Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens arrives this weekend, bringing both heaven and hell with it. Based on 1990 novel Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, the Amazon Prime limited series tells the story of agents of God and Satan who want to stop the Apocalypse — simply because it sounds like a terrible idea. Fortunately, it seems like the reluctant Antichrist has similar inclinations.
Michael Sheen (The Queen) plays angel Aziraphale, and David Tennant (Broadchurch) is demon Crowley. The two first met when Crowley turned into a snake and slipped past Aziraphale into the Garden of Eden to tempt Eve. Theirs has been a fine bromance ever since.
Rotten Tomatoes met up with the stars, Gaiman, director Douglas MacKinnon (Doctor Who), and, representing Terry Pratchett’s estate, executive producer Rob Wilkins, ahead of the series’ London premiere to find out just what makes the Amazon Studios and BBC Studios co-production Good Omens such a delicious binge-watching option.
Starting out the gate with the credit sequence, the series pays homage to Monty Python.
But while in sketch series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, Agnus Nutter actually does expect the Spanish Inquisition when her time of judgment arrives.
(Photo by Amazon Studios)
Aziraphale and Crowley build their lovingly adversarial relationship one historical clash after another – including, during another nod to Monty Python, when Crowley turns up as the Black Knight. Sketches of Aziraphale and Crowley’s bond strengthening over the ages are pure joy and recommend further adventures of the collegial duo. And Welsh actor Sheen and Scottish actor Tennant spark onscreen in a way that critics have hailed.
“Most of the show’s charm hinges on the unlikely camaraderie between an Angel and a Demon, played, with considerable gusto, by Michael Sheen and David Tennant,” CNN’s Brian Lowry wrote.
New York Magazine’s Keith Phipps wrote, “Good Omens can work only with the right leads, so cheers to bringing in Sheen and Tennant, two actors who know how to make a three-course meal out of understated dialogue and cosmic absurdity.”
And, from Allison Shoemaker of RogerEbert.com: “Together, it’s like watching two musicians at the top of their game play a duet; they positively sing.”
In a press conference before meeting with reporters, Tennant explained the relationship further.
“They’re not particularly good representatives of their respective head offices. They’ve rubbed off on each other, so much, that Crowley’s not that mean anymore, and Aziraphale’s not that holy,” he said. “So, between them, they’ve reached a common ground, and they’ve become each other’s, sort of, significant other, really … They’ve only got each other to rely on, and they’ve become — although they would deny it until the end of time, quite literally, they’re sort of each other’s yin and yang … But, it’s only when you see what head office is like — for instance, when the angel, Gabriel, appears — that you realize how humanized they’ve become by the mortal world, that they really like, quite a lot because it’s got wine.”
(Photo by Scott Garfitt/BACKGRID)
Sheen and Tennant are just the start. The rest of the cast fills out with an enviable assemblage of talent for serialized entertainment:
The series, a coproduction of Amazon Studios and BBC Studios, is directed by Douglas Mackinnon (Doctor Who) and also features Jack Whitehall, Mireille Enos, Brian Cox, Nick Offerman, Ned Dennehy, Ariyon Bakare, Nina Sosanya, Steve Pemberton, and Mark Gatiss.
(Photo by Amazon Studios)
The series’ stars raved about bringing Gaiman and Pratchett’s characters to life.
“Nothing is odd about this character; I think she’s entirely relatable. Particularly, the channeling of many, many souls, alive and dead, and riding a motorbike, in a cape, with a former member of Spinal Tap. It’s just part of the day job, really,” Richardson related in a press conference before breaking off to meet with reporters. “It feels like my element. I love it. Transformation and costume and inhabiting of other, but at the same time, the character is, all the characters are, incredibly humane. I just… I love that about this project. That’s what comes across, I think.
And what will book fans think, especially given changes like Archangel Gabriel’s expanded role?
“I think had we gone into this project without Neil,” Hamm said, “there would have been a different reaction, but because Neil was involved from the get-go and was so involved during the process of making it, it became like a version 2.0. So I think the fan base was jazzed, they were like, Oh my God, we’re getting more, we’re almost getting a sequel or something, we’re getting the extended version, the EP. … We were at New York Comic Con and there were 5,000 people that showed up for a panel discussion. It was bonkers. It was like a rock concert. It didn’t hurt that we had Doctor Who on stage. It was still pretty cool and that was when I was like, Oh yeah there are way more people that are just as excited about this as I am. Worldwide, it’s been published in 70 languages.”
(Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)
Good Omens has a lot of heart. That’s baked into the series by Gaiman, the stars attest.
“The writing is absolutely promoting humanity,” Richardson said. “You know, it’s very affirmative and optimistic, really, isn’t it?”
“[Neil is] very centered,” she continued. “He knows what he thinks about everything. That doesn’t mean he’s not open. He is completely open. So you ask him a question, and it’s really considered. It’s not, ‘You don’t need to worry about that.’ It’s this is just what’s happened, or I think you should try that, or whatever it is. You know, everything is very considered. It’s great.”
Lawrence: “He has time for you, which is wonderful.”
Richardson: “Like having Daddy on set.”
Lawrence: “Yes, it is, or a beautiful angel.”
Hamm also noted that Gaiman brings something different to the process of creating a series.
“What Neil really brings to everything he does is the capacity for storytelling,” Hamm said, “and that’s first and foremost. Also I think some people in the more traditional Hollywood aspect, they’re trying to make money. They’re making product, whether it’s a Marvel movie or what have you franchise, they’re not necessarily concerned with storytelling. They’re concerned with IP, or what’s it going to be on the second weekend or what’s the third movie going to be at franchise – Neil just wants to tell a story. That’s how he’s created this career that’s been so wide-ranging, and I think you’re going to see a lot more Neil Gaiman stuff get filmed because the stories are so compelling.”
Antichrist Adam Young has the wide-eyed English-schoolboy charm of classic heroes like Mark Lester’s 1968 Oliver or any number of Nicholas Nicklebys throughout the cinematic age – until, of course, the boy inherits his powers. Aziraphale and Crowley’s attempts to manage the situation are akin to trying to stop a tornado with a butterfly net — a magical butterfly net, but still.
(Photo by Scott Garfitt/BACKGRID)
Though Good Omens’ main characters, Aziraphale and Crowley, are male, we find engaging and richly drawn women among the secondary stars of the series. Anathema spends most of her time chasing a McGuffin, but in the end contributes greatly to the stop-the-Apocalypse cause.
“There’s a big difference between a tough female character and a strong female character and Anathema’s strong, she’s very in her essence,” Arjona said. “She’s a woman and she’s sure of herself and so unsure of what she’s doing and messes up, and she’s flawed and she doesn’t get it right all the time — sometimes she does — and she has this guy that’s following her and never falls into romance. She’s like, ‘I gotta do what I gotta do — maybe after babe. I’ll catch you later.’ She’s doing her own thing and I love that about her, and I wish a lot of other characters would be like that because relatable to me, and I see my friends and the way they deal with their careers and their own life, and it’s very similar to Anathema.”
Richardson’s Madame Tracy is a very rich character, who, despite her own flaws, endures a level of verbal abuse and emotional sabotage from Shadwell.
“Madame Tracy has her own strengths. She, in some ways, feels a bit retro. I mean, her part is retro, and the fact that she’s making a living in the way she is, is a bit retro. But at the same time she’s providing an incredible help in the community, and she’s also very supportive, and she’s trying to be a little bit life-enhancing … so there are those feminine traits, things showing. She takes care of Shadwell, and she looks out for people. It’s rather lovely, but she’s her own woman.”
Good Omens sets out to prove a love bond between the prostitute and the Witchfinder, but where she definitely shuts the door on the risk of her infidelity, his name-calling promises to continue.
“I know it is a bit questionable,” Richardson said, “but maybe it’s, pardon the pun, better the devil you know. I don’t know, you know? She’s practical.”
(Photo by Amazon)
The production design, effects, and costuming on the series lend a distinctive voice to the characters’ surroundings. Several of the actors noted that the costumes and unique environments helped them fully inhabit their characters.
“There’s an opportunity to sort of portray this guy as the boss that everyone has, that everyone hates, who’s constantly smiling and telling you, ‘Great job,’ while also subconsciously saying, ‘You’re terrible,’” Hamm related. “And, I’ve worked for that guy before, and I’ve hated him, and it was kind of fun to play. Just like, ‘Everything you’re doing is wrong. Keep going.’ And, I got to wear so much cashmere in this, that it was A: warm, B: soft, C: comfy. But yeah, there was a lot to recommend for being on the heavenly side of thing, from a fabric point of view.”
Arjona similarly credited the series’ style choices for aiding her performance: “I just tried on her boots and something happened, and I got really lucky because I didn’t have to do much work after I tried on her boots.”
(Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
With Good Omens, Gaiman sought to fulfill a deathbed wish of his collaborator on the book, Terry Pratchett, and so, dug in his heels.
“Being the writer was relatively pleasant and entirely stress-free in that nobody was really waiting for this. I wrote it, I promised Terry I would write it, I wrote it, did the adaptation, divided the book into six, every 50 pages: OK, that’s episode one, that’s episode two. Fair enough, I’ll write a mini movie through time that will kick off episode three. That was all simple and very stress free,” Gaiman said.
“The problem is that I’d promised Terry Pratchett that I would make a TV show that he would want to watch, and I’d learned through my previous outings in television — some of which have been incredibly successful and some of which hadn’t — that the measure of which were successful and which weren’t were not the quality of the script to begin with; it was what actually wound up on the screen at the end. And I thought, OK, I have to be in a place where I can control that, where I have a director who I can work with who we share a vision with, where I can cast the people who I see in my head, where I’m there just making sure that a producer who — producers don’t understand scripts. I wish they did, but they don’t —”
MacKinnon: “Some of them do.”
“Some of them do,” Gaiman conceded. “A lot of the time, what a producer will do when they go, ‘OK, we have X amount of money. We have this in the script and here is a sequence that is both expensive and if we lose it, we’ll save a day of filming and nobody’s going to notice if that scene is gone,’ completely failing to understand that if they pull that scene out, nothing that follows it will actually make any more sense. This is something producers have been doing since the dawn of time.
“To make this thing for Terry, what I had to do was be in a place where I could just say no when somebody said, ‘So, we think we’re going to lose Shakespeare’s Globe.’ I go, ‘Yeah, no we’re not.’ Sometimes I would come back with, ‘I’ll tell you what. If we need to save that money, we can lose this scene after that you really like but that actually doesn’t change anything. It can go.’”
It’s the only instance of anyone tied to Good Omens who we’ve spoken to describing Gaiman’s behavior on the production as anything other than “lovely.”
(Photo by Amazon Studios)
Both Sheen and Tennant aren’t strangers to supernatural beings; Sheen appeared as Head Lycan in Charge Lucian in the Underworld vampires-versus-werewolves film franchise, then as The Twilight Saga vampire Aro. Tennant, meanwhile, not only played the titular extraterrestrial in Doctor Who for three seasons and in specials as the tenth Doctor, whose abilities were anything but earthly, but also turned up as witch and Voldemort loyalist Barty Crouch, Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
The actors appear to take on these heavenly creatures with ease and a sort of glee.
“All those characters like vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, they get reinvented — don’t they? — by each generation, because they come to represent different things for each generation,” Sheen said. “And also budgets have changed. There’s a lot more money to make stuff that can really use those sort of effects quite well. But in terms of Heaven and Hell and angels and demons — the end of time’s and apocalypse is a whole other thing, I suppose — we’re starting to think about slightly differently. I think the angels and demons thing and Heaven and Hell is always partly about going, well you have these two extremes and real life is about somehow being in the middle somewhere and being in the gray area and that’s certainly what, I think, Good Omens is about.”
There’s a good chance that Good Omens will ruffle some feathers, but Gaiman isn’t worried.
“One of the things that I made a call writing literally page one, which was, I thought, Well, it could be Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and they’re not going to be white. So, in the first five minutes, you’re going to have to deal with the voice of God and she’s a woman and she’s Frances McDormand, and you’re going to have to deal with a non-white Adam and Eve. That’s your first five minutes. You can stop watching now. If you were upset or offended, great excuse to stop watching now. You will probably be much more offended by things later on like an 11-year-old Antichrist who is actually a good kid … But look, that was there for you: You had a five-minute warning — [Good Omens] actually starts with the word ‘warning.’”
Good Omens debuts on Friday, May 31 on Amazon Prime.
(Photo by )
Beloved novelist Neil Gaiman — Coraline, American Gods, Stardust, and The Sandman graphic novel series — took charge of the book-to-screen adaptation of the 1990 novel Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch to fulfill a promise to his good friend and collaborator Terry Prachett, who died in 2015. Now that the series Good Omens has arrived as an Amazon Prime offering, we caught up with Gaiman to talk about the new comedic fantasy series and his favorite films.
The limited series boasts a stellar lineup of acting talent, including Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) as angel Aziraphale, who botches his gig as Garden of Eden chief of security by allowing demon Crowley, played by David Tennant (Doctor Who), to tempt Eve with an apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the subsequent millennia, the two find themselves repeatedly at odds, and form a friendship of a sort that only two mutually admiring adversaries can. Their bond transcends the modern bromance and is more celestial in nature, with Crowley regularly tempting Aziraphale into small transgressions on his path, and Aziraphale occasionally coaxing out Crowley’s better angel. Their friendship meets the ultimate test when the Antichrist arrives and is promptly misplaced. The duo must work together to stop End Times lest humanity, good wine, and fine cuisine perish in the Apocalypse.
Mad Men’s Jon Hamm is a brash, Americanized Archangel Gabriel, who is captain of Team Heaven, while Anna Maxwell Martin (The Bletchley Circle) appears as Beelzebub, leader of the forces of Hell. Josie Lawrence (Enchanted April) appears as 17th century witch Agnes Nutter, who produces the only accurate book of prophecies ever written. Adria Arjona (True Detective) is Anathema Device, a witch and Agnes Nutter’s descendant, while Miranda Richardson appears as part-time medium and prostitute Madame Tracy, who cares for her righteous neighbor, Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell played by Michael McKean. Frances McDormand is the voice of God, Benedict Cumberbatch voices Satan, and Sam Taylor Buck is reluctant Antichrist Adam Young.
The series, a coproduction of Amazon Studios and BBC Studios, is directed by Douglas Mackinnon (Doctor Who) and also features Jack Whitehall, Mireille Enos, Brian Cox, Nick Offerman, Ned Dennehy, Ariyon Bakare, Nina Sosanya, Steve Pemberton, and Mark Gatiss.
Gaiman, whose Starz adaptation of American Gods was recently renewed for a third season, shared his five favorite films and another fantasy he’s working on: retirement.
Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: We’re doing a feature called “Five Favorite Films.” Were you able to give that any thought?
Neil Gaiman: You know I really wish somebody had said, “They are doing a feature called ‘Five Favorite Films,’ please have five films ready.” Then I could have just had it for you, rather than what I’m going to have to do now which is grab a piece of paper and a pencil and scribble. Just give me a few seconds, I’m just going the scribble. The nice thing about lists of favorite films is … they always change. Let’s see, there’s four and … OK, there we are, there’s five favorite films jotted down. Don’t know that they’d be the same five favorite films that I would come up with …Tuesday next. But, they’re a good start.
The first one would be Lindsay Anderson’s If… It’s a film that I love because it allows me sometimes try and explain what it was like to be a kid at an English Public School — I was a scholarship boy in the early 1970s — late ’60s where you were in — even though it’s set earlier than that and was made earlier than that — you were in a culture that hasn’t changed.
I remember just watching it and suddenly feeling understood. Which was a completely new one for me. I’d be, you know, This is my world. It was like, OK, here is something Malcolm McDowell–starring, the idea of kids — while we didn’t actually shoot up the school in rebellion, it was the kind of strange stuffy environment that needed to come tumbling down, and I’d never seen that before depicted on film. For years I wondered about why some sequences were in black and white, and many years later I was reading an interview with Lindsey Anderson and discovered it was because they ran out of money for color film, so they just went over to black and white stock, which works in several places through the story.
Second film: All That Jazz, Bob Fosse. It’s an incredibly hopeful, uplifting art journey and you know, on the one hand it’s about a man who is killing himself through over-work and who is over-extended and miserable and is going to die of a heart attack, and on the other hand, it’s Bob Fosse’s celebration of the fact that he didn’t die of a heart attack. He came through, and now he’s going to take the events that precipitated him into his heart attack, create a roman à clef around them, and build something magical, which he does. There’s a sort of strange and lovely honesty to it that, the first time I saw it when I was about 15/16 and it was on television, I found arresting, and it’s magic.
A third film I’m going to list is Peter Greenaway’s film Drowning by Numbers. And Drowning by Numbers, a few years ago my wife and I at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, [Massachusetts,] got to show each other films that we loved, and the one that was the hardest for the Brattle to get hold of was a cinema print of Drowning by Numbers. I really wanted to see it on a big screen again; I’d seen it on a big screen when it first came out, and in the intervening years, seen it on video, but loved it. It’s a film about games, it’s a film about numbers, it’s a film about murder, men being murdered by women, who may all be the same woman, but are, at least the way that I read it, aspects of the triple Goddess — the maiden, the mother, and the crone — but all of them are having the same relationship with men. All of them are profoundly killing off these rather abusive and appalling men in their life, and it’s a strangely beautiful and absolutely surreal film that plays by its own rules.
And one of its rules is it makes you in the audience count. You start noticing numbers showing up on screen and realize they are counting to 100. So when you are at number 50 on the screen and a character is explaining to you the rules of the game, you realize that you have another 50 to go and you’re exactly halfway through. Beautiful performances and beautifully filmed, and just one of those places where, as far I am concerned I wish there was so much more cinema like that, but there doesn’t seem to be.
No. 4, I’d go for His Girl Friday. There’s just that Howard Hawks rapid dialogue, the glory of Cary Grant [at his] most Cary Grant-ish. It’s funny. It moves, it actually has huge social responsibility, and they did a thing where they gender-swapped the lead. Hilly, in the play The Front Page and in other films made of The Front Page, is a guy going off to get married and having that be sabotaged by his editor. Howard Hawks’ twisting things, so that Rosalind Russell played Hilly and was the ex-wife of Cary Grant’s, her abusive and appalling editor who was also determined to get a story and have her get the story and have her not leave. There was brilliance in that, and it’s feisty, and it’s funny, and it’s something that I can watch over and over again and never get tired of.
And then you get into the contentious fifth film, and I’ve jotted down a bunch of things I thought, well Ran is a possibility. I love Akira Kurosawa‘s take on King Lear, I love what he did to it. I love the movement, the battles. You know, there’s nothing about that film I do not enjoy. Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West, because I thought that would be a wonderful choice, and it does have, to my mind, the finest dance in the whole of film. But, I thought about A Matter of Life and Death, which was a film that was enormously inspirational when making Good Omens. I felt like that was of the same DNA as the thing that we were doing … Also Bedazzled, the original Peter Cook and Dudley Moore Bedazzled, which again has a lot of the DNA of Good Omens in it.
But eventually I came down on Belle et la bête, [Jean] Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. I remember watching it and feeling transported. For me, it’s like dreaming. It does the same that Bride of Frankenstein does, where I can never quite remember the plot when it’s over, I’m just aware that it’s finished now and this wonderful place that I went has gone away.
My children do not like black-and-white films, and once, for Father’s Day, my daughters asked what I wanted for Father’s Day, and I asked, “Will you watch this film with me? It’s a foreign language film, so you won’t like it, and it’s black and white, so you won’t like it, but will you watch it with me?” They said, “Well yeah, for Father’s Day we will.” And what I loved was that after 10 minutes, they had forgotten that it was a foreign language film, and they had forgotten that it was a black-and-white film, and they were entranced by this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, made by Cocteau not even on a shoestring; he’s in post-war France, immediately post war, and they had no money for anything. Everything is being improvised. Everything is being created on the fly, and yet what they come up with is something that is so much cooler than any infinite amount of CGI.
Speaking of heart attacks and artists, how’s TV development treating you? I mean you seem extraordinarily busy.
Gaiman: I am, although, you know, a week from now on the 31st of May, Good Omens comes out and happens, and I get to retire as a showrunner. I guess I might have to come out of retirement if we get nominated for awards — just turn up at award dinners and things. But basically as far as I’m concerned I made this thing that I promised Terry Pratchett I would make and now I’m done. I don’t have to be a showrunner anymore. I love talking all the things that I’ve learned in the four years I’ve been making Good Omens and getting to apply them to other things and getting to help other people make things.
So you know, it’s nice to be a producer of Gormenghast, for example, and I’m very actually looking forward to seeing and helping Toby Whithouse along and looking forward to Toby going out to the world with his Gormenghast. I’m looking forward to being more involved in adaptations of my own stuff coming up in the future, but I don’t really want to write them again, I don’t want to showrun again. I would really like to become a writer, and possibly even a novelist again.
I hear you have some talent for that.
Gaiman: As I’ve said, I will become a retired showrunner, and in my retirement, I may take up writing.
(Photo by Amazon Prime)
Good Omens looks like it was a blast to film. What was that experience like?
Gaiman: It was a blast to film. Good Omens was fascinating because it was an incredibly long shoot. We were making Good Omens, I think we shot altogether for about 120 days, and it’s a lot like making a 6-hour-long movie. And when we finished, it was then followed by 11 months of post-production, so that was long, long days, hard work, making something huge, but also — more by luck than anything else, because it just came down to me and director Douglas MacKinnon so much of the time — we wound up making something that feels very, very handmade and feels pretty personal. We got to make personal choices, and there wasn’t anybody leaning over our shoulders saying, “No you need this. You can’t do that.”
Is that one of the joys of working with a streaming company?
Gaiman: I think Amazon trusted us, which was great, and the BBC who were technically our producers, nobody had ever done anything like this before, and they didn’t really know what it was, and they just left us alone to get on with it.
Well, you can’t argue with the result – it’s a joy to watch your work come to life with such talented actors.
Neil Gaiman: Thank you. I’m so proud of it. I made the show for Terry Pratchett, he asked me to make it before he died, and then he died. I wanted to make a show that Terry would have loved, and make a show that Terry would have laughed at, but also that contained all of the ideas and the textures of Good Omens, and I think we did it.
May I ask, what is going on with The Sandman? That’s one I’ve been really looking forward to.
Gaiman: Sandman has been interesting, because for the last 30 years … people have failed to make all sorts of versions of Sandman because the time was not right. In the ’90s people were going, “We don’t know how to make a $70 million R-rated film that would have any CGI in it … that doesn’t work for us,” and all of this kind of stuff. What’s great about now is we’ve reached an era in which the fact that there are well over 80 Sandman stories becomes a feature, it becomes an advantage, rather than a problem with how you cram all that into 120 minutes.
So, we now have the CGI, we now have the technology, and we now have an adult audience, and we have millions upon millions of people who love Sandman and would love to see it. So I would be very, very surprised if we do not actually get some cool Sandman thing happening in the next two or three years. But then again, there have been many things over the years with Sandman where I’ve gone, “Ah, OK. Well, they’re going to make this. And this is going to be great then.” And it has never happened. So anything is possible.
Good Omens debuts on Friday, May 31 on Amazon Prime.
(Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Though she partially attributes her success to luck, there’s no denying Karen Gillan has always possessed a keen eye for good material. Just a few years after making her TV debut at the age of 19, she landed the plum role of Amy Pond, the companion to Matt Smith’s Doctor Who, in 2009 and stuck with the series for three years. In 2014, Gillan joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, cementing her place in the overarching Infinity Saga storyline and playing an integral role in some of the franchise’s most beloved films. In between all the Marvel movies, she also found time for smaller acclaimed films like The Big Short and In a Valley of Violence, another blockbuster success in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and her feature directorial debut, 2018’s The Party’s Just Beginning.
This week, Gillan stars opposite another MCU alumnus, David Dastmalchian (Russian computer wiz Kurt from the Ant-Man movies), in All Creatures Here Below. The drama, which Dastmalchian also wrote, centers on a desperate couple driven to crime who flee Los Angeles for Kansas City in hopes of starting their lives over. Ahead of the film’s release, Gillan chatted with Rotten Tomatoes about her remarkable career, her love of horror, and what it was like to transition from an Avengers movie to something smaller. But first, she gave us her Five Favorite Films, revealing that her lively, cheerful disposition hides a fascination for some dark and twisted entertainment. Read on for her full list.
My first favorite film is The Shining by Stanley Kubrick. I am a huge horror film fan. I love them so much. I’ve always loved them. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been attracted to scary stuff; I don’t know why. When I was younger I would watch a lot of the cheesier process-of-elimination slasher ’90s films. And then I feel like, as my tastes matured a little bit as I got older, I found The Shining, which is a movie that my dad had always spoken about with this weird fear, because he’d never finished the movie. He’s like, “The one film I’ve never been able to finish in my life is The Shining.”
So I grew up like, “What is The Shining?” And then, finally I watched it, and it was just incredible. Well, Stanley Kubrick’s my favorite director, so you’ll probably see a lot of his films in the top five. I just love that movie so much, and it’s my favorite on-screen performance of all time, from Jack Nicholson. I think that he’s absolutely incredible. I’m ready to play a role like that.
I was just about ask if you were interested in doing a horror film yourself before I remembered you did Oculus. Do you have plans to do more, then?
Yeah, I think I’ll probably direct a horror film next. That might be what’s next for me, yeah. It’s time!
Okay, so number two, can I choose another Stanley Kubrick? Number two is A Clockwork Orange. I just think it’s just visually an absolute masterpiece. Again, the central performance is incredible. I just love these performances that you get with these lead actors that are so on the brink of madness. They’re violent, they’re unpredictable and scary, and I just love that sequence where it’s operatic in A Clockwork Orange, when they’re beating each other up, and it’s the classical music. I love that. The Singin’ in the Rain, singing that song is deeply disturbing. I think he’s just a complete master.
Going a little more lighthearted, number three is the original Jumanji, which is so cheesy because I was in the remake, but that was always one of my favorite films of all time. It’s just pure nostalgia. I think I’m right in that age bracket where it’s like a classic to anyone who’s around my age, and anyone who’s outside of that, it doesn’t seem like it’s so much of a classic to them. Loved it.
You must have absolutely jumped at the opportunity to do the remake.
Oh yeah, I was like, “What the hell?” It was a weird life moment where you’re like, “Really?” I mean, to get that role, it still blows my mind today. Like, whenever anyone would ask me socially, “If you could have any movie prop from anything, what would it be?” I would always say the original board game from Jumanji. Now I’m actually playing the game. It’s pretty wild.
And you didn’t seek that movie out; it came to you.
It came to me. I’d just wrapped on Guardians of the Galaxy 2. I sat down to a glass of wine like, “Oh my God, I’ve done it,” and then got the email saying, “Okay, you have an audition for the new Jumanji.” I almost spat my wine out, “What?” And then it’s like, “OK, back to work!”
Number four would be a movie called The Piano Teacher by Michael Haneke. That’s a really interesting character study to me, and that is my other favorite on-screen performance, Isabelle Huppert. I just think it’s a really, really interesting character study; again, disturbing. I guess there’s a theme here. [laughs] And her last frame of acting in that movie — not actually the last frame; the last frame is her walking, but the one before that is the best piece of acting I’ve ever seen in my entire life. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you have to go watch it.
This is hard, because it could be many things. I mean, it could be Kubrick, it could be Haneke again. Do I need to mix it up a little bit? I feel like I’ve gone very serious. I think it’s either 2001: A Space Odyssey or Funny Games by Michael Haneke. What I like about Funny Games is a moment, actually, where all of it… OK, I think 2001 is a better movie. However, there’s a moment in Funny Games that’s genius, that I love, which is when he turns to the audience, and suddenly turns the whole movie into this kind of study, where we are accountable as an audience. Because we like the violence that’s happening in the movie, and he’s doing it for us, so suddenly we’re culpable. And I think that’s a really cool moment in film that I haven’t really seen other than that. Yeah, I thought that was really clever.
Also, I’m talking the American remake, not the original, because he remade it shot-for-shot for the American audience, which is really interesting, because he made it in German and then it only had so much reach, and then was like, “I want to make this for a society where violence maybe is a little more glamorized.” And I’m not just saying that about Americans; I think we’re the same in the UK, where we really like watching that on-screen. It’s just a really interesting study into that, and so, for that reason, I’m going with that. And one time I hosted a screening where all of our friends came down and watched it, and I have never seen a more depressed group of people in my life, and it was a huge mistake. [laughs] Everyone left immediately. No one hung around after.
I do have to say, this whole time I thought you were talking about the original, and then you dropped, “By the way, I’m talking about the remake.” You don’t hear that too often with that movie. Is it specifically because of what you saw as Haneke’s intent to reach certain audiences?
Yes, I mean, that’s part of it. I like this, because that adds to the whole meta experience, where it’s redone for an audience where it might mean a little more. However, I also prefer watching it, just there. It’s just easier to watch, because I understand the language. I’m not reading subtitles, and I don’t mind reading subtitles; I’ve chosen other films in the list where the subtitles are required. But this movie, I just find it slightly more palatable. I think it’s a really good remake basically. I don’t think it lost too much in the remake and I think the performances are really good.
Ryan Fujitani for Rotten Tomatoes: All Creatures Here Below is, of course, decidedly different from a Marvel movie. Do you find it difficult to switch gears between something as large-scale as Avengers and something smaller and more intimate like All Creatures?
Karen Gillan: No, not really. I think, ultimately, when it comes down to it, when the director shouts, “Action,” it’s exactly the same job. It’s just everything else surrounding it. On the Marvel movies, we’re so taken care of, it’s amazing. And then you go onto another movie, and there’s no budget for that, but that’s absolutely fine, It’s not an issue; it certainly wasn’t an issue for me or David [Dastmalchian], and we both work in Marvel movies.
David is the guy who wrote it, and is also acting in it. It was just amazing. It didn’t feel too much like shifting gears. It felt like the same job, different character, really.
RT: You’re from Scotland, but in this film, you’re portraying a down-and-out woman from the American Midwest, which is a very specific thing. What was your preparation like for the role?
Gillan: Well, I’m always reading psychology essays anyway. That would be what my fun hobby is. [laughs] And so that is the kind of thing that I would do for this character. I also have a dialect coach that I really like working with, and we’ll really nail down what the accent is. A huge part of what I love doing is doing different accents and voices. And then, I just went to Kansas City and kind of immersed myself in being there, and feeling what it’s like in 100-degree heat, which, as a Scottish person, I don’t function well in. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that before. [laughs]
And just spending time with David. He drove me around to all the spots where these two would go and we’d talk, and he told me about his life growing up there. So it felt like an immersive experience, for sure. I ate a lot of fast food, which I was happy about, because we do that in Scotland.
RT: You’ve had quite a run these past several years. You’ve been in a bunch of big hits and acclaimed smaller films, not to mention Doctor Who a few years ago. What is this secret power you have to recognize when a project is going to be a good one?
Gillan: I mean, I think it’s just deciding what I think is good and not. [laughs]
RT: You just happen to be a little better at it than most people.
Gillan: I don’t know, maybe I’ve just been really lucky with the people I’ve gotten to work with. It’s been a really exciting thing, because I feel like I got to be involved in some things where they were kind of new and exciting and we didn’t exactly know how they were going to go over. It felt at the time when we did the first Guardians film, the tone was so new at that point for a Marvel movie that it was like, “What is this? This is new.” And then it became really exciting and kind of carved the way for the tone of the rest of the rest of the Marvel movies, I would say.
Same with Jumanji, this feeling of, “How is this going to go across?” And then people really responded to it. It just feels incredibly lucky to get to work with the directors, because really, it’s all down to them. They’re steering the ship and calling all the shots. So, I don’t know, maybe luck or just responding to things.
RT: You’ve directed a feature film already, and you mentioned that you’re interested in possibly doing a horror film next. I take it you enjoyed that experience behind the camera.
Gillan: It was incredible. I loved it. I’ve loved filmmaking always, and I love acting so much, whether it’s me doing it or I’m watching another person do it really well, and I get to collaborate with them. I just love it, and I love the visuals of filmmaking. So to combine all of that just made me really, really happy. And yes, definitely have multiple directing projects in the pipeline, which is exciting. Probably going to be a horror film next, I think, just because I really want to get my hands on the genre.
All Creatures Here Below opens in select theaters on May 17.
The 2010 Best Foreign Language Film winner The Secret in Their Eyes is being remade…as Secret in Their Eyes, a murder mystery starring Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. As Americans, we don’t need definite articles in our movie titles, but we do occasionally need help thinking up stories to shoot, prompting this week’s 24 Frames gallery of foreign thrillers versus their Hollywood counterparts.
As the latest wave of Obamamania sweeps the country, look forward to HBO’s Recount…or peek into the past with HBO’s John Adams. Also clear your calendar for high-def Top Gun action and get over that crippling shyness with an innovative new DVD from Japan. Whatever you do, make sure you check out this week’s new releases!
What went wrong in the 2000 Presidential election? Perhaps everything — or perhaps nothing, depending on your politics. Either way, HBO’s gripping fictional retelling of the Gore vs. Bush vote counting fiasco is coming to DVD August 19, which gives all of you non-subscribers the chance to see Kevin Spacey, Laura Dern, and Tom Wilkinson portray some of the most notorious political movers and shakers in recent history.
Blu-Ray Top Gun to finally satisfy HD fans
If you were disappointed by the extras-free HD-DVD version of Top Gun, we’ve got great news for you. The Blu-Ray release of Tom Cruise‘s career-defining flick is not only headed your way, it’s also loaded with bonus materials — feature and storyboard commentaries by Tony Scott and more, a six-part making-of documentary, and a “Vintage Gallery” of ’80s TV spots, featurettes, Cruise interviews, and, yes, music videos by the likes of Kenny Loggins, Berlin, and Loverboy. Which means you should grab your wingman, Maverick, and take the highway to the danger zone. Because you have the need. The need for speed.
Beware the Ninja Cheerleaders!
Breaking acquisition news! DMX and Kris Kristofferson. George Takei and The Real World‘s Trishelle. Willie Nelson and a young, beautiful assassin. You couldn’t make up better movie concepts than these. Peace Arch Entertainment thought so, too — they’ll be bringing Lord of the Street, Ninja Cheerleaders, and Fighting With Anger, respectively, to your Netflix account soon. Just remember: the more you rent movies like this, the more they will make. Act accordingly.
Pour one out for Manny the labrador…
In sadder news, one of two pirate-sniffing dogs donated to the Malaysian government was found dead last week. Manny, a one-year-old golden Labrador, passed away mysteriously; despite recorded doggie bounties put out on previous Malaysian pirate smashers Lucky and Flo, officials do not suspect foul play. Manny and his doggie partner, Paddy, had been donated by the MPAA to form the world’s first-ever DVD-sniffing canine unit.
Get out there and meet new people…kinda
And finally in this week’s worth of DVD news, those crafty Japanese have created a solution for you bashful home theater owners. Cure your shyness with the interactive “Miterudake” disc, in which 50 different women stare directly at you — in the hopes of helping the socially anxious become more comfortable around the opposite sex. Get it for $25 here. Have a sample staring contest below.
Click for this week’s new releases!
Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) takes one of the year’s most interesting science fiction concepts — space-jumping teenagers hopping all over the world — and turned an incoherent mess into theaters last February. Now you can see that mess for yourself on DVD!
Considerable behind-the-scenes features and a commentary track with Liman, producer Lucas Foster, and co-writer Simon Kinsberg (X-Men: The Last Stand) might make up for the movie itself. A sequel was planned — that is, until Jumper failed to make back its own budget — so if you’d like to see Hayden Christensen frolic across the space continuum again, help Liman out and buy the DVD.
Two Oscar-winning septuagenarians hit the road for one last comic hurrah before they retire in Rob Reiner’s sentimental schmaltzfest. Before you skip to the next release, consider the fact that The Bucket List made more money in theaters than any other title this week. “Life is short — live a little!” Morgan and Jack seem to tell us. But what does the bonus menu have in store…?
A music video for John Mayer’s “Say,” and precious little else? How did they know that was the one thing we had left to do on our bucket list??
Some people like their world history with a healthy dose of soap. (We also like good movies, but that’s just us.) As Anne and Mary Boleyn, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson give a valiant heave of the bosom, but this version of King Henry VIII’s love triangle with two sisters is bloodless melodrama.
As with Phillippa Gregory’s source novel, The Other Boleyn Girl is more intriguing for the real-life history of Tudor England than for its fictionalized drama. History buffs will get a kick out of features about the real life royals and Gregory’s wildly popular book, but everyone else…is probably already falling asleep.
The first time Michael Haneke made Funny Games in Austria, critics were terrified and impressed. This time around, his tale of home invasion — shot nearly scene-by-scene in English and starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth — proved too sadistic for the uninitiated. Is America ready for cerebral horror?
Perhaps Haneke wants the film to speak for itself. You’ll have to work through the exercise in complicit viewer sadism yourself, since there are zero features to accompany this disc.
Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney stand out in this handsome HBO miniseries about U.S. President and founding father John Adams in the early days of American independence.
The celebrated series comes in a three-disc release, just in time for Father’s Day. An hour of extras includes documentaries and pop-up trivia that deliver even more history. Shop at HBO.com and pick up nifty “Join or Die” swag.
No. Just — no.
Zero percent, folks. Go back and get John Adams, for goodness sake.
Cult DVD Pick of the Week – Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan
Indulge in the recent wave of Shaw Brothers re-releases and give this lush, action-packed female revenge pic a go. The story of a courtesan who takes her vengeance with a heart-ripping technique known as “ghost hands” (long before the “Kali Ma” cult in Temple of Doom) combines the best elements of 1970s Shaw Bros.: dazzling sets, wuxia, kung fu, lady fighters, eroticism and a touch of the perverse.
‘Til next week, happy viewing!
North American film fans heard the call of the elephant and stampeded to the box office to see the animated Dr. Seuss pic Horton Hears a Who, which enjoyed the largest opening weekend of the year so far. The testosterone flick Never Back Down launched to decent numbers; however, the virus thriller Doomsday was dead on arrival in its debut. But ‘toon power was able to revitalize the marketplace, sending the top 10 above the $100M mark and ahead of year-ago levels for the first time in a month.
Jim Carrey and Steve Carell lent their voices to Horton and ticket buyers responded, spending an estimated $45.1M on the Fox hit for a strong number one premiere. The G-rated tale bowed ultrawide in 3,954 locations and averaged a sturdy $11,406 per theater. The Whoville story generated the fourth best March opening ever, behind 300 ($70.9M), Ice Age: The Meltdown ($68M), and the original Ice Age ($46.3M) and also landed the fifth largest opening in history for a G-rated film.
Horton took advantage of star power, the popularity of the Seuss brand, and an open marketplace with few options for families to help it post the year’s best debut. But the film went beyond just parents and kids — the studio reports that 47 percent of the audience was non-family, with teens kicking in a significant contribution. Budgeted at $85M, the animated feature also garnered glowing reviews from most critics. Horton also bowed in 29 international markets this weekend, and captured an estimated $14.2M tally.
Animated films opening in March usually enjoy strong legs thanks to the Easter holiday and school vacations. Ice Age‘s opening weekend represented only 26 percent of its eventual $176.4M domestic final. Fox’s 2005 film Robots witnessed a 28 percent share, Meltdown played like a sequel and saw 35 percent, and last year’s Disney offering Meet the Robinsons grabbed 26 percent. Horton should follow in the same footsteps, as direct competition in the coing weeks is not too fierce, leading to possibly $150-175M from North America alone.
Trailing the animated elephant were the woolly mammoths of 10,000 BC. The not-so-accurate account of prehistoric times fell 54 percent in its second outing to an estimated $16.4M and pushed the total to $61.2M after 10 days. Given the bad reviews, negative word-of-mouth and the genre, the sharp decline was expected. The Warner Bros. title is playing almost exactly like another spring historical actioner, 2002’s The Scorpion King. The Rock starrer generated similar numbers with a $36.1M debut and $61.3M 10-day take before concluding with $90.5M. 10,000 BC should find its way to the same vicinity domestically. Overseas, the prehistoric pic collected a mighty $38M this weekend as it saw top spot debuts in the United Kingdom, Korea, and Russia and second place launches in France and Italy. The international cume has risen to $73M putting the global gross at an impressive $134M.
So far this year, moviegoers have been showing up in the same numbers, but have spread their dollars across a wider selection of movies than in 2007. Overall domestic box office is up 4 percent compared to the same period last year, and when factoring in the annual increase in ticket prices, total admissions are up only a slight amount. But at this point in 2007, six films had crossed the $50M mark, including three that broke the $100M barrier; this year, none have reached nine digits yet, but a whopping 10 have vaulted ahead of $50M (not including Horton, which is just days away from surpassing that mark).
The Mixed Martial Arts drama Never Back Down debuted to mediocre results and landed in third place with an estimated $8.6M from a wide 2,729 theaters. Averaging a mild $3,155, the PG-13 high school tale is the first in-house production from new distributor Summit and played to an audience of young males. Research showed that 59 percent of the audience was male and 60 percent were under 21. Never was budgeted at $20M.
Martin Lawrence’s second comedy of the year, College Road Trip, dropped a moderate 42 percent in its second weekend,, grossing an estimated $7.9M. With $24.3M collected in 10 days, the G-rated family flick should end up in the neighborhood of $45M.
Sony’s action thriller Vantage Point has been enjoying surprisingly strong legs, and slipped only 27 percent this week, to an estimated $5.4M for a solid cume of $59.2M. Rival actioner The Bank Job posted an even greater hold, sliding only 17 percent in its sophomore frame to an estimated $4.9M, giving Lionsgate $13.1M in 10 days. The high-octane pics should reach about $75M and $27M, respectively.
Universal suffered a dismal opening for its futuristic virus thriller Doomsday, which bowed to just $4.7M, according to estimates, from 1,936 theaters. The R-rated pic averaged a miserable $2,450 and should find its real audience on DVD this summer.
Will Ferrell‘s basketball comedy Semi-Pro fell 49 percent to eighth with an estimated $3M, pushing the total for New Line to $29.8M. Look for a final of roughly $35M, making it the comedian’s lowest-grossing lead performance in a wide release since 1998’s Night at the Roxbury.
Sony’s The Other Boleyn Girl dipped only 28 percent to an estimated $2.9M for a cume of $19.2M. The kidpic The Spiderwick Chronicles rounded out the top 10 with an estimated $2.4M, off 49 percent, for a $65.4M sum. Final grosses should reach $26M and $70M, respectively.
Warner Independent had a mixed weekend with its pair of limited release titles. The Naomi Watts thriller Funny Games opened in 289 theaters and grossed an estimated $520,000 for a dull $1,800 average. But its promising platform release Snow Angels added one Los Angeles site and took in an estimated $26,000 from three sites for a potent $8,667 average. The Kate Beckinsale starrer expands to the top 10 on Friday during its third session.
Three solid box office performers fell from the top 10 this weekend. Fox’s sci-fi flick Jumper dropped 42 percent to an estimated $2.1M, lifting the total to $75.8M. The $85M Hayden Christensen–Samuel L. Jackson actioner should conclude with about $80M. It’s already banked $100M overseas and counting.
The $70M adventure comedy Fool’s Gold collected an estimated $1.7M, off 38 percent, for a $65.4M sum. Warner Bros. looks to end with just under $70M. Step Up 2 the Streets, the latest teen dance drama to score with audiences, took in an estimated $1.5M, down 51 percent. With $55.4M taken in thus far, the Buena Vista release will reach close to $60M, putting it within striking distance of the $65.3M gross of 2006’s surprise smash Step Up.
The top 10 films grossed an estimated $101.3M, which was up less than 1 percent from last year — when 300 remained at number one in its second weekend with $32.9M — and up 13 percent from 2006, when V for Vendetta debuted in the top spot with $25.6M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com
at the movies, we’ve Seussian silliness (Dr.
Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!, starring
Carrey and Steve Carrell), mixed martial arts madness (Never Back Down,
starring Sean Faris and
Djimon Hounsou), and apocalyptic action (Doomsday,
Rhona Mitra). What do the critics have to
Virtually no one denies the
genius of Dr. Seuss’ books, but it’s been an open question whether their
compact, staccato whimsy could be translated into feature-length films; the
results thus far have been middling (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 52
percent on the Tomatometer) to poor (The Cat in the Hat, 12 percent).
However, critics say the CG Horton Hears a Who is easily the most
Seussian Seuss feature, and therefore the best. Horton (Jim
Carrey) is an
elephant who stumbles across the microscopic Who-ville; he promises to protect
the tiny inhabitants, despite ridicule from his fellow pachyderms. The pundits
say Horton is filled with deft animation, solid voice work, valuable life
lessons, and good cheer — and if the runtime is a little padded, the movie
still maintains the enchanting, thoughtful spirit of Seuss’ books. At 74 percent
on the Tomatometer, Horton may be a cut below the animated
Grinch Stole Christmas (100 percent), but it’s still cause for Who-bilation.
(Check out co-director Jimmy
Hayward’s favorite animated films
Never Back Down
another film in which a wayward teen learns about martial arts — and life —
from a stern-but-caring teacher. Wasn’t Ralph Macchio in a movie like this a few
years back? Perhaps, but critics say NBD is still a reasonably involving
take on old material. The movie stars
Sean Faris as an unmoored, ill-tempered
youngster who, after being humiliated in a fight with a classmate, learns mixed
martial arts under the tutelage of
and, in the process, how to better focus his bluster. Pundits say Never Back
Down‘s premise may be old as the hills, but pundits say it’s made with more
skill and panache than the material would indicate. At 36 percent on the
Tomatometer, the critical reception to Never Back Down puts the “mixed”
into mixed martial arts. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, where we take a
fond look at movies in which people get punched in the face.)
The folks behind
must have feared a critical apocalypse. Why else wouldn’t they screen their film
for the scribes before its release? Directed by
Neil Marshall, the film tells
the story of a group of scientists who’ve been dispatched to a country where a
deadly virus has broken out. A note of interest: Marshall’s previous movie was
modern horror masterpiece The Descent,
likely marking the first time a
director has gone from Certified Fresh on one movie to not-screened on the
next. Kids, climb out of that fallout shelter in your backyard and guess that
Also opening this week in
Jim Carrey Movies:
8% — The Number 23 (2007)
28% — Fun With Dick and Jane (2005)
70% — Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
49% — Bruce Almighty (2003)