Meet the Endless. Like most siblings, they have their rivalries, but unlike other extended families they just happen to control the fabric of our existence. The Sandman is now streaming on Netflix, and it will soon introduce viewers to just who’s pulling the strings when it comes to things like dreams, desires, despair and…yes, death. If you’ve read the bestselling Neil Gaiman comic series upon which The Sandman is based, you already know what you’re in for. But if not, if you’re entirely new to this fascinating universe, we have just one thing to say about the Endless.
They’re not what you expect.
Bringing such iconic characters to life is not without its challenges, especially considering the not-insignificant expectations held by the comic’s many fans.
For Tom Sturridge, playing Morpheus, Lord of Dreams was an assignment not to be taken lightly. “My head was in a place of fear, trying to realize the films that we’ve already made in our head when we read it,” he admits. “Just trying to realize the film that not only I have made, but that hundreds of thousands of people who care about (The Sandman) have made.”
It helps that Sturridge is a pretty big Sandman fan himself, even if it doesn’t make the pressure that he’s feeling any easier to bear.
“I began as a fan of The Sandman,” he says. “I think you just have to use that fear as a focus. I began by reading it over and over again until it was in my bones.”
As lord of all dreams, Morpheus rules over a realm known as the Dreaming, a once beautiful kingdom full of imaginative sights and sounds that has fallen into disrepair.
“It is this beautiful realm where we really see humanity in play,” explains Vivienne Acheampong, who portrays Lucienne, the librarian of the Dreaming and one of Morpheus’ closest confidantes. “We get to imagine that you’re delving into people’s dreams, their unconscious mind. You see people fully let go. There are no barriers. It’s really special.”
As one of the Dreaming’s caretakers, Lucienne has a unique relationship with Morpheus. “I think it’s an extraordinarily deep one,” Sturridge muses. “It’s one that seems to be based on rigorous professionalism. Lucienne is the head of the library of the Dreaming, therefore someone who works for Morpheus.”
Acheampong, on the other hand, has a different assessment.
“Some people call Lucien the boss, so I’m going to kind of go with that,” she laughs. “I think that their relationship is—I don’t want to say complex, I don’t even think it’s complex. He is a complex character. He is broody, he is hard work, he’s got a lot going on, but she sees something in him. She’s loyal to a fault. She’s almost his moral compass. She stands back, she observes, she sees what she needs to see, and advises him in the best way she can in order for him to succeed, because that’s what she wants.”
“There is an undeniable love between them and a respect,” shares Sturridge. “Beyond the loyalty that they have, there is an understanding that only two people who have spent eons together can have.”
At the heart of that understanding and respect is the Dreaming and its massive library, which contains a copy of every book written, unwritten and yet to be written and which Lucienne maintains.
“It’s incredible,” Acheampong says. “A huge responsibility, but one that it is an honor for her to undertake. She is hardworking. She does it to the best of her ability. She goes above and beyond, and she just wants the Dreaming to be restored.”
Speaking of wants, you’ll certainly notice Desire, Dream’s younger sibling who’s a twin to the equally scheming Despair. Desire is played by Mason Alexander Park, who brings the non-binary character to life with scene-stealing flamboyance.
“It’s kind of a dream role,” shares Park. “Desire is an unbelievably delicious, well rounded, dark, beautiful and mysterious individual.”
Like Desire, Park is non-binary (you can also see them in Netflix’s recent adaptation of Cowboy Bebop) and had been a fan of the character for a while. “Years ago, I wanted to be aware of what kinds of comic books had trans and non-binary characters,” they reveal. “Sandman was one of the few, and probably the most iconic.”
And then there is Death. She’s Dream’s older sister, but don’t expect her to be anything like the hooded figure with a scythe who haunts campfire stories. Death is portrayed by Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who describes her character as comforting, nurturing and wise.
“When it comes to delving into something like this—she’s a character, but essentially, she is a concept,” Howell-Baptiste explains. “I was fortunate enough to have the source material, which I think is so rare. To have the comics, to me it felt like a cheat sheet. Then I had (executive producers) Neil (Gaiman) and Allan (Heinberg). It’s so rare in adaptations that the creator is so heavily involved, and you could go up to them and say, ‘I have a question,’ or ‘I need clarity.’”
Like her co-stars, Howell-Baptiste was also a big fan of the comic.
“I read Sandman years ago and Death was one of the characters that stuck with me throughout,” she shares. “You know when you read something and you don’t remember everyone’s name, but there’s someone who you remember? Death was the one that I remembered. She’s iconic. To even have the opportunity to play this role was an honor.”
To become Death, Howell-Baptiste took her research beyond the source material. “I read everything,” she says. “I read from Norse mythology to African folklore. The idea of death is prevalent in every single culture since the beginning of time. It sort of changed my own relationship with death and the way I saw it.”
Now that The Sandman has debuted, time will tell if Howell-Baptiste’s Death, as well as her equally distinct siblings, change the way the rest of us view our existence. But one thing’s for sure. With these beloved characters now being faithfully adapted for the screen, their legion of fans will truly be Endless.
The Sandman, starring Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, is now streaming on Netflix. For more dreams, fables and recollections, visit our official Sandman TV page.