Inside the three-year mystery behind Netflix bonus episode Sandman – and how Neil Gaiman almost spoiled his A-list cast’s surprise

Inside the three-year mystery behind Netflix bonus episode Sandman – and how Neil Gaiman almost spoiled his A-list cast’s surprise

SPOILERS ALERT: Don’t read if you haven’t seen “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”/”Calliope,” the surprise episode 11 of The Sandman Season 1.

Netflix’s The Sandman was always supposed to have 11 episodes in its first season – you just didn’t know until the special final episode, a two-part animated and live-action story titled “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”/”Calliope “, fell on Friday.

Or, if you’re a die-hard fan following every “Sandman” news since the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved graphic novels was first commissioned into the series in July 2019, you might have felt a little annoyed because you don’t remember was 11 episodes when the 10-episode season started two weeks ago.

“There may have been clues earlier. We sold an 11-episode order a long time ago, and you’ll see that if you go back and look at some press articles,” said “Sandman” showrunner Allan Heinberg, who is developing the series with Gaiman and executive producer David Goyer has diversity. “I think we were like, ‘Have we let the cat out of the bag?’ before we even knew cats were in a poke, but we did our best.”

But there were a few times when Gaiman, as he put it, “let the cat out of the building” while filming the Tom Sturridge-directed show.

“One time I tweeted the cover of the ‘Here Comes a Candle’ book,” Gaiman said, referring to a fictional book featured in his “Sandman” edition, Calliope. “I replied to someone on ‘A Dream of a Thousand Cats’ and said we’ve already started casting the cats. But then I kept my mouth shut – until there was a moment when Allan was the closest thing to kicking me under the table that he’s ever known in his entire life.”

Gaiman revealed that “during one of the interviews where people were like, ‘How did you get this amazing cast?’ I started listing the cast, so on and so forth, and I said Derek Jacobi.” (Jacobi plays villainous author Erasmus Fry in the “Calliope” portion of Episode 11, but does not appear in the other 10 episodes of “The Sandman” Season 1.) “And Allan looked at me,” Gaiman said, “[and I finished] ‘…isn’t in it!'”

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The Sandman. (L to R) Rosie Day as The Tabby Kitten, David Gyasi as The Gray Cat in Episode 111 of The Sandman. Kr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022 COURTESY OF NETFLIX

To be fair to Gaiman, keeping the secret was a three-year challenge that began even before The Sandman was picked up on Netflix.

“The ‘secret’ 11th episode was conceived by Neil and Allan and I even before we released the show to buyers,” Goyer told Variety. “Anyone familiar with ‘Sandman’ knows there are all these incredible standalone issues that are riddled throughout the original series, and we were determined to adapt them. We gave everyone the idea of ​​doing an 11th episode that would fall out of the cycle and we would use those episodes to adjust for those issues – but also as a love letter to the fans.”

Goyer continued, “It was unconventional and it felt really good with Neil’s unconventional run. We had many offers to make “Sandman” among buyers – but Netflix was the only one who agreed to make the “secret” episode. And honestly, that was one of the main reasons we chose Netflix. We felt that they understood it in a way that the others didn’t. We told them that we wanted to do Dream of a Thousand Cats first and that we wanted it to be animated. And you could see the fear in the eyes of most buyers. Netflix didn’t flinch.”

Initially, Gaiman says the plan was to wait a year after the first 10 episodes were released due to the possibility that there could be a two-year wait between seasons of The Sandman due to its extensive, complex elements. But ahead of the series premiere, the team decided to speed up the schedule and drop the surprise two weeks after launch as a special treat for fans who have already turned out in droves to make the show a hit.

“Episode 11 is our gift to the fans. We had always envisioned doing a surprise bonus episode for The Sandman and it was important to make it feel like chapters that honor the original source material and Neil Gaiman’s extraordinary vision.” Peter Friedlander, Head of US Scripted Content at Netflix said Variety. “From the animation and storytelling to the standalone chapter format, the two-part surprise episode bursts with creativity and innovation, and we’re thrilled that fans are embracing it and celebrating the series as a whole.”

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The Sandman. Tom Sturridge as Dream in Episode 111 of The Sandman. Kr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022 COURTESY OF NETFLIX

The first half of this gift is titled A Dream of a Thousand Cats and is a fully animated adaptation of the Gaiman DC Comics Sandman series of the same name.

“The challenge for ‘Cats’ was obviously finding the right animation partner,” Goyer said. “We were all fans of [Hisko Hulsing’s] Work. We wanted a handcrafted feel. We wanted something special that truly encapsulated how wonderfully malleable “Sandman” was. Hisko and his team have created a work of art.”

Hulsing worked with Untold Studios in London for the 3D animation of the cats in the story, and with Submarine Studios in Amsterdam for the 2D animation, oil painting and stylization.

“I started by thumbnailing each shot and making a rough drawing of each. Almost like building an animated film,” said Hulsing. “And we were very honest with the story because I had a screenplay that was written by Catherine Smyth-McMullen, but I also had all the notes that Neil Gaiman gave the artist 30 years ago and I took them very seriously. They were very imaginative and good and intelligent. But sometimes, when it came to visual storytelling, they got it wrong. They have fairly strict rules, such as staying on one line of the eye line. Animated films have rules that you can break for a reason – but you usually shouldn’t.”

The actors who voiced Hulsing’s creations were voiced by some of Gaiman and Heinberg’s famous friends, including Sandra Oh, James McAvoy, David Tennant and Michael Sheen. (McAvoy voices Morpheus, aka Dream, in Audible’s The Sandman adaptation, while Sheen takes on the voice of Lucifer, portrayed by Gwendoline Christie in the Netflix series, and Tennant Loki. Sheen and Tennant also star in one other Gaiman book with TV adaptation, Amazon Prime Video’s Good Omens).

“We got an A-list cast for ‘A Dream of a Thousand Cats’ that we probably couldn’t have gotten for a two or three week shoot because they’re so busy,” Gaiman said. “But we could get them to record for us. So we could get Michael Sheen and David Tennant and Georgia and Anna. We could get James McAvoy. How crazy is it that James did this as a wonderful gesture for us? Sandra Oh is the greatest for me, the one I was so impressed with… That one wasn’t me at all, that one was 100% Allan.”

Heinberg added, “That was because Sandra had just come over to London to start Season 4 of ‘Killing Eve’ and we were having breakfast. And it all came together.”

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The Sandman. Melissanthu Mahut as Calliope in Episode 111 of The Sandman. Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix © 2022 Laurence Cendrowicz/NETFLIX

The live-action portion of the episode entitled “Calliope” stars Sturridge as Dream and guest stars Melissanthi Mahut as Calliope, Arthur Darvill as Richard Madoc and Jacobi as Erasmus Fry.

“‘Calliope’ was more difficult because it’s such a brutal story – in many ways it’s the other bookend to ’24 Hours.’ That’s the thing about “Sandman” – it encompasses the best and the worst of humanity. nightmares and joy.”

To encapsulate this portrayal of both a dream and a nightmare, episode director Louise Hooper wanted to deviate from Gaiman’s original comic in two ways: She cast a Greek actress for the role of the Greek goddess, who in the graphic novel is a blonde woman and she eliminated the scenes in which author Richard Madoc rapes the goddess in order to use her muse powers for his career.

“I really wanted to have an actress who felt like she had that strength and that dignity and that kind of quiet defiance,” Hooper said. “It’s such a modern parable, of course there are hints of #MeToo and I didn’t want her to be underdressed and feel too exposed. I wanted her to have that vulnerability, of course, but also that elegance and that strength… And Melissanthi fulfilled that vision. She wanted the same.”

She continued, “To do a modern retelling, I didn’t want to see the rape scene. I don’t think actually seeing that on screen helps us in any way. You know what happens when she’s humiliated and abused and her voice suppressed, but what I wanted from Melissanthi, and what she wanted too, is to have someone who could match her in strength. So how I shot it, in terms of eye lines, their position in the camera with Richard is the same. So yes, she is in a terrible situation, but she is a fighter and she will keep her moral compass strong.”

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The Sandman. Melissanthu Mahut as Calliope in Episode 111 of The Sandman. Kr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022 COURTESY OF NETFLIX

In the “Calliope” storyline, the fact is revealed that Dream and Calliope were not only former lovers, but were formerly married and have a son together, Orpheus, who experienced a mysterious – for the moment – tragedy. After Calliope was freed from her prison with the help of Dream at the end of the bonus episode “Sandman”, the big question arises as to what we will learn about her past and her son in a possible second season.

Heinberg doesn’t give anything away (although Gaiman’s comics tell the story if you’re interested in being spoiled), but he does say that he and Gaiman have an actor in mind for the key role of Orpheus, Dream and Calliope’s son.

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but we spoke about someone who is very close to our hearts,” said Heinberg. “And we’ve had these talks and if we get a second season, we’d love to be able to cast that persona. We design the whole season with that person in mind.”

Hooper, who also directed “The Sandman” episode 10, the official Season 1 finale, notes that Dream and Calliope’s relationship is “such a big plot piece to mention” that “she wanted to make sure that You feel like you have the calm and space to let go of all this information and understand it without it feeling too emotional.”

“And in the end, now that she’s transformed into the Greek goddess she’s supposed to be,” Hooper said, “you can see how cute they are together, and she just leans her head on him… Hopefully the information can grow from that.” . ”