Ever since the first issue of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman was published in 1989, there have been people trying to adapt it to screen – and over the years, the author hasn't hidden the fact that he's actively thwarted plans for those he didn't think would do it justice.
Netflix's ten-episode take on the material not only has his seal of approval, but Gaiman was heavily involved in its creation. But that didn't stop actors Tom Sturridge, who plays the titular Dream, and Vivienne Acheampong, who appears as Dream's pal Lucienne, from feeling the pressure on set.
"He made this with us. He wrote the first episode, along with [showrunner] Allan [Heinberg] and David Goyer," Sturridge tells Total Film. "He was watching every single frame of everything we made. He was always present, if not physically because of COVID, but Zoomily. It's true to everything but yeah, it doesn't relax you because this is something that I care about so much. I'm such an enormous fan myself and, you know, the burden of people's dreams for it was very real, but to know that everything we were doing was being led in some way by its creator felt very reassuring, for sure."
Also starring the likes of Boyd Holbrook, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, David Thewlis, Jenna Coleman, and Gwendoline Christie, The Sandman lifts storylines straight from Gaiman's graphic novels. It follows Dream, a powerful cosmic being, as he journeys to different worlds – from Hell to modern-day London – to retrieve his tools and restore balance after being imprisoned for over a century by a ruthless magic user.
Turns out, the latter had been trying to capture Death in the hope of resurrecting his dead son, but the spell went awry. Morpheus was mixed up in it – and his absence has caused chaos across the universe. Fortunately for the performers, much of the sets were practical, which allowed them to fully sink into the story's sense of high fantasy.
"That was one of the most amazing things about this job. I remember the first time I walked into Lucienne's library, I was like, 'Oh my god, this is absolutely incredible.' I just wanted to touch everything," laughs Acheampong.
"That is what makes this show work. The creatives behind the show have been absolutely incredible because it's so detailed and it's so real that it just brings truth. Yes, it is epic. But within that there needs to be truth for it to work because you're talking about humanity. So it's only the things that really needed to be green screen that were green screen and special effects, which are also equally as wonderful. But it was very, very real and tangible. For me, as an actor, that was so thrilling to work in that way."
"A story like this already requires an extraordinary leap of imagination. To not have to do that with everything was unbelievable. I mean, the talking raven was a real raven. Lucifer's lair was built; the fires were real," Sturridge adds. "The columns of marble were real, the murals on the wall were painted. That makes an enormous difference.
"Then the other thing that's important, I think, is that when we dream, we often don't know that we're dreaming, because it feels real to us," he explains. "I think the danger with something like this is that you start treating it like some kind of computer game that you don't connect to. They really wanted these spaces to be palpable and to feel as real as a dream, even though that sounds like a contradiction."
The Sandman is available to stream now. If dark fantasy isn't your bag, and you're overwhelmed by the amount of content on the streamer, then check out our guide to the best Netflix shows for some viewing inspiration.