This story originally appeared in the Movies & Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Even before author Terry Pratchett died in 2015, he and Neil Gaiman had been trying for years to get Hollywood to adapt their 1990 fantasy novel “Good Omens” (which finally debuted on Amazon Prime on May 31).
“Terry and I kept trying to find somebody that was going to make it for us,” said Gaiman, who’s since seen his 2001 novel “American Gods” turn into a series on Starz. “We would go to top writers and showrunners in the world and say ‘Good Omens’ and they would go, ‘Uhh, too weird.” But shortly before Pratchett died, Gaiman said he received a letter from his friend basically telling him he had to be the one to adapt his own work.
“I want to watch it before the lights go out,” Gaiman said Pratchett wrote him. “And then he died. Which moved it from my friend asking me to do something to a last request.”
From then on, Gaiman said, things started moving more quickly. By early 2017, Amazon greenlit the series with Michael Sheen and David Tennant as an angel and demon who work together to prevent the coming apocalypse. Douglas Mackinnon, who had worked with Tennant on “Doctor Who,” signed on to direct in February of 2017.
MacKinnon recalled the time when Tennant “called out of the blue” to talk about doing “Good Omens,” basically questioning if the whole thing was going to work. “I think during that conversation with David, we convinced ourselves that it was going to happen,” he said.
But it wasn’t easy, because the adaptation’s literally out-of-this-world plot spans centuries and features not only angels and demons, but also the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the voice of God and a 400-foot computer-generated Satan. Gaiman said that they spent “11 months in post production, which is what it takes when you’ve got 1,200 VFX shots and something of that level of complexity.”
Doing the six-episode series also allowed Gaiman to pull from ideas that he and Pratchett batted around for years, about what a sequel would like — they even had a name for it: “668: The Neighbor of the Beast.” One of the main ideas that was added into the Amazon series was the increased role of the Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) and the other angels and demons, which were only briefly mentioned in footnotes of the book.
“Whenever we talked about ‘Good Omens’ as a TV show, we would talk about this idea of a skyscraper with the angels at the top, and the demons at the bottom, in the offices that nobody wanted,” Gaiman said. “And just the idea of that was our heaven and that was our hell.”
Though Amazon declined to disclose the budget for the six-episode series, it’s safe to say it was expensive. And that’s before they had to secure the rights to Queen’s hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” — part of a long-running joke that Mackinnon said was “a key part” of the book. That fact that a movie was coming out about the British rock band was both a blessing and a hindrance. “I was desperate to get the music,” Mackinnon said. But Queen, with a movie in the works, was holding back its most famous single. But when the film’s original director Bryan Singer was fired and production on the biopic halted, the band relented on the song rights.
Of course, the film ended up being a huge success and an Oscar winner, all the better for “Good Omens.” “The idea of Queen becoming perfectly relevant 30 years after ‘Good Omens’ came out is one that I would never have thought of,” Gaiman said.
Read more from the Movies & Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.