With Good Omens now streaming on Amazon Video, I recently got to participate in a group interview in London with Jon Hamm and Adria Arjona. During the interview, they talked about the challenges of trying to make something that was famous for being unfilmable, how even though the story was written thirty years ago it’s still just as relevant today, what they learned about the project at the first read-through, when they feel like they’ve got a lock on their characters, and so much more.
If you haven’t seen the trailers or read the book, the six-episode series is based on the 1990 novel co-written by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, and follows the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant), who have struck up an odd-ball friendship over the course of 6,000 years serving as emissaries on Earth. When news comes down of the impending apocalypse, the duo set about trying to delay the endtimes. The series also stars Nick Offerman, Jack Whitehall, Miranda Richardson, Adria Arjona, Michael McKean, Anna Maxwell Martin, Mireille Enos, Frances McDormand as the voice of God, and Benedict Cumberbatch voicing Satan.
One of the reasons I enjoyed this series is it is unlike anything else on television and the chemistry between Sheen and Tennant is palpable. It’s worth watching just to see the two of them interact. Thankfully, the rest of the cast is also fantastic and also worth your time.
Check out what Jon Hamm and Adria Arjona had to say below and you can click here for all our previous Good Omens coverage.
Question: This is famous for being unfilmable, so how do you approach something like that?
JON HAMM: You hope that the people involved in creating it are involved in adapting it, and we were very fortunate to have Neil involved at every step of the game. In between Neil and Douglas who has an almost preternatural recall of the novel and would always have several versions of the book sitting around video village or something to just to reference. We were very fortunate in that respect. So it wasn’t filmable in the 90s and early 2000s and now here we are in a new world of content delivery and content creation where you can make essentially a six-hour movie and it’s not the world of Berlin Alexanderplatz. You’re not making that version of it. You can make it like this and you could deliver it to people and say, “Bite off an hour, bite off three hours, bite off six hours, do whatever you want”. So again, for people like us who get to be in front of the camera, it’s exciting because you get to do so many different things. So when an opportunity like this beautiful novel that they wrote so many years ago gets to be filmed you’re like, “Yeah, that would be part of that”.
ADRIA ARJONA: No, I think you do need to trust the people that are making it and of course we came up through so many little stepping stones where it’s like, “Wait, is that actually, are we capable of doing that? Are we going to be able to do that?” I know that because I shadowed Douglas as a director for a lot of these shows. So I went to a lot of the records and I saw how both him and Neil both dealt with situations in such a calm and almost undoubtfully way, undoubtfully. I just made up a word. It worked.
ARJONA: In a very confident… Thank you, Jon. In a very confident way that it made everyone else around them and even us as actors feel completely safe and being absolutely ridiculous with all these characters and just going for it and telling these stories and just hoping and praying that Neil smiles at the end of your take, and that’s after every time I would see that I was like, “Okay, I can put my head on my pillow and go to sleep in peace because I saw like a little sparkle that whatever he imagined is coming to life”.
Does it still feel like a special occasion to get such a cool female part? I think in the series there are more parts like this then, but you are not the wife, you’re not the girlfriend. So is it still rare to get such a character?
ARJONA: Absolutely. Yeah. I think there’s a lot of it is about a conversation and the movements of me going forward and your reading parts that are stronger for females and you’re getting more female writers and female directors, we need more female executives. But it’s getting there, but like everything, everything in this world takes time. It’s not going to be, suddenly from out of nowhere. I think for me as a Latin American actress, this was a diamond. I mean this, I can’t even believe that they considered me for this. I would’ve never imagined it and that’s why I’m so proud to be a part of this because I got to play. I didn’t have to play my ethnicity, I didn’t have to. I just got to be this woman and played her story linearly, exactly how it was written, which to me was really, really special and I just hope that I can play more women like that.
The story was written about 30 years ago, but it stills speaks very much to our time. Do you see this as a political satire?
HAMM: Sure. Neil talks about it a lot and he has spoken at length in the press about it, but it was written during the post Cold War peace time situation of like, “Well, nothing bad’s going to happen. We already solved the big problem. So here we are in 1991 and the walls come down and glasnost does happen and everybody’s getting along and it’s, what could go wrong?” So the posit was like, “Well, this is what’s going to go wrong—is there’s going to be a biblical confrontation between good and evil”, and I think now we’re seeing a little more of practical experience of that happening of where there’s very much of a different kind of Cold War happening right now between… and it’s just as ideological between this sort of like tribalist and jingoist kind of idea of are we going to be a global community? Are we going to be a community of mankind? Are we going to be Americans versus Brits versus Europeans versus Asians versus Africans versus, fill in the blank. That’s why it resonates still because there’s… the conflict is seemingly never ending.
But the funny thing about the guys, Aziraphale and Crowley, incredibly is that they’re still on board, they’re optimists. They don’t want to end the world. They like it here. I like it here. I would rather it not descend into partisan bitching and rather just like, let’s all get along and go get lunch and have a nice day. Like it’s nice, let’s read a book and talk to each other and laugh and have a good time.
ARJONA: It the first time that you really get to see all three middle parts. That’s what I really loved about. I mean reading it, you can feel it, but I think seeing it, I really got to visually and just experience it more where you see like the both parts that they believe in something so strongly that they’re almost ridiculous and then you see these two that kind of feel like, “Wait, no, what?” There is a middle-
ARJONA: There’s a middle ground and there is peace between that. If you kind of come together and say, “Hey, we may disagree on this and this and that”, but it works.
HAMM: There’s a great sequence. I think it’s in episode three, I’m not sure where lives in the show. But there were… They’re constantly kind of bickering back and forth, but they’re sort of making deals like, “You do this and I’ll do that. I don’t want to do that, will you? I don’t want to do that. Why would you do this?” Okay. Like if truly like having an how can come to an agreement on something, then I’m pretty sure that like the Lib Dems and the Tories can figure out a way through. Like there’s a way to get… There’s a way to find a compromise in everything, but first it’s most of it is just agreeing that you want to make a deal first. I think that’s the biggest part of it.
I’m assuming you did a read through before filming it.
HAMM: I did not participate in a set read-through. You did. Yes?
HAMM: Apparently it went really well.
ARJONA: Michael and David were just so good that every time, I was sitting right next to David. I was just like this the majority of the time and then I would hear Neil, “Anathema.” I’m like, “Oh shit” and I’m like pages behind. I’m not good at read-through, but you really nervous and I feel like I’m going to get fired. So I kept just apologizing or grabbed Neil in between each other. So I’m like, “It’s not going to be like this. I promise you it won’t be like this. I promise I’ll do my work and I’ll be better” and he was like, “It’s okay, you’re doing fine”. But the majority of the time I was too distracted by hearing because they almost were off book. The whole dynamic lived in that read-through, which was amazing to watch and see the scripts come to live. So it was really distracting. But it was, everyone did great. I sucked. I was really nervous.
HAMM: I wasn’t there. I came on later in the process, either way.
When do you, for both of you, when do you feel like when you’re on set, when do you sort of feel like you’ve gotten it? Is it on that first day where you walk in confident or is it sort of like-
ARJONA: It’s on the last day.
HAMM: Yeah, the first day at any job is rough. It’s like the first day of school. You don’t know anybody’s name, you’re brand new, you don’t know what you’re doing, your shoes are untied and you’re wearing the wrong clothes and just like, “I don’t know what I’m doing”. It’s always difficult and my first day was, I think on the airbase and you guys have been shooting for some time and I was kind of like, “Well, here I am”. Then everyone’s like, “All right, cool. It’s freezing cold and raining. Welcome. Hi and there’s 19 people in the scene and we’re going to be here for three days”
ARJONA: And 19 people in this tiny little truck.
HAMM: Tiny little deal. Yeah, we all were in this little camper out there. So it’s always difficult. You want to have like an idea of what you’re doing that you can present to the creek, the people that have invited you there and then you go, “Okay, you like that? Cool. Let’s do more of that. Or you’d want to have a little different, let’s do it a little different”. But yeah, first day stinks. It’s probably, Adria is right. It’s like the last day you’re like, “Oh, I finally got it. Hold on. Can we do everything else?”
ARJONA Your flight’s booked, you’re going home. You’re like, “Damn it!” But the first day on this for me was particularly I think hard because I had all the costume and everything and I think I mentioned it earlier. I had… It was only her boots that I felt really got me there and I’ve never experienced that in my life and it sounds so like…
HAMM: Footwear is key.
ARJONA: Like cliché or whatever. But I couldn’t find the way she moves and Neil writes in such a beautiful rhythm that I couldn’t just, I couldn’t get, I couldn’t get, I couldn’t get and then I remember the first day I was like, “I need to change my shoes” and they’re like, “They’re waiting for you on set” and I’m like “I need to change my shoes”. The costume designer is like, “Oh Jesus, let’s go” and we went into the costume trailer and I was trying all the boots and I was like Doug, to the radio, was like he’s going to need to wait just five more minutes. Finally put the boots and all of a sudden, the way she moved and the way she spoke really started coming alive for me and that’s never happened to me. Every time I hear an interview with an actor talking about an object or something like, “Oh, pop police”-and it actually happened to me, which I thought was really interesting and I kind of, every day I was like, “Oh wait, did I lose it? I don’t know if I did, I don’t”. So it was interesting. It always kept me on my toes, which made the whole process just so much funner and scarier for me.
Given that we touched upon the snappy closing downstairs and the horrible bosses will have to ask if you see any parallels between this and the infamous Mad Men?
HAMM: No, other than being a sharp dressed person and being very kind of particular about how you put together. But my take on my character in this particular thing on Archangel Gabriel was that he doesn’t dress himself. He’s just sort of manifests as perfect. So for him it’s kind of like, “Well, I don’t care about clothes necessarily. I just have to be, I have to represent myself as perfection”. So everything is done up and tucked in and perfect and tailored and like that’s just how it is. There’s no other version. So it was an interesting thing where Don Draper was very manufactured, kind of, there’s an artifice there. He’s portraying something else.
So they’re very different in that respect. But it was nice to like step into a suit that’s just been like perfectly tailored for you and everything is made out of 7,000 threads per inch cashmere. I was like, “Damn, this is…” talk about putting on the right shoes. I was like, “These socks are nice. Like everything is so great”. It was just lovely and her costume designer had a great time, I think sort of putting that all. I mean, I wore cashmere, like jogging suit. Who has that? Like you’re going to get the exists to be sweating. Sweat it in like… I didn’t plan it, it was nice.
Did you keep the piece?
HAMM: I wish. No, I was not. I was really bummed out. I was kind of like, “Who else is going to wear the suit? It’s literally tailored for me. Like I should probably take this with me, right? No. Okay. Okay. I’m leaving here”.
I think what you learned was to put as your next rider in your contracts.
HAMM: Yeah. Give me that suit. Give me the boots.
ARJONA: Give me the boots. I need at least three objects from my costume.
Do you care to release states on the bad bosses you’ve had? Was that before becoming an actor?
HAMM: Yeah, sure. Of course. I mean, I certainly had bad bosses in my acting career as well. But mostly it’s, I used to be a waiter and a bartender and forever, and when you work in the service industry, there’s always somebody telling you whether it’s a customer or your boss, how you’re doing everything wrong and you’re kind of like, “You don’t know I’m doing, it’s, trust me, I’m fine. I got it”. You just want, it’s hard to tell people how wrong they’re being. So yeah, I’ve certainly worked for a version of that idiot who comes in and tries to help and then ends up making it all worse.
Given it was one of the final wishes of Terry Pratchett to see this project being made, did you find that an extra responsibility and if so, did you relish it?
HAMM: I don’t think it was necessarily a responsibility. I mean, that’s probably way more on Neil because of the history there. Obviously in any job, I think Adria would agree, nobody wants to walk in and mess it up. You want to come in and do the best you can. There is a sense of, because there’s such a… the book is beloved, so there is a sense of like, “Oh, let’s make the best version of this that we can” and as Robert saying downstairs, like, Terry is all over this. Like there’s so much of him, not just in the writing obviously, in the story obviously. But physically, like he’s represented in little Easter egg ways in the production of the material and that’s on purpose. That’s sort of a loving tribute and that’s kind of the best way you can do it, with somebody who’s no longer with us, just keep them around, not only in spirit, but physically and it was really sort of lovely how they did that.