Amazon Studios showcased its first major entry into British television by making Good Omens one of the first TV series to receive a glitzy world premiere in Leicester Square – a feat usually reserved for big-budget superhero movies (or The Crown).
The A-list cast and crew of the supernatural drama, which is based on Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s book Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, were present to discuss the making of the six-part series with Gaiman dedicating the evening to Pratchett, who died in 2015.
Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Jon Hamm, Miranda Richardson, Adria Arjona and Josie Lawrence were all part of a Q&A after the premiere of the first two episodes, but it was Neil Gaiman’s touching tribute to co-author Pratchett that kicked off proceedings.
Gaiman said, “Terry Pratchett asked me about five years ago, he wrote me a letter, he said ‘you have to make this into a television show and I want to watch it… before the lights go out’. I said ‘yes’ and then Terry died and I flew home from his funeral and started writing episode one at a time when nothing seemed very funny. I wrote it for him, missing him whenever I got stuck, because he’d get me out of trouble and missing him whenever I did anything clever, because I wanted to tell him about it. Then I became showrunner, because I promised that I would make the thing that he would have loved and that process can’t end by handing in the script.”
He added that Pratchett was more of a pessimist than Gaiman and had said that he wouldn’t believe Good Omens would ever end up on screen until he was watching it in a cinema with a big bag of popcorn. Gaiman, who said the show would have been 17% funnier if Pratchett had still been alive, then pointed to Pratchett’s hat that was sitting front and center with a big bag of popcorn.
Amazon delivered with a glitzy premiere that recreated the Garden of Eden in Central London. Although the SVOD service has commissioned and co-produced a number of series out of the UK before, Good Omens is arguably its biggest bet yet. Albert Cheng, Co-Head, Television, Amazon Studios, who was representing the company alongside European commissioning chief Georgia Brown, called Good Omens “very special”. He said that the show, and its overall deal with Gaiman, helped build on the company’s “great foundations”. “I wanted to touch on how important Good Omens is to Amazon,” he said. “Ultimately, at Amazon Studios, we want to be the home of [top creatives], which is why we’re so thrilled that Good Omens and American Gods are the first steps in our long-term partnership with Neil Gaiman,” he added.
The fantasy drama takes place in the modern day when the Apocalypse is near and Final Judgment is set to descend upon humanity. The armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, and tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan — except that Aziraphale, a somewhat fussy angel played by Sheen, and Crowley, a Keith Richards-inspired fast-living demon played by Tennant, are not looking forward to the coming war, and someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist.
Gaiman admitted that writing it for screen was the easy part, even if making it was “really hard”. “I sat down with the novel – the edition I had was 300 pages long – and I put a post-it note in every 50 pages and decided that was happening in every episode,” he said.
Sheen revealed that he had been a “friend of the project” for a number of years from when Terry Gilliam, who was once attached to make a feature out of the book, told Gaiman to make it into a TV series. “There was a sort of assumption that Neil wanted me to play Crowley and it turns out that Neil thought that I wanted to play Crowley so we went on this strange dance. I couldn’t quite get up the guts to say ‘I don’t want to play Crowley’. Neil was thinking ‘I don’t want you to play Crowley’. Then finally, there was an awkward dinner where Neil said ‘Look, what about Aziraphale’ and I thought ‘thank god’. That was the character that resonated for me.”
Tennant, meanwhile, found out about the project sifting through his emails one day. “I didn’t know they were working on this wonderful thing and this email just arrived with a script with Neil Gaiman’s name on the top and Michael [Sheen] attached and Douglas Mackinnon directing. I thought I got someone else’s email, it all felt too good to be true. It didn’t take a lot of persuading,” he added.
The show, which is produced by BBC Studios, Amazon Studios, Blank Corporation and Narrativia, has an incredible supporting cast including Jon Hamm as Archangel Gabriel, Anna Maxwell Martin as Beelzebub, the leader of the forces of hell, Josie Lawrence as 17th century witch Agnes Nutter, who predicted all of this, Adria Arjona as Anathema Device, Nutter’s descendant who helps Crowley and Aziraphale save the world, Michael McKean as Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, Jack Whitehall as Newton Pulsifer, Miranda Richardson as part-time medium Madame Tracy, Mireille Enos as War, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and Yusuf Gatewood as Famine, another Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.
The list continues: Brian Cox is the voice of Death, Frances McDormand is the voice of God, Benedict Cumberbatch is the voice of Satan, Derek Jacobi is Metatron, Reece Shearsmith is William Shakespeare, Nina Sosanya as Chattering Nun Sister Loquacious, Ned Dennehy as Hastur, Duke of Hell, Ariyon Bakare as Ligur, Duke of Hell, Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss as booksellers Harmony and Glozier, Nick Offerman as U.S Ambassador and father of Warlock, Jill Winteritz as Harriet Dowling as mother of Warlock, Sam Taylor Buck of reluctant antichrist Adam Young, Amma Ris, Ilan Galkoff and Alfie Tayloy as Adam’s friend, Sian Brooke as Adam’s mother and Daniel Mays as Adam’s father.
Hamm said that he was pleased his character, the leader of the foces of heaven, actually had some lines in the screen adaptation. The Archangel Gabriel was only mentioned once in the novel, but as his role was meant to be expanded in the never-finished sequel, Gaiman incorporated parts of that plot into the show. I just wanted [some] lines because I don’t have any in the novel. More is better, I tend to think. I was very pleased that Neil himself would be doing the adaptation because it made sense to me that this [character] was probably in the original story but got cut for time, so to speak,” he added.