Fans of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels have patiently waited for decades to see whether the genre-stretching, sprawling work would spring from the pages into, well, more. This dream, of course, has been a double-edged sword, and I wondered if the lack of an adaptation was probably for the better. After all, the dark fantasy saga (which leaps through time and space and rustles up dozens of characters, some fleeting, in the process) looks to be hellaciously difficult to adapt. Gaiman spoke to that sentiment after a few abbreviated Hollywood attempts while proclaiming that “I’d rather see no Sandman movie made than a bad Sandman movie.”
Well, we didn’t get a movie and likely will never get a movie. That’s a very good thing, and even better: Audible recognized that The Sandman would fare well as a reading that’s packed with a star-studded cast. James McAvoy headlines as Morpheus, the God of Dreams, Michael Sheen appears as Lucifer. Brian Cox is Augustus, and there’s also Riz Ahmed, Samantha Morton, Andy Serkis, and too many more to name here. And in the unforgettable role of Death — the perky goth lady tasked with telling people that it’s their time to pass into another realm — is none other than Kat Dennings. The MCU actress (she portrayed Darcy Lewis in Thor and WandaVision, and we’ll likely see her in one more Marvel project) stretches here beyond the confines of her usual roles. As Death, she’s both silly and somber, and it’s hard to imagine a better voice for the role alongside McAvoy’s lugubrious take on Morpheus and the rest of her Endless siblings.
This project is not to be confused with the upcoming Netflix TV series (which will star Patton Oswalt as a raven) that’s currently in production. In contrast, the Audible Original is already trucking along after last year’s first installment encapsulated the first three graphic novels (Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country). Act 2 (with Season of Mists, A Game Of You, Fables And Reflections) will debut on September 22, and Death has a lot more on her plate for this batch of tales. Kat Dennings was gracious enough to talk about The Sandman and her Marvel adventures, too.
I am selfishly happy that The Sandman doesn’t have to incorporate Covid. Death is already busy enough at her job without a pandemic.
Yeah, well, she’s certainly an interesting character because she does have the hardest job, but she is the most powerful out of all of them. What I really liked about playing about her is that she’s sort-of this cheerful, bubbly personality, which goes directly against all of the dark stuff that is required of her. So that is really fun to play and a really twisty kind of mindset to get into. And it’s more so in Act 2. Act 1 had a lot of those scenes, but Act 2 touches on even more than that.
What’s funny is that she has the hardest job but still always puts family first.
[Laugh] Yeah, you’re right! She does. She tries to wrangle everybody and get them to simmer down and pay attention to what we’re doing. I love her, and I enjoy her so much.
She’s got a lot more to do during this Act, right?
Well, for anyone who has any familiarity with graphic novels, they know that they go across time, across space, and god, just everything that you can imagine. So, it’s hard to explain, but I will say that she has some really fun family interactions. You meet more of The Endless in Act 2, and I really did enjoy portraying that regular sibling kind-of banter between these extraordinary, immortal beings. That was a really fun element, so you can definitely look forward to more of that.
People have felt very comforted by Neil’s stories for decades. And The Sandman arrived at a very strange time for us in this world.
How did you hope that the Audible Original would be received right now, when life can seem like a nightmare?
Oh, you’re correct about that!
Sadly, yes, but I hope we’ll all eventually awaken.
You know, I think there is a nostalgia element for people with these graphic novels and who grew up reading them and loved them for so long, so that’s amazing. I’m very guilty of the nostalgia thing myself, especially with going through a hard time, nostalgia is a very nice place to be for me, anyway. I’ve found myself rewatching stuff that I liked when I was a kid. Like, oh my god.
Well, now you gotta tell me where nostalgia has led you lately.
Well, Labyrinth and Dark Crystal, things that I haven’t seen for a while. To revisit them, there’s this visceral experience that I think pretty much everyone gets. A time-travel-y, warm experience when you remember where you were the first time you watched them? So I think that’s one element, and the other thing is that this is an Audible Original, meaning that you don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t have to leave your house. You get to stay home and experience this long epic with a lot of other people. So it’s a shared experience (which is very hard now to have with other people, obviously because of what we’re all experiencing right now), but you are in the comfort of your home, and I say “long” in a good way. It takes a while to get through it, and that’s very comforting. So it’s the nostalgia thing, but it’s also very exciting because even fans of the graphic novel will be surprised at the individual actors’ takes on the scenes or whatever it is.
When I talked to Neil about Act 1, he said that he’d watched you in so many things, including 2 Broke Girls, and thought, “She’s good, but they’re only asking her to do one of the hundred things that she can do.”
And he loved that with Death, you get to do all those things.
That’s so sweet.
So, how did you do those hundred things? It seems intimidating.
Right, it is! I remember asking Neil at the beginning of this, “Like what should I do? How do you want me to play her?” Because this was his invention, and he just said, “Be yourself.” [Laughs]
No freaking way! That’s incredible on a few fronts.
And that’s how I play Death, but what he meant was that after knowing me for so many years, I think what he was saying was that I have a kind-of paradoxical thing about my personality. I can be very dark and mopey and whatnot, but I also have a very bubbly, cheerful side. I think that might be why he had me in mind for this character, but he wanted me to keep her bright side at the forefront because we do know what is going on in the scenes, and sometimes, playing exactly what is happening doesn’t exactly serve the emotions. And sometimes playing a little bit against what is happening in these scenes is a little more effective than just being obvious. And I’m not saying that I’m a world-class actor, but for these types of things, it’s very effective, so I kept it at the forefront of my mind.
The Sandman is not your first comic-book outing. How deep do you usually dive into source material?
It depends on who I’m playing. In my case, Darcy Lewis is a new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She’s in the comics now, but she was not when I first came through. So, there wasn’t much research for me to do, which was a relief because as you know, playing a beloved character comes with a lot of expectations. So I had an easy ride there, but in general, I actually try not to, well, I will familiarize myself with certain things in a scene, so I sound like I know what I’m talking about. But for me, I like to lessen the pressure on myself if possible, and also, I like to think about “what does this character actually know?” And I will just try to stay faithful to that. It’s kind-of a lazy way to do it, but it works for me.
Nerd fandom can be intense. How do you navigate that and how much attention do you pay to it, especially with people so invested in WandaVision?
I feel like I do a pretty good job at not paying too much attention, but in a positive way to WandaVision, I feel like the response to the whole series, and specifically to my character, was positive, and I never really expect that stuff because I’m very critical of myself, like all actors are, but it was so wonderful to get such a warm response from people. Once I saw how nice people were being, I did a little bit of a Twitter dive.
People were so excited to see Darcy and loved her buddy-comedy team-up at the end.
I was like, “This is the sweetest stuff that I’ve ever seen in my life, and also, I can’t read anymore!” You don’t wanna read bad things about yourself, but you also don’t want to read too many good things about yourself, just because it’s a slippery slope and kind-of a bad idea. But I certainly saw the positive feedback, and I appreciated it so much.
Final question time. If you could put Death and Darcy into different projects, whether that’s a TV show or movie, where would you want them to go?
Oh wow, that’s a tough order! I would like the character of Death to go into Golden Girls.
My god, I did not expect that answer, with Betty White and everything.
You can just imagine the hijinks. I think that is the height of comedy. And Darcy, oh boy. Well, now she’s Dr. Darcy Lewis, so she could go into some sort of a [laughs]… that’s complicated! I’m not sure where Darcy could go, really anywhere at this point.
Let’s just toss her into NCIS.
Yeahhhh! She can go right onto a procedural. CSI In Space. How about that? Or she could go into, oh god, what’s a good space show?
All For Mankind, maybe.
God, I’m so behind. Let’s just put her into CSI.
Thank you for humoring that weirdo question.
Oh, I love that question, thank you!
Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Sandman: Act II’ debuts September 22 on Audible.