflix and an audio drama that you can enjoy right now on Audible. For both projects, the fantasy tale of the embodiment of dreams regaining his sleep after a century of captivity has attracted truly awe-inspiring talent, but one of the most exciting members of both ensembles is James McAvoy, who plays the Dream for the Audible drama that Gaiman told Collider last year was designed to be explicitly true to the original narrative.
Recently, Audible was released Sandmen: Act II, which adapts volumes 4, 5 and most of 6 of the graphic novel to a sound experience. So in a one-on-one interview with Collider, McAvoy talked about his relationship with Gaiman’s work before joining the project, what it was like to work with a writer / director Dirk Maggs about the adaptation, and how his mental image of Dream as a character is actually quite different from the artists’ renditions of the comic. He also reveals what other fantasy and sci-fi qualities he would like to be a part of the line, and whether he feels like he’s done playing (the younger) Professor X in X men movie.
Collider: What was your relationship to start with? The Sandman, before taking on the role?
JAMES MCAVOY: Oh, I wanted to read some of the first chapters of Sandman when I was a teenager. The first one I ever read was on order from my friend, the Serial Killer Convention, which was absolutely terrifying. And it took me a while to get over it, actually in terms of getting back to it, because just as much as I loved it, it stuck in me how scary it was. And it took me a couple of months to get back and read some of the other stuff, because it’s not all scary, Sandman. A lot of it is, but it’s not all that scary. Some of it is quite whimsical, and quite gripping and beautiful too, and also quite classic at times. But yeah, so that was my first study. It was my first instance.
And then I became a fan of Neil’s through, I think, Good signs, [which he wrote] with Teddy Pratchett, and then to things like American gods. One of my favorite books ever is actually The sea at the end of the course. And then I’ve been a fan of him for many, many years. And also I made a radio game customization of Nowhere about 10 years ago, something like that, with Dirk Maggs as the director.
So I was familiar that way. And also getting to work with Dirk Maggs again at Neil’s work was specific … It was a real coup, because not only is Neil’s work incredible, but Dirk is the guy. He keeps the flame burning for Neil Gaiman. I mean, not that he needs it. Everyone reads them, sees them, does them, but there is something about Dirk. He just gets into it. And in a way, I sometimes think he understands Neil’s work even better than Neil sometimes. You know? Neil said that too. It’s not just me. I hope it’s okay to say.
Of course. I’m sure you pretty much recorded everything separately for this. Did you have the opportunity to record with other actors?
MCAVOY: No. I do not think. Especially the first season was very isolated. I was in a play in the West End and it strained my voice, it was a big question about my voice. And then I said to the guys, to Dirk and Neil and all that, “would you mind if we postponed my recording until I finished the play?” This was February 2020. And when I finished the piece, the pandemic is of course completely ready, and there was no real opportunity to go into the recording studios and record anything, unfortunately. So we were destroyed. So I think after three or four months, we were like, they had registered every single character in the thing. Every single actor in the thing had been registered except me and this is obviously a problem.
So they sent me a do-it-yourself recording studio inside your house that I had to build and build. And I’m not the best at DIY, home improvement or the like. So that was a bit of a question, but we got there eventually, which is good. And yes, I was at home on my own recording of all these things. It’s actually pretty cool. But the good thing is for me that every other actor had obviously put their stuff down. So the instructor could pretty much play all season except my lines. So I heard the whole show. It was absolutely fascinating. I have never had that experience before in any movie, television, sound, live-action, game, whatever it is, it was a first time for me. And I absolutely loved it.
I would not necessarily get you to play favorites necessarily, but if there was another actor from the cast that you wish you could make your scenes with, is anyone thinking?
MCAVOY: Oh, I really enjoy the things Morpheus does with Death. That’s Kat Denning’s character. What else? Taron Egerton plays John Constantine. I’ve always liked him. I think he’s a great actor. And maybe the two. Maybe it would be cool to get the three of us together.
When you recorded, what did you do specifically to get into the character’s headspace considering all the parameters you passed?
MCAVOY: I mean, it’s hard with Dream, because I think Neil is watching Sandman… Maybe he does not see it consciously, but it’s just a playground for his imagination. It’s more than that that makes it sound like he’s just servicing himself, but it’s such a different topic, one episode, to the next, that the dream is sometimes almost a different character from one episode to the next. . And you kind of have to be the guy he needs you to be sometimes. You go and are the dream the dream should be for that episode sometimes.
But it’s really different. An episode allows you to join Shakespeare while performing A midsummer night’s dream to the fairies. And in the next episode, you’re with John Constantine in today’s Liverpool, tracking down a criminal or something. And it’s so wild and vastly different every time you get back to it. So you have to trust Neil, and you have to trust Dirk, because he’s just the best guy to get you through this. There is so much. It’s close. It’s like it’s rhyme and reams and reams. It is almost Shakespearian in terms of the amount of material he has managed to put together.
Yes, absolutely. When you make the actual recording, do you have a photo of the character nearby? Do you have other things you use to keep in mind what is going on?
MCAVOY: No, no. I’m just trying to let my imagination do the work for me. I mean, much like the listener is, or will have to do. If I am not able to imagine it, then the listener will not be able to have much of a shot. So no, I pretty much let my imagination do all the work. And also my dream, I think he looks a little different than the artwork I have seen. In my mind, he does it anyway.
MCAVOY: I do not know. There is something very special about many of the works of art, which is amazing. And I’m not saying it’s not who he is to people who see him that way, but I do not know. I just saw him a little more plain at times. There’s something strangely banal about Morpheus sometimes that I like because he’s like that … It’s not ethereal, but it’s a physically amazing figure. And yet there is something quite mundane and homely about him sometimes. I like that.
In general, across many different media, you have played an interesting range of characters in fantasy and sci-fi worlds. Is there a dream role you have not yet got to perform, or a dream franchise you would like to be a part of?
MCAVOY: I mean, I’ve often talked about love Star Trek, and funny, but also a little seriously been like that, if you ever want to make a young Jean-Luc Picard, I’m your man. But I’m probably getting too old to make a young Jean-Luc Picard now. So there it is.
I remember when they made Lord of the Rings, the first time. (You have to say it the first time, because Amazon does it again.) I remember me and my buddy, Ross, just sitting in a pub and just being like, What is the point of becoming an actor? They have already made the best story ever written. And then there it was out the window. But now we live in the land of remake, so there’s always a chance. There is always a chance that you will come to a show. But the only thing that comes to mind is Star Trek, I think. I’ve always loved it. Always.
Well, I think I feel like you have a pretty good work experience under your belt for playing a Jean-Luc.
MCAVOY: Yes, for sure. I have actually successfully been Patrick and balded up, although the young Jean-Luc might again not be bald. But yes, no, maybe I’m overqualified for that though. That’s the other thing. Do you know what I mean? It’s too easy, it’s too obvious a choice. So maybe it turns people off.
Of course. That way, do you feel like you’re done playing Professor X?
MCAVOY: I feel like it, yes. I feel like I got to explore, not everything I wanted to explore, because there’s probably more, but I had to explore lots of Professor X, and I feel quite happy with what I got out of him. as a performer. That is not to say you will never ever, you will never come back and you will never do it again and all that sort of thing. You never say never, as I think James Bond once said. But I do not chop a little. I will not be worn out and desperately upset if it never happens again.
Sandmen: Act II now available exclusively on Audible. In addition, the first installment is currently available for free on Audible, Amazon Music and via Alexa-enabled devices until October 22nd.
KEEP READING: ‘The Sandman: Act II’: Audible and DC announce release date and new cast
It seems that fate is not without a sense of irony.
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