With Good Omens now streaming on Amazon Video, I recently got to participate in a group interview in London with the two stars of the show: David Tennant and Michael Sheen. During the interview, they talked about what they each learned about their characters during the first table read (where the cast reads the scripts out loud in a group setting), how the costumes helped them embody who they were playing, which time periods were their favorite, how this was one of Sheen’s favorite books, how the series speaks to what’s going on in the world today, and a lot 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 Adria Arjona, Jon Hamm, 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 David Tennant and Michael Sheen had to say below and you can click here for all our previous Good Omens coverage.
As we all sat down in our chairs, Michael Sheen recognized some of us…
MICHAEL SHEEN: Hello. So, I was just thinking earlier on, that people who do interviews, like yourselves, journalists, over the course of your career and your life you’ll interview the same people a lot. We have done many interviews together in different parts of the world, and I thought that… well, that sort of bonds you together in a way, doesn’t it?
Question: The thing is, and I think everyone here would attest that it is the only people that understand this are the people in this room. You cannot explain this.
SHEEN: Exactly, very like a Aziraphale and Crowley, when people say how their soul… an angel and a demon, how do they work guys? It’s because only they know what it’s like to be on earth. The people that do this… exactly, you couldn’t explain what this is, because they haven’t done it.
DAVID TENNANT: Pockets of unique experience.
The first day, you guys are doing the readthrough. Had you discussed anything prior to that readthrough and was it that… was it sitting down and you guys’ realizing, “Oh, this is going to be real good.”?
SHEEN: We discussed together or discussed with other people?
With you two, had you talked prior to that readthrough about anything, or was it that day on the readthrough that you were like, “This is going to be”…
SHEEN: We didn’t have conversations about the characters or anything like that I don’t think.
SHEEN: Well, I had had independent conversations with Neil and Douglas a little bit. But in terms of us and what was going on for them, I remember that table read very much being… I remember the character that sort of came out of me at the very beginning of the table read wasn’t the character that I was playing at the end of the table read. And that was because of how we, kind of, reacted to each other and adapted to each other.
TENNANT: Yes, we didn’t—had we even done fittings?—because we saw each other during the kind of costume fitting process, it was all in sort of the same room. I remember sort of passing you by a couple times and going, “Oh, I like the look of that. I like the look of this developing.”
SHEEN: Well, we had our hair, I was blonde, and you were red.
TENNANT: That’s right, that had already happened hadn’t it?
SHEEN: So, we’d done that. But I think we maybe had a costume fitting or something.
TENNANT: Yeah, but it was something we very much discovered … we both said this, from reading the source material. They felt very vivid. It felt like I knew who both these characters were and what they needed to feel like, but we didn’t really unpack with each other how we might sort of embody that. We read the scenes, and we read all the scripts, didn’t we? In one day, and it did sort of develop over the course of that.
SHEEN: You’ve got broad strokes. You know that they’re supposed to be an odd couple, you know that I’m a bit fussy and a bit anal or whatever, and you’re a bit loose and a bit swaggery, and all that kind of stuff. But the specifics of that, you have to discover. And I remember in that table read, starting to discover those, and then they changed. I came in with sort of an idea and that idea went quite quickly. And you start to define yourself in terms of what the other person is doing.
TENNANT: I found myself increasingly nervous of doing it otherwise, actually as well. The more you come to a project thinking, “I’m going to do it like this”, the more inclined you are to fall on your face, and that actually the best way is to discover through doing it, really.
How much did the costumes help you to embody these kinds of supernatural creatures, an angel and a devil?
TENNANT: Yeah, it definitely helped and it was definitely the process of discovering what that costume, and what that look was, hair and makeup as well, was part of the discovery of what the characters were. It was one big sort of organic lamange.
SHEEN: From the book, and from the scripts, you get such a strong sense of who these characters are, and yet when you look for anything concrete in the book to refer to about them, there’s very little. It’s just a feel you get off them from the way they are together. So, then, as actors you have to start making concrete choices. It can’t just be a general feel, you have to go, “it’s this, or this.” And so the costume fitting is often the first time you have to make definite choices. And, so, it can unlock all kinds of things way beyond costume. Because you have to choose this waistcoat or this, is it a tie or is it a bow tie? All that kind of stuff. Each time you make a choice like that, it somehow brings the character into slightly sharper focus, and that’s not just in terms of its look, but in terms of emotionally, psychologically, all that kind of stuff. So, I find the costume fitting process hugely helpful, and it’s often the very first point of contact with that kind of stuff.
Were there any outfits in your mind, creating your character?
TENNANT: Not specifically, no. You know we started with a much more sort of clean cut look because that’s… if there is any description of Crowley, it’s that, it’s that he wore a sort of three piece suit and his hair is slicked back. But that’s very much a Crowley born of the late 80s, 90s, I think, which is when the book came out. And he should be of now. So, we kind of had to slightly expand with that. If you are doing that kind of yuppie, American Psycho thing then, what’s the 2019 equivalent? I think he feels like he’s really cool. So, what does somebody who thinks they’re really cool in 2018 look like? I suppose that was the thought process we went on, yeah.
And which one was your favorite? The costume and part because in episode three you get to do a lot of time travel.
TENNANT: Well, they were all fun… as we said they were all fun to visit. I don’t know how many of them I’d want to have done a whole shoot doing.
SHEEN: Like wearing armor is fun for a couple of hours and then after that it stops being fun very quickly. I loved doing the Shakespearean one. The one at The Globe. Because we were actually in The Globe Theater, so, that was kind of fun and in the Elizabethan costumes…
TENNANT: I enjoyed the 60s look. I thought that suited Crowley with his sort of mop top and his very cool shades. What was great about that was just trying to… always asking each other question of where would these characters be then? What version of then suits them? How would they interpret that moment in time?
SHEEN: Yeah, and that’s what’s sort of satisfying, reading that sequence. Because as a reader, you just go, “Oh, this is great. And what’s the next one going to be like? And what’s the next one going to be like?” And then in the playing of it, hopefully it becomes very satisfying for the audience as well, to go, “Oh, look, he’s got such good hair. Oh, he wears that sort of clothes.”
TENNANT: And the way that they both were. Whereas Crowley would very much lean in to whatever moment in history he was in. Arizaphale was slightly resistant.
SHEEN: Well, I feel like Aziraphale is sort of rolled down the hill of history. (laughs) And things are just stuck to him (laughs).
TENNANT: That’s a nice one.
SHEEN: So, rather than manifesting his look which Crowley does, he’s always of the moment, Aziraphale has just accumulated stuff over time because he likes that. He likes things that have age and so I wanted him to be… ultimately feel like an old favorite sofa. Sort of bit worn and a bit overstuffed, and comfortable. So, you see that happen during the… that whole history period as well. So, whereas David got to have all these incredibly brilliant new looks all the time. I just slowly try to add… keep… Oh, he’s got the waistcoat from the Dickensian period or he’s got that sort of bow tie from that. And just add those things as you go along.
We heard Neil say that you were a big fan in college of the book and that you were not really familiar with it which led to some interesting conversations on set because you were looking at the material, I guess, in two different ways. Could you sort of talk about that?
TENNANT: Well, it’s hard to be objective about that. Because, of course, you’ve come from a… from the only sensory experience you have of it. I had no preconceptions. I learned very much on the job how beloved this book was. I think it was at the readthrough that I sat next to Nina Sosanya, who I’ve known for many, many years, who plays one of the nuns in the show, and she was…
SHEEN: Sister Loquacious.
TENNANT: Yeah, she was sitting next to me giddy with excitement to be there at all. And she was saying, “This book is… I re-read this book every year of my life.” And I’ve known Nina 20 years and this is… but this is a part of her.
SHEEN: She’s read it 20 times in the time you’ve known her.
TENNANT: Yeah, exactly! This is something deeply personal to her and that is something I’ve discovered more and more, and more. This book is… people just wear it by their heart. They adore it and they love it and it’s so special to them, which is wonderful, and then a little bit scary to think this is so precious. And I’ve become the caretaker of this corner of this novel. And that it’s thrilling and slightly terrifying in equal measure.
SHEEN: And for me it was sort of thrilling and terrifying in different ways, I suppose. Because I read the book when it first came out and Neil’s work has become such an important part of my life. And, so, a book like this, you know I was what? 18, when I read it first. I was in drama school here in London. So, it’s part of the inner tapestry that hangs in my mental hall. Like it’s part of my life. It’s part… it’s informed all kinds of things because I’ve lived with it for 30 years. And, so, for that reason, it is absolutely thrilling to be a part of bringing it to the screen and absolutely terrifying for the same reasons. It’s not just a job. It’s not just an adaptation. It’s something that has been a sort of fundamental part of my interior life for years and years and years. So, that brings its own terror. Let alone the people out there who also feel like that about it, who will go and write, “This had better be good.” It does that for me as well.
What do you think about the possibility to read this TV series like in a political way? I mean this is also a satire maybe. In which way does this project speaks to us today?
SHEEN: Well, because it was written 30 years ago, and Neil and Terry had to introduce a line into the book, which was to say it was something along the lines of it was ironic it was the end of the time when everyone was getting along so well. Which they were, then. The Berlin Wall had come down, the world was a very different sort of place at that point, and, so, Neil talked about the idea that they felt kind of odd to be writing about the apocalypse when we were at the end of history as people were calling it at the time. The Cold War had come to an end and it seemed like we discovered the answer to everything. Now, 30 years on with the TV adaptation, we’re in a different position. So, it feels more prescient now.
TENNANT: Knee-deep in history suddenly.
SHEEN: Too much history.
TENNANT: Too much bloody history, yeah. But I think anything, any piece of great art always finds its moment, I think. It’s like when you do a Shakespeare play, whenever you do it, you come to do a Shakespeare play, it suddenly feels utterly relevant to the moment you’re in, whatever that moment is. And I think anything that is relatable will reflect aspects of your current experience. And I think that this right now is definitely doing that because the end times feel terrifyingly close.
SHEEN: And the sense of absurdity and the ridiculous that is part of the heart of the humor of this seems to reflect what’s going on. It’s not just that things are scary. Things are ridiculous and just bonkers, and upside down. That’s very much part of the tone of this, I think.
Good Omens is now streaming on Amazon Video.