Neil Gaiman has turned his hand to many things, from journalism to film directing through short stories, comic books and novels – both graphic and regular. He’s even been a lyric in a Tori Amos song.
2007 marks a banner year for Gaiman’s talents on the big screen, as he’s providing the source novel for Matthew Vaughn‘s Stardust and the screenplay (with Roger Avary) for Robert Zemeckis‘ Beowulf, while overseeing Henry Selick‘s translation to screen of his Coraline and preparing to direct the film adaptation of his Death: The High Cost of Living.
His works in print to date include The Sandman, Anansi Boys, Neverwhere and Good Omens. On screen, Neverwhere was adapted from the BBC television series he penned, and in 2005 he wrote MirrorMask with Dave McKean.
And when he’s not doing all that he’s keeping bees at his Minneapolis home. And, really, you can’t go wrong with a beekeeping author.
As part of our ongoing series of Dinner and the Movies conversations – which kicked off with our mammoth chat with Kevin Smith earlier in the year – Rotten Tomatoes took Gaiman for sushi on a recent visit to London and spent ninety minutes in his company learning more about the workings of his mind, and quizzing him on his career past, present and future. Back in June we encouraged you to put your questions to Gaiman, and we represented some of those on your behalf too.
By popular demand we’ve provided the full version of our chat as an MP3 download for your listening pleasure. For those who prefer your soundbites in text form, we’ve extracted the juiciest morsels (pardon the pun) which you can find on the pages of this article.
On preparing to see Stardust
for the first time:
I was terrified, but I’m always terrified. The first time I was terrified was the first time I got to the set properly while they were shooting. I was on set two weeks before shooting and then first day of shooting I had to go off and go back to being an author. I got back about two months later when most everything had been shot and I was sitting there in the screening room with my daughter absolutely terrified that what I was going to see would be appalling. And I sat there and it was wonderful. I realised I’d been holding my breath for two months.
On his relationship with Hollywood:
Alan Moore is a very, very dear friend of mine and a genius. And, to be honest, I think one of the finest writers of the last fifty years. At least in film I feel like I got to watch Alan walking across the landmine field ahead of me and watching what Alan did definitely got me to the point of thinking, right, I won’t do that then.
What Alan did, and did from the word go, was say, “I’ve created the comics, the comics are the things I care about. Give me the check, go make your movie, it’s nothing to do with me.”
So I don’t do this thing of, “Give me the check, I trust you.” What I wanted to do was to find people I liked and trusted to make films, in the understanding that if I wanted the film to be exactly the thing I had in my head, then I should probably direct it myself. If I wanted it to be something else that I would enjoy, my job was to find the right person to do it and let them get on with it.
Read on for more highlights from our chat with Neil Gaiman, or treat your eyes to a break and wrap your ears around the audio, which you can download at the link below.
On his favourite parts of Stardust:
I love anything with the princes in. I love Michelle Pfeiffer’s confrontation with Ditchwater Sal; as little scenes go I love it I think because it’s exactly what I wrote in the book. And I love Captain Shakespeare because he’s not what I wrote in the book and he’s something I can just take pleasure in.
One of the things I like about the film is it’s really a hard film to pick favourite bits from because it works so well as a whole.
I love Charlie Cox. I love the whole of Charlie Cox. I love Charlie starting out as this awkward kid in a bad bowler hat and a coat that doesn’t quite fit him and a geeky haircut being beaten up and I love Charlie being everything that he grows up into and I love Charlie learning what love is and I love Charlie when he gets turned into a dormouse.
On story changes when adapting for screen:
A film is not a book. If you could absolutely do a BBC Classic version of Stardust it would take lots of 45 minute episodes and at the end of the first episode our hero would be born. Around about episode three or four he and Yvaine would meet. And you could do that and it would be faithful – I’d love to see it sometime – but it wouldn’t be a film. You have to squish things if you’re going to make it two hours and also there were things I did in the novel that are novelistic.
On getting ready to direct Death: The High Cost of Living with executive producer Guillermo del Toro:
You can have many different types of executive producer … what Guillermo really wants to do is be there as a safety net for me. We’re talking right now about me going out to the Hellboy 2 set and spending a while just shadowing Guillermo, talking to his crew, getting an idea of why he does what he does. Interrogating him, getting in the way… This is the Guillermo del Toro two-week film school, which really does sound absolutely fucking awesome.
On casting his female Death:
You have to have somebody who the entire audience falls in love with more or less immediately. Of whatever sexual preference or gender the audience happens to be, they all have to love her. You have to have someone likeable, bright, who can do the thing of being smart and sweet and optimistic without ever being cloying or irritating or making you want to hit her. And with a certain amount of vulnerability. Those, I think are the key things I’ll be looking for in an audition and they’re certainly the key things I’ve brought up in talking to actresses.
I’ve had several breakfasts and cups of tea with people.
On the potential for a movie version of American Gods:
Lots of directors over the years have approached me about doing American Gods. The big problem is a lot of directors come to me and say, ‘We’ve read American Gods, we want to make it into a film.’ And I say, ‘Great.’ And then they say, ‘So… do you have any idea how we make it into a film?’ And I say, ‘No, if I’d have known how to make it as a film I would have made it as a film and not as a great big sprawling novel!’ Nobody has yet satisfied me that they were someone I’d want to leave my baby with but I’m sure sooner or later somebody will.
On fantasy directors for American Gods:
I would love Stanley Kubrick. I’m pretty sure I would hate Stanley Kubrick’s American Gods
. I would probably feel about it exactly the same as Stephen King felt about The Shining
. But I’m also sure it would be an absolutely mind-bogglingly wonderful movie. Of living directors, I don’t know…
I’d love to see Terry Gilliam’s American Gods because Gilliam is probably my favourite director in the whole world. Gilliam on an off-day is better than most people on their on-days.
On playing in the Batman universe:
Every now and again I’ve gone and done little Batman things. To be honest my favourite is probably Secret Origins of The Riddler and the Batman Black & White Batman/Joker story that I did with Simon Bisley although both of them are vignettes. There’s a story that I signed a contract with DC to write called The Night Circus which is all about Batman going to the circus and that was meant to have been a painted book with Simon Bisley many, many years ago. Whether it will happen or not I don’t know, but it would be a lovely story to do.
I can tell you I’ve seen animatics of pretty-much the whole movie; the animated storyboards. I’ve seen test; actual animation of about four minutes which is gorgeous and glorious and I’m just hoping they don’t clean it up too much. I think they’ve learned a lesson from the people who did The Corpse Bride, where they cleaned it up so much that it might as well have all been CG. What’s lovely about this is that it looks like it was done by people and the characters are amazingly expressive. French and Saunders are hilarious; the They Might Be Giants songs are really good. I’m really excited.