After more than 30 years of fevered fan discussion about a potential screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s DC Comics classic The Sandman – one of the greatest graphic novels of all time – it has finally happened, with a 10-part Netflix series out now.
The series centres on Morpheus, aka Dream, a member of the Endless (a dysfunctional family of Godlike beings) who escapes after a century in captivity and bids to restore order to the dream world he rules, called The Dreaming. The dark, mythic adventure is set to be a major hit, with Tom Sturridge leading a cast that includes Gwendoline Christie (as Lucifer), Charles Dance and Jenna Coleman, plus Lenny Henry and Mark Hamill (as Mervyn Pumpkinhead) in the voice cast.
When the adaptation was announced, the fan pressure began to build for London actor Asim Chaudhry to play Abel – brother of Cain, based on the Biblical characters. Netflix heard the call, and the co- creator and star of BBC Bafta-winning mockumentary People Just Do Nothing won the role.
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“It does add pressure because everyone’s like, ‘Oh my God, he’s perfect for the role, he looks just like Abel,’” says Chaudhry, who also appeared in the classic interactive Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch and Wonder Woman: 1984.
“It’s a huge world. Complex in some ways, and in other ways quite simple. There are all these different elements and amazing characters weaving in and out that are very dreamlike. But it is like a dream that feels familiar. Those dreams that you don’t know if they are real or not. The Sandman has been referenced so much in pop culture. It’s an amazing world that Neil’s created. They’ve done an amazing job.”
In the original story, Abel is repeatedly tortured and killed by his older brother Cain.
“It’s amazing for me because usually when I’m reading a script, I’m like, ‘Ah, I die. Job’s over!’ This is probably the only job where I actually want to die. He’s like Kenny from South Park – please kill me because I know I’ll be back. That was fun, getting killed and then coming back.”
If you are going to get repeatedly killed in a role, who better to do the killing than one of your heroes? Cain is played by Sanjeev Bhaskar, who Chaudhry credits for representing British South Asians on screen.
“It makes me feel proud of the hard work I’ve put in to be at a level where I can say my co-star is Sanjeev,” he says. “I couldn’t have asked for a better brother. He was incredible. A pro and a legend. He’s a very important person when it comes to South Asian comedy, the arts and our country.
“Goodness Gracious Me was essential, because at that time, we were seeing people who looked like me on TV as either the stereotypical shopkeeper in EastEnders, who had two lines, or as extras. We weren’t in popular culture or the western music scene, we weren’t really seen.”
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On set, between filming dreamlike scenes of fratricide, Chaudhry and Bhaskar discussed the importance of representation and the impact Goodness Gracious Me had on audiences.
“It was the first time I had met him, and we spoke for a long time about the show and the effect it had on young Asians,” says Chaudhry. “I told him, ‘You did something very important for us.’ He was so sweet, because he said, ‘no, but what you’ve done with your show is for different generations.’ It feels great to be working with one of your comedy heroes.”
Chaudhry connected instantly with the character. “It was a very sweet role,” he reflects. “I knew exactly how I wanted to play him – quite childlike, like a puppy dog. “It’s not hard to make people feel for him because he’s a sweet, loving person. And when we were doing the costume and the style, we first went for a very authentic version of Abel, like from the comics. He had big horn hair, the suits, and he had a stutter. But when we were rehearsing there was so much going on we thought we didn’t need the stutter. There were things that were toned down, which actually helps because it made it feel more real.”
Next up, Chaudhry will be seen opposite Emma Thompson, Lily James, Taj Atwal and Shazad Latif in Jemima Khan’s cross-cultural romantic comedy What’s Love Got To Do With It? and is currently in Norway filming an adaptation of Norwegian bestseller Listen Up! which is “about a Pakistani family who immigrated here in the 1990s – it’s got to do a lot with gender, culture and society. It’s a really sweet film.”
Beyond that? There’s a second series of The Sandman in the works – “I know there’s a lot of cool stuff that they have planned,” he says. And then, he hopes, a chance to play the bad guy for once.
“I always get cast as the nice, funny guy, the sweet guy, which is a nice thing to have, obviously,” he says. “But I actually auditioned for Cain. They thought I was a bit too nice and kind looking, which is a bit annoying. Because I’ve always wanted to play a nasty person, and I’ve never played a villain before…”
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