Aziraphale and Crowley made an appearance right here on Earth alongside the archangel Gabriel for a special SXSW panel Saturday.
Good Omens fans at SXSW were treated to never-before-seen clips from the new Amazon Prime miniseries while author and showrunner Neil Gaiman, director Douglas Mackinnon, and cast members Michael Sheen, David Tennant, and Jon Hamm discussed the project and took questions from eager fans. Aisha Tyler moderated the discussion.
The nuns from the Chattering Order of St. Beryl also showed up again with a few Queen songs, much to the delight of the cast and audience.
Characters, wardrobe, and collaboration
So many people on any project have a hand in how performances are developed. All the Good Omens actors at SXSW said that wardrobe and look helped inform how they approached their characters, and it was a collaborative process to decide how they should appear and behave.
"With costume fittings, and with deciding to have red hair, [it] all kind of emerged from collective conversations," Tennant said, referring to his demon character, Crowley. The makeup team, costuming team, Mackinnon, and Gaiman all worked together to arrive at an organic decision.
"These characters have lived in this novel for 30 years, and then they live in this script."
Tennant said one reason this planning was so easy was because the writing was so strong.
"These characters have lived in this novel for 30 years, and then they live in this script," Tennant said. "It seemed explicit. They came to life very happily, very creatively, hopefully very exuberantly."
Sheen agreed that collaboration and allowing for people's flaws made the set inclusive and open.
"I think one of the things that I'm most touched by, or what resonates the most for me with Neil's work, and particularly this book," Sheen said, "is that for all the fantastical elements, and all the huge themes, it's about people. It's just about us, our flaws. And that it's our flaws and foibles that are our greatest strength as a species."
Sheen also looked to the book for insight into creating his character's look, pointing out that Crowley can magically "manifest" his stylish wardrobe, while the angelic Aziraphale cares about his clothes in a different way.
"Even though I, Aziraphale, could do that, he loves quality and craft," Sheen said. "And so I liked the idea that if I wore something in the Victorian period, I would just keep hold of it. I would continue to wear it, because I liked it. And so it gave him a quality that was like a comfortable old sofa. When you first bought it, it looked really spanking new and spiffy, and now it just looks a bit sad and tired."
That kind of creativity that gets explored during a wardrobe fitting can become the heart of the character and his relationships.
In Hamm's case, Gabriel is only mentioned in passing in the original book, so he had the freedom to build a character almost from scratch.
"Neil and I and Douglas had some conversations about who we think he is," Hamm said. "I pretty quickly latched on to the shitty boss from head office as a theme."
The costuming and makeup, he said, helped channel the character's persona. He described Gabriel as impeccably put-together but also a buffoon. In the show, Hamm wears vivid violet contacts. This is both otherworldly and a nod to Elizabeth Taylor.
"Neil and I had a private conversation behind Jon's back and decided he wasn't good looking enough," Mackinnon joked.
Set design, visuals, and music
Things like Crowley’s Bentley and Aziraphale’s cluttered bookshop acted as extensions of the characters. The bookshop and part of its London Soho street were built on an abandoned airfield to control its atmosphere (and so it could safely take part in a major, fiery set piece at one point). Crowley’s car was largely kept dirty and scuffed up to reflect his rough personality.
“People talk about process, people talk about the taste notes you give people,” Mackinnon said. “I had a photograph of a tile, one tile. It was in a documentary about a mosque in Istanbul. And the color scheme, that is exactly like the color scheme you see in the show. That was the source of all color thinking for all our departments.”
Mackinnon and Gaiman said they were open to the crew’s ideas, and the crazier they were, the better.
Despite this, David Arnold, who scored the show, was nervous about sharing his idea for the musical theme. When he was preparing to play it for them for the first time, he was shaking.
“I said, ‘Just play the fucking thing, please,’” Mackinnon said with deadpan humor. “And he played it, and we listened, and Neil and I just looked at each other. And we just went, ‘That’s it. That’s it, completely.’ And David sort of collapsed and said, ‘Thank God for that. I don’t have any other ideas.’”
Good Omens premieres on May 31 on Amazon Prime.
For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.