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The Sandman: Who's Who in Netflix's Long-Awaited Comic Adaptation

From the Lord of the Dreaming to a humble raven (and everyone in between).
  • Photos: Netflix
    Photos: Netflix

    Ever since Neil Gaiman's popular and influential comic book series/graphic novel The Sandman concluded its initial run in 1996, people have been attempting to adapt it for the screen. After numerous false starts and format changes, the story of Dream of the Endless finally debuts on Netflix this week.

    The show's ten-episode first season covers the first two collected volumes of Gaiman's SandmanPreludes & Nocturnes and The Doll's House — which feature a host of unusual characters, including immortal beings, dreams, nightmares, humans, and demons. Here's who's playing whom and why they're important in the Sandman universe.

    Tom Sturridge as Dream

    Dream of the Endless is also known as Morpheus, the King of Dreams, the Lord of Dreams, and The Sandman. He's the immortal lord of the realm of the Dreaming, creating the dreams and nightmares that human beings see when they fall asleep. He is one of the Endless, seven siblings who are manifestations of different elements of existence (Dream, Death, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Destruction, and Delirium). He's also the most emo being in all of creation, a moody gothic Robert Smith-type of the first order, and being imprisoned for nearly a century in a rich old madman's mansion only to emerge to find the Dreaming in shambles hasn't helped. He's played by English actor Tom Sturridge, who's starred in films like On the Road and Far from the Madding Crowd, and most recently in HBO's Irma Vep. He's been Tony nominated twice, for the plays Orphans and Sea Wall/A Life.

    Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian

    The Corinthian is a nightmare created by Dream who escaped the Dreaming and is roaming the waking world unauthorized. Recognizable by his mirrored glasses — which disguise horrifying teeth where his eyes should be — the Corinthian otherwise looks rather handsome and dapper, which only disguises how terrifying he really is and why Dream needs to get him under control asap. He's played in the series by Boyd Holbrook, best known for his roles as the villain opposite Hugh Jackman's Wolverine in Logan and as DEA agent Steve Murphy on the first two seasons of Narcos.

    Patton Oswalt as Matthew

    Matthew is Morpheus's raven companion, although Morpheus is rather reluctant to take him on at first. Matthew is timid but supportive of the Dream Lord. He's also useful, as he can pass between the Dreaming and the waking world in a way that some of Morpheus's other faithful allies cannot. He's voiced by Patton Oswalt, the stand-up comedian and actor who's no stranger to voice work, having portrayed dozens of animated characters over the years, including most famously Remy the rat in the Pixar film Ratatouille.

    Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne

    In one of several roles which have been gender-swapped for this adaptation of The Sandman, Lucienne (originally Lucien in Gaiman's comics) is perhaps Morpheus's most loyal ally. Serving as the librarian of the Dreaming, she stayed faithful during Morpheus's long absence when most of the other dreams and nightmares left. She's played by Vivienne Acheampong, best known for her roles in the Robert Zemeckis-directed remake of The Witches and the Netflix sci-fi series The One.

    Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer

    Lucifer Morningstar is indeed the ruler of Hell and is none too fond of Morpheus when he comes calling. Gaiman's version of Lucifer in the Sandman books spun off into a Lucifer series, which was then the basis of the 2016 FOX-turned-Netflix series Lucifer, where the title character was played by Tom Ellis. The version in Netflix's The Sandman hews closer to Gaiman's original version and is played by Gwendoline Christie, best known for playing Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones.

    Charles Dance as Roderick Burgess

    Dance, who portrayed grumpy Game of Thrones patriarch Tywin Lannister, plays Roderick Burgess, the wealthy Englishman who thought that he could summon and hold hostage Death of the Endless (the better to bargain for his son's life back). Instead, he captured Dream and kept him prisoner inside of a glass bubble.

    Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine

    In Gaiman's original comics, this was John Constantine, the crossover DC Comics character (played by Keanu Reeves in the 2005 film Constantine and by Matt Ryan in the 2014 TV series of the same name). In the Sandman TV series, the character's name is Johanna Constantine, an occult detective looking to send rogue demons back to Hell.

    Joely Richardson as Ethel Cripps

    Ethel is the mistress of Roderick Burgess who becomes pregnant by him and one day runs away with his unborn child as well as a few of Morpheus's totems. She later resurfaces as a dealer of stolen art, having raised her much -roubled son John. Richardson — the daughter of actress Vanessa Redgrave and the late director Tony Richardson — is probably best known for her role on the Ryan Murphy series Nip/Tick and Disney's live action 101 Dalmatians.

    David Thewlis as John Dee

    John Dee is the son of Roderick Burgess and Ethel Cripps, raised by his mother after she ran out on Burgess. In the comics, John Dee was also supervillain Doctor Destiny, and when Morpheus had to go track him down he'd been imprisoned in Arkham Asylum by the Justice League (DC Comics, hurrah!). None of that backstory applies in Netflix's The Sandman, aside from Dee being Ethel's son with Burgess. He's also dangerously insane and made more powerful by the totem of Morpheus's that he has with him. Thewlis is an accomplished British actor known for his roles in Mike Leigh's Naked, Charlie Kaufman's I'm Thinking of Ending Things, and as the villain Ares in Wonder Woman.

    Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death

    One of the most popular characters in Gaiman's comics is Death, one of the Endless and Dream's older sisters. Counter to expectations, Death is a sunny, fun personality... especially in contrast to her sullen brother, taking it as her responsibility to be a kind face and companion as she ushers human beings into the "sunless lands." She's played by Primetimer favorite Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who earned raves for her performances on Killing Eve, The Good Place, and the fourth season of Veronica Mars. Most recently, she appeared in the film Cruella as Anita Darling, coincidentally the very same role Joely Richardson played in 101 Dalmatians.

    Mason Alexander Park as Desire

    Desire is another one of the Endless, one who historically has not gotten along with their brother, Dream. Desire is meant to stoke their namesake emotion in humans, whether it's desire for love, power, success, or something more carnal. In Gaiman's original comic, Desire was presented as androgynous and fluid, and in the Netflix series, they are portrayed by non-binary performer Mason Alexander Park. Having most recently voiced the role of Gren in the Netflix series Cowboy Bebop, Park has starred in regional stage productions as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dr. Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, and the Emcee in Cabaret.

    Donna Preston as Despair

    English actress and comedian Donna Preston plays the role of Despair, twin to Desire, but temperamentally quite different. The bleakest of the Endless, Despair, true to her name, represents humankind at its lowest point.

    Vanesu Samunyai as Rose Walker

    Rose Walker is a mortal human who is desperately searching for her missing brother who along the way discovers heretofore unknown family, as well as a connection to the Dreaming.

    Stephen Fry as Gilbert

    The great British actor and comedian Stephen Fry is best known for his performances in movies like Wilde (for which he was Golden Globe nominated) and Gosford Park, TV shows like the recent Hulu series The Dropout, and as a peerless British TV personality, hosting the panel show QI among much other work. He plays Gilbert in The Sandman, who becomes Rose Walker's protector on her strange journey to find her brother.

    The Sandman premieres Friday August 5th on Netflix.

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Sandman, Netflix, Boyd Holbrook, Charles Dance, David Thewlis, Donna Preston, Gwendoline Christie, Jenna Coleman, Joely Richardson, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mason Alexander Park, Neil Gaiman, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Fry, Tom Sturridge, Vivienne Acheampong