Michael Sheen and David Tennant are a faithful fit for the TV adaptation.
For a while, no one was sure about how to react. Variety was the first to drop the news, but Neil Gaiman didn’t exactly deny nor affirm the announcement with his cryptic tweet — “You go down to the bottom of the garden to write, and leave your phone behind, and then something like this happens” — along with a link to the article. After a few hours of confusion and anticipation, Amazon finally confirmed it:
Michael Sheen and David Tennant had been cast in the TV adaptation of Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel “Good Omens.”
For those unfamiliar with the book, it’s a comedy about the apocalypse: the End of Times is approaching and the armies of Heaven and Hell are preparing for the occasion. However, the angel Aziraphale (to be played by Sheen) and the demon Crowley (Tennant) are not particularly excited about this turn of events. They’ve grown quite fond of life on Earth. They try to delay the Final Judgement, but it seems someone has misplaced the Antichrist, as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse begin to assemble and a child grows in Lower Tadfield blissfully ignorant about his true nature.
Given the source material’s popularity, its adaptation to any kind of visual media is a long-awaited event by the fans. The authors were approached for a film version as far back as 1991, and Terry Gilliam was involved with the project in the early 2000s with Robin Williams and Johnny Depp talked about for Aziraphale and Crowley. When that failed to happen, talks about a TV adaptation began in 2011. Now we’re finally at a casting announcement for this attempt, and the chosen has sparked varied reactions.
Like many works of literature, “Good Omens” has been the subject of endless dream casts, and for some, Sheen and Tennant don’t fit the bill. Among the main complaints, some argue that Tennant is an uninspired and predictable choice since he is well-known for Doctor Who, and others find it troubling that the two actors are white, middle-aged men. However, judging a show with 170 parts that has not even started production yet on its first casting choices feels like jumping the gun, and there are reasons to think that the duo holds some promise for their respective roles.
On the one hand, according to the book, Crowley has dark hair, “good cheekbones,” wears black clothes and sunglasses at all times (the latter conceal yellow eyes with vertical pupils), is capable of doing “really weird things with his tongue,” and has a tendency to hiss (probably because he used to be a serpent at the beginning of time). He has also been described as “Hell’s most approachable demon”.
Tennant has the main physical traits covered and it is easy to picture him with snake-like tics after his rendition of Barty Crouch Jr. in the Harry Potter saga. However, it is his previous experience in television that leads to think that he can deliver the demon’s witty remarks with the right amount of humor — Doctor Who and Casanova showcase his comedic style — and his performance as Kilgrave in Jessica Jones demonstrates his ability to combine charm with lurking menace.
Aziraphale’s physical appearance is not described with the same level of detail as Crowley’s. The few features specified are his “elegantly manicured” plump hands and his taste for fancy attire. It is also said that, upon meeting him, people “formed three impressions: that he was English, that he was intelligent, and that he was gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide.”
Sheen has a background in playing posh characters: The White Rabbit in the live-action version of Alice in Wonderland, Paul, the cocky intellectual in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, club owner Castor in Tron: Legacy, and most notably Arthur, the robotic bartender in Passengers. If he combines their soft-mannered disposition with the sobriety he imprints in other roles — for instance, Dr. William Masters in Masters of Sex — that could lay a good foundation for the angel’s portrayal.
It is perfectly reasonable to question why two supernatural entities must be embodied by the most common denominator in the industry, especially after American Gods featured a widely diverse cast, but it also seems excessive to respond with an anger that is best reserved for other wrongful casting choices in productions with actual POC/female characters or to automatically dismiss the actors’ credentials.
Both Gaiman and the late Pratchett’s estate have expressed their satisfaction with the decision. The latter author’s long-time assistant and executive producer of the show, Rob Wilkins, said that Pratchett would be “over the moon.” And Sheen and Tennant have also shown their excitement through public statements. In the same spirit, Gaiman published a post on Tumblr reassuring the fans and guaranteeing that the “TV version is being made with love and faithfulness to the story,” later pointing out that the rest of the cast is being assembled with diversity in mind.
Good Omens is due as a six-part series in 2019.