Fans of Monty Python should feel right at home with “Good Omens,” Amazon’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s acclaimed fantasy novel that debuts Friday.
And fans of “Good Omens” should be singing their heavenly praises for one specific member of the legendary British comedy troupe for getting this long — and we mean long — gestating adaptation off the ground.
“When Terry Pratchett and I finished writing the novel, we were like ‘Who do we want to read this novel?’ Our immediate reaction was Terry Gilliam,” Neil Gaiman told TheWrap. “There’s definitely Monty Python in the DNA. There’s a little bit of [“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” author] Douglas Adams in the DNA too.”
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Gaiman added that they thought so highly of Gilliam they even sent a proof of the novel to him so he could write a blurb for the published copy. And in a comedic twist that could’ve been in “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” Gilliam got the book, but he had no idea why, because the accompanying note from Gaiman was lost.
“He just thought someone had sent it to him as a potential thing to film, and he read it and fell in love,” Gaiman continues. “The next thing I knew, Terry Pratchett and I are meeting Terry Gilliam in the Groucho Club … he was like ‘I want to make this movie.'”
Getting “Good Omens” to the screen has been a long, winding road for Gaiman — along with Gilliam, fellow Monty Python member Terry Jones also tried to shepherd an adaptation, to no success.
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Sadly, Gilliam’s version — which at one point starred Robin Williams and Johnny Depp — never got made. “He had almost all the money he needed,” Gaiman said. “Unfortunately, this was like three months after 9/11 and nobody was in the mood to hear about a really funny end-of-the-world comedy.”
Shortly before his death in 2015, Pratchett told Gaiman that he had to be the one to adapt their work — which Gaiman described as a “last request” from his co-author. By early 2017, Amazon greenlit the series, which is co-produced with the BBC. But Gaiman credits Gilliam for the eventual version that made it to Amazon, arguing it would’ve never happened without that first meeting at London’s Groucho Club all those years ago.
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Set as the end of the world approaches, the series follows fussy Angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and a loose-living Demon Crowley (David Tennant) who, after centuries of friendship, have to band together to stop Armageddon.
Sheen counted himself as one of those “fans who really wanted it to be adapted,” he said, telling TheWrap he read the novel when it first came out while he was in drama school in London. “To be part of bringing it to the screen has been both incredibly exciting but also scary, because I know the weight of responsibility and how much people are excited about it and looking forward to it.”
Tennant came at it from a different angle — his first introduction to “Good Omens” was reading the script — but he quickly realized the other-worldly expectations placed on him.
“I’m at a very steep learning curve and witness to how many people love ‘Good Omens,'” Tennant said. “And while that’s very exciting to be the custodian of something that people love so much, it does give one a little tremor that you hold people’s dreams in your hands and that they’ve been waiting for this story to come to the screen for such a long time.”
All six episodes of “Good Omens” premiere on Amazon on Friday, May 31