Adaptations of Neil Gaiman’s work are not uncommon. Nearly every novel he’s ever written has found its way into film, television, and even radio and the stage. But what of his comic book magnum opus, the series that changed the medium. What of “The Sandman.” With a (purportedly expensive) Netflix adaptation on the horizon, it’s time we considered who should play each member of the Endless family and the many colorful supporting characters in the world of Dreams. Today we dream, and what we dream of is an awesome “Sandman” cast.
Destiny: Laurence Fishburne
The eldest of the Endless is maddeningly aloof. He’ll tell you anything you’d care to know, everything that has ever happened and anything that will ever happen. He’s not inherently scary; it’s the truth itself that’s scary. On the other hand, he’ll never sugarcoat anything ever. He doesn’t care enough about individuals to consider their feelings like that. Laurence Fishburne is an actor thoroughly deserving of taking on a divine personage. He’s filled with gravitas, inspired, compelled to tell the truth. Put him in a hood, get him a big book, and he’d fill every corner of the screen with his enormous compelling presence.
Death: Tatiana Maslany
Perhaps the most popular character in Sandman, Death is complex. Visually, she’s a goth icon, and needs an actor who can embody the look without getting lost in it. Personally, she’s the nicest, kindest, most compassionate being you could ever care to meet. As an intelligent and immortal being, she possesses infinite wisdom. But she’s also the most feared of her family, and she’s sort of burdened by that perception. That’s a tough combination. Wise and powerful, bubbly and supportive, and terribly misunderstood. Why not turn to one of the best actors out there working today, Tatiana Maslany, who has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is capable of literally anything. Most importantly, she has the stature to embody an icon without vanity. You could easily see her performance as Death becoming a cultural touchstone, part Pretty In Pink and part The Crow.
Dream: Adam Driver
Dream is a lot of things. He’s our main protagonist for one. He’s also a goth icon, pale as death with a tangled rats nest for hair. He can be gentle and loving, but he can just as easily fly into a jealous rage and banish his lover to Hell for 10,000 years. But most of all, he’s always clenching. Happy or sad, Morpheus of the Endless, Oneiros, Kai’ckul, Lord L’Zoril of Mars, Lord Shaper, the Prince of Stories, the King of All Night’s Dreaming, the freaking Sandman, never ever relaxes. For our main character, we’re going to pick one of the most interesting actors around, Adam Driver.
He’s got the unusual look down, and similarly to Maslany, he wouldn’t get lost in the character. But primarily, Driver is able to bring complexity to his characters like no one else. He’s played an abusive boyfriend on Girls, and a literal school shooter turned fascist in Star Wars, and we still dig him. Sometimes he’s an inscrutible hipster and sometimes he’s a guileless dude from a podunk town. No matter how many times Dream messes up, or commits terrible atrocities, we will want to continue watching him if he’s played by Adam Driver.
Desire: Janelle Monae and Billy Porter
There are a lot of directions you can go in with the casting of Desire. Neither male nor female, Desire is what you want. Is want. That means bringing an indisputably sexual energy to everything they do. We’re not just looking for someone attractive (though that doesn’t hurt), we’re looking for someone who fucks. Unable to decide on a male or female actor for the part, I decided to consider dueling performers who would compliment each other. A woman who looks great in tuxedos. A man who looks great in gowns. When one of them passes behind a pillar, they step out as the other one. Their voices blend together, creating something inhuman.Continued below
Well when it comes to sexy and inhuman, it’s hard to beat Janelle Monae. She’s a modern David Bowie, creating stories and characters through her music that challenge sexual norms. She’s also a pretty damn good actor. She killed it in Hidden Figures and Moonlight. I happen to really like her performance as a robot in Amazon’s Electric Dreams. To complete the character, we’re going to look to Billy Porter. A star of stage, Porter started to make waves from his role on Pose but really hit the big time with his spectacular red carpet fashion. Do they look alike? Not really, but who cares? They both are famously desirable.
Despair: Mae Whitman
Let’s be clear- there is no one who looks like Despair. A malformed inhuman blubbery mass, it’s easy to try to start with the look and work backwards from there. That’s a mistake though. Despair should be made of special effects, ideally practical effects like something out of the Jim Henson workshop. What we do need to find is someone who can capture the darker side of sadness. This shouldn’t be a fun performance. No, it’s sort of disturbing. Most of the time she’s on the page, Despair is either cutting herself or talking to her rats (or both). When considering this part, I wanted an actor who could fully commit, convincing us of the totality of her anguish. That’s why I settled on Mae Whitman.
Now, you might know Mae Whitman best from lighter fare. She distinguished herself through her (her?) role on Arrested Development. Most people visiting this site though probably love Whitman from her role as the voice of Katara on Avatar: The Last Airbender. In that fantasy voice performance she covered a range of emotions and made us believe in the inner life of this burgeoning water-wielding warrior. Katara is not Despair. Far from it. But it will take that level of commitment to bring such a strange character to life. Whitman has the commitment and the conviction to be that sad.
Destruction: Fergal Devitt a.k.a. Finn Balor
When one looks at Destruction of the Endless, they see a msuclebound meathead. He’s a big, beardy, smashy man. That’s the root of his conflict. He’s the embodiment of destroying things, but really he wants to create things. He wants to cook, and paint, and craft, and raise dogs. He’s a warrior who wants to be a poet. So let’s look to a community of muscular, campy performers: professional wrestlers. Of all the warriors of the squared circle, none of them quite captures Destruction’s inner conflict as well as Finn Balor. Mister Balor is a world class athlete and talent, but one look at his performance and you can tell he’d love a shot in the theater. He’s totally capable of kicking ass, but you’ll believe that he longs to make art. Watch him take on his demon persona and you’ll see a larger than life actor with masterful physicality. And if you doubt a wrestler can capture the nuance of this Neil Gaiman character well, that plays into it. People doubted that Destruction could retire in peace too!
Delirium: Maisie Williams
Delirium: an ancient being older than the human race itself, yet forever the youngest in her family. With shapeshifting rainbow hair, mismatched eyes, and nonsense dialogue, Delirium is going to be a lot to ask of an actor. She’ll need to be played by someone who could have fun with the role. Enter Maisie Williams. Fresh off her star-making turn in Game of Thrones, Williams was often the best performer on a show crammed with legends of British stage and screen. She stole scenes from freaking Charles Dance. But despite her character being a traumatized kid assassin, she always had fun with the role, on and off the screen. It’s that playful style that makes Williams so perfect for the part. She might be asked to have long dialogue scenes with a dog and a fish, while her wig is swapped out in every other shot. She might be asked to be a terrifying, almost Lovecraftian force of madness. And she needs to make us smile even as we cringe, and feel bad for her, and fear what she is going to do next. Maisie Williams would never lose that twinkle in her eye.Continued below
The Citizens of the Dreaming
Lucien: James D’arcy
Here’s a character type burdened with two many actors who could play it. We need a skinny, kind-hearted, loyal British boy. Bonus points if he would look good popping a monocle. There are many actors I’d enjoy to see as the Dream Librarian, but James D’arcy would probably be the most fun. Both understated and over-the-top, he’d bring dignity and camp in equal measures.
Merv Pumpkinhead: the voice of Bobby Cannavale
The Dream Janitor is a workin’ class guy, with dialogue written in Scorsese-like dialect. We gotta figure out who’s got the best voice for a blue collar stiff. My favorite is Bobby Cannavale, who marries a perfect Italian American accent with a huge chip on his shoulder.
Matthew the Raven: the voice of Nick Kroll
The thing about Matthew the Raven is that he used to be a real scumbag human. Now he’s Dream’s pet and sometimes advisor and maybe through that role, he can find redemption. Well I really like the work of comedian Nick Kroll, but he brings a scumbag energy to most of his roles. His most vulnerable project ever was actually a voice part, in Big Mouth (which he co-created). Kroll does good sadness and regret, and you can easily believe he’s lived a troubled life. Most importantly though, you’ll be rooting for him to get his act together.
Cain & Abel: Nick Frost & Simon Pegg
Besides really looking the part, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are already basically brothers. These biblical brothers are doomed to repeat the same murder for all eternity. It’s really dark and upsetting, but also played with a manic slapstick glee. Well anyone familiar with these guys’ collaborations know that that’s the zone they live in. Shawn of the Dead. The World’s End. They’d be perfect. Best of all, they tend to switch off on which of them is playing the straight man, so either of them could work for either role. That being said, I think I’d really like to see the gentle giant Frost as the murderous Cain and the fast talking Pegg as the bumbling Abel. It’d be a fun subversion of their real personalities.
Nuala: Amanda Seyfried
As a banished lady of the Fae, Nuala needs to be someone who can capture her otherworldly beauty. She’s going to spend a lot of her time doing classical fairy tale stuff- pining, crying, wiping stone floors with a rag. Every so often though, Nuala musters her strength and asserts herself. Amanda Seyfried already looks like a beautiful alien creature from the Faelands, and she’s exactly the kind of perfromer who could play a fairy tale role straight and subvert it within the same story.
Gilbert: Liam Cunningham
Fiddler’s Green is where you go when you dream about peaceful pastoral perfection. You ever have a dream about a serene pond or a gorgeous forest glade? That’s Fiddler’s Green. Gilbert is the human embodiment of that place. Looking like writer GK Chesterton, he is a non-threatening gentleman who’s a little old fashioned, perfectly polite, and tells great stories. We all fell for Liam Cunningham in Game of Thrones, who managed to make taciturn bore Davos Seaworth into everyone’s beloved uncle.
The Corinthian: David Anders
He’s a dude with mouths for eyes. That’s scary! But when he’s got his sunglasses on, he seems like a dapper gentleman of leisure. Not necessarily a rich guy, but someone who could make a black tank top look classy. He’s a small-time nightmare who gets ambitious and attempts an evil plan well beyond his station. I’ve always found that David Anders, who you can see on iZombie, embodies every one of those traits. He can be classy without being grandiose, and he’s always got just a tinge of desperation. And when the sunglasses come off, he can be an unhinged lunatic.
Lucifer: Jeffrey Dean Morgan
This one may seem a little bit out of left field. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays gruff and violent country guys. Think of him as the Winchester dad in Supernatural or his iconic role as Negan on The Walking Dead. Hardly men of wealth and taste. But the thing about Lucifer Morningstar in “Sandman” is that he doesn’t quite fit. He’s the devil, but he hates his job. It’s that energy I hope to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan bring to this part. He can cut a dashing image in a suit. You can shave his stubble and make him look endlessly powerful. But even the most debonair version of Morgan is going to feel a little rough and tumble, and that in turn will make him seem like a dangerous, caged beast. Once he extricates himself from Hell and becomes a vagabond, you just gotta give him a silk robe and he’ll look right at home.
Hippolyta Hall: Olivia Thirlby
Another very sad character, Hippolyta lives for years in a dream before having everything taken from her. The worst part is that her very profound tragedy is part of the most petty of manipulations. She’s being used as a pawn in a game between divine beings, but the story never loses sight of her perspective and her humanity. Olivia Thirlby is at her best when she seems like she’s in over her head, which is exactly what’s happening to Lyta Hall. Think of her role as Judge Anderson in Dredd. She’s unprepared for the world she finds herself in, but she’s scrappy enough to come out on top.
The Human Beings
Hob Gadling: Taron Egerton
“Death’s a mug’s game,” Hob Gadling declares, and in doing so, accidentally makes himself immortal. It would be a mistake for an adaptation to dwell to much on Hob. Most of his performance would just be in a pub, having a drink with Dream of the Endless and reflecting on the past hundred years of human history. Hob is an everyman exaggerated to the nth degree. His rise and fall and big lessons all happen over centuries. Taron Egerton is a talented young man, but he has an underrated capacity to monologue. The role of Hob isn’t the role for a plucky guy going on adventures. It’s the role of a guy telling us about his adventures. And when you just give Egerton a wall of text to perform, he’s impossible to take your eyes off of.
Thessaly: Alexis Bledel
Fan favorite character Thessaly is a powerful witch. She’s got an iconic look (those glasses!), and is easily underestimated. Her power is invisible, so looking at her, you’d just think she’s a bookish type, maybe an opinionated grad student studying something esoteric. Alexis Bledel has big big eyes and she would rock those big big glasses. But we’ve seen years of her playing gentle, intelligent women. It’d be fun to see her whip around holding a man’s severed face, and making it speak with her witchcraft.
Rose Walker: Gina Rodriguez
It’s arguable that Rose is the main human character in “Sandman.” She’s the central character in a number of stories, and weaves through the lives of the Endless. Rose is young, another everyday regular person. But Rose has a secret lineage that makes her the most desirable human in any given room. She’s just a young lady struggling to pay for her crappy apartment, and everyone she meets can’t help but fall in love with her. Gina Rodriguez has tremendous untapped range, so this role would be a walk in the park for her. Rodriguez is great at playing normal, relatable, but her effervescent screen presence can’t be turned off. Intense magnetism plus a down-to-Earth personality makes her lovable, which is exactly what Rose should be.
…and Matt Ryan as John Constantine