Exclusive Interview: Neil Gaiman & Allan Heinberg on their approach to The Sandman’s LGBTQ+ characters

This Friday, August 5th sees the launch of the visually stunning and thrillingly expansive season one of The Sandman, based on Neil Gaiman’s award-winning DC comic book series. Although the first issue hit newsstands back in 1989, it has taken decades to see a screen adaptation realized. “For 30 years, people who weren’t me tried to make Sandman movies”, Neil Gaiman—who wrote the original comics and has developed this series for Netflix along with fellow executive producer David S. Goyer and showrunner Allan Heinberg—tells The Queer Review.

Tom Sturridge as Dream in The Sandman. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

“At this point, I’ve probably read about 15 to 20 different Sandman movie scripts”, Gaiman shares. “All of them tried to take 3,000 pages of story and cram it into two hours. All of them were terrible. Even the good ones were terrible, because they weren’t really Sandman. The biggest thing we had going for us was that we would have time to tell the story.”

Eleanor Fanyinka as Rachel and Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine in The Sandman. Photo credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022.

Throughout the first season, a range of LGBTQ+ characters is introduced. Revealed in a casual way, none of them are defined by their sexuality or gender identity; it’s just one aspect of who they are, in line with Gaiman’s initial approach when he wrote the comics. “We didn’t really change anything”, offers Gaiman, “that was how they were when I wrote them, that’s always how I’ve written characters. At the time, I remember getting a very grumpy letter from the “Concerned Mothers of America”, informing us that due to the number of gay characters in Sandman they would be boycotting us and we had to repent. We never repented and the sales just went up, and up, and up! So I never really worried about their boycott. I worry about them still.”

Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian and Kerry Shale as Nimrod in The Sandman. Photo credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022.

“When I was writing it—and today—I had gay friends and I had trans friends”, Gaiman continues, “I wanted to see them represented in the comics that I was writing and it felt to me like if I wrote comics and left them out, then I wouldn’t be representing my world, or the world that I was in, or the world I was perceiving accurately, bravely, or truly. And that’s the point of art. So for me, it was just a given.”

John Cameron Mitchell as Hal Carter and Vanesu Samunyai as Rose Walker in The Sandman. Photo credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022.

Allan Heinberg, who has long been a fan of Gaiman’s work, discovered the first issue of The Sandman in his local comic book store when it was first published. “I think part of the reason that I loved Sandman when it was coming out”, Heinberg told The Queer Review, “was because it was representation at a time, especially in comics, where there was none. Northstar didn’t happen for quite some time, and it wasn’t the same. So I, as a queer person, always felt seen, and heard, and held by Sandman and obviously I wanted the show to do that for the LGBTQIA+ community. A number of people in the writers rooms for both seasons one—and we’ve started talking about season two—are nonbinary, and gay, and lesbian, and bisexual, and trans. Everybody was able to read these stories in 2021 and 2022 in a fresh way and say, ‘This still works, it really works’.”

Daisy Head as Judy Talbot and Emma Duncan as Bette Munroe in episode 5 of The Sandman. Photo credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022.

“It was very liberating for me in episode five”, continues Heinberg, “to couple people off in those surprising ways and to say that if we weren’t inhibited by our culture, by our parents, by our religion, by whatever it is, we’d be a lot more fluid sexually. None of those people is twisted into that shape by John Dee. He’s very clear that they are all doing exactly what they want to be doing in that moment. I found it really exciting. It felt true and it felt freeing for those characters, and for me as a writer as well.”

Mason Alexander Park as Desire in The Sandman. Photo credit: Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix © 2022.

Among the The Sandman’s LGBTQ+ cast—which includes Stephen Fry and John Cameron Mitchell—is trans nonbinary actor Mason Alexander Park whom Gaiman met for the first time at San Diego Comic-Con last month. “Initially Mason had reached out to me on Twitter and said, ‘Have you cast Desire yet and who is your casting director?’ I wrote back and said, ‘No, we haven’t, and it’s Lucinda Syson’. Then I was curious and looked at Mason’s videos and went, ‘Oh!’ and immediately dropped a line to Allan saying, ‘I think we may have found our Desire!’ Mason was showing me their tattoos and they have a beautiful Desire tattoo with a quote from Desire on their arm, and I thought, ‘You’ve wanted to be Desire for a very long, long time, and I love that you get to embody this character’.”

The Sandman premieres on Netflix on Friday, August 5th 2022.

Watch our full interview with Neil Gaiman and Allan Heinberg, and more The Sandman interviews below:

Allan Heinberg & Neil Gaiman on The Sandman’s LGBTQ+ characters
Tom Sturridge & Vivienne Acheampong on starring in The Sandman on Netflix
Gwendoline Christie, Jenna Coleman & Kirby Howell-Baptiste on starring in The Sandman on Netflix
Vanesu Samunyai & Stephen Fry on starring in the Netflix’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman
Stephen Fry on his roles in The Sandman, V for Vendetta, Heartstopper, Peter’s Friends & It’s A Sin
The Sandman | Official Trailer | Netflix

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