The Sandman's Neil Gaiman talks Mark Hamill casting and 'woke' negativity

Neil Gaiman discusses Mark Hamill's portrayal of Mervyn Pumpkinhead and shoots back at 'woke' negativity about the upcoming Netflix series.


The Sandman creator Neil Gaiman discusses Mark Hamill's portrayal of Mervyn Pumpkinhead and shoots back at 'woke' negativity about the upcoming Netflix series.

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Neil Gaiman discusses Mark Hamill's portrayal of Mervyn Pumpkinhead and shoots back at 'woke' negativity about the series. (Images: Netflix)

The Sandman is one of the seminal pieces of modern fiction. Created by Neil Gaiman for DC Comics and its Vertigo imprint, the series began life as an extension of the Sandman characters from DC’s history being tied to the actual Lord of Dreams, Morpheus.

However, it would expand into its own mythology, full of gods, demons, and other beings of the higher planes and how they are closely tied to the existence of humanity. The comic book series allowed Gaiman to explore high concepts, including the very idea of reality, human existence, and what lies just beyond our sleep.

It was earlier announced that Mark Hamill would be joining The Sandman as Mervyn Pumpkinhead. And we now have a look of the character with the first official trailer for The Sandman. Furthermore, Neil Gaiman responds to the 'woke' negativity being thrown by online trolls. Read on for the details so far.

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San Diego Comic-Con trailer release

Released at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, The Sandman trailer revealed new details about the upcoming Netflix adaptation.

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The Sandman will follow Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) as he deals with the threats from the Dreaming that escaped into the waking world.

Neil Gaiman spoke during the show’s panel regarding why it took so long for a live-action version for the critically acclaimed comic book series:

For well over 30 years, my part in Sandman adaptations was just to try and stop bad ones from happening. And fortunately, I was always successful in this. We got to 2020 and Sandman was the biggest DC comics property that still had not been adapted — it was widely considered one of the jewels in the crown; it was the adult comic that changed everything.

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Gaiman continued, describing the factors that made him change his mind in agreeing to a live action version of The Sandman:

This adaptation is the first time that I've been willing to come on board. We've reached a point that really did not exist when the Sandman comics began. Longer format, novelistic television series now have the special effects and budgets to bring this world to life. Technologically, I really think we're in a place right now where we're getting to make Sandman in a way that we could not have dreamed of making even 15 years ago, even 10 years ago.

One of the elements that were difficult to translate into live action are the bizarre and otherworldly beings that Morpheus and the rest of The Endless interact with. This includes the mass murdering Corinthian (who had teeth where his eyes should be) and Mervyn Pumpkinhead, who can best be described as a scarecrow with a Jack-o’-Lantern pumpkin for his head. Mervyn serves as the janitor of The Dreaming, responsible for construction, maintenance, and clean-up of dreams.

Modern CGI and VFX technology have caught up with Gaiman’s vision for The Sandman. But aside from the technical aspect, the actors filling the roles of the menagerie of colorful characters would have to be a good fit. Mervyn Pumpkinhead is particularly a challenge, as it would mostly be a voice talent, but had to convey a wide range.

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Mark Hamill has made a legendary career as a voice actor, bringing his talents in The Sandman to play Mervyn Pumpkinhead.

Thankfully, The Sandman found their man in Mark Hamill (Star Wars, Batman: The Animated Series). Hamill has made a legendary career as a voice actor after the first Star Wars trilogy was over. His take on Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker is particularly of note, as many fans contend Hamill’s version is the most iconic, even compared to live action portrayals by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto.

Hamill himself

Speaking to host Felicia Day during Netflix’s Geeked Week Panel, The Sandman Showrunner Allan Heinberg had this to say about Hamill joining the cast:

We were thrilled to be able to ask and get Mark Hamill to be the voice of Merv Pumpkinhead, and he’s fantastic in it. He was such a pleasure to work with.

Neil Gaiman chimed in with his own observation of Hamill’s Mervyn Pumpkinhead portrayal:

His Merv is hilarious. That’s the other thing that needs saying. Merv was always, in the comic, the — on the one hand — a kind of comic relief, but, on the other hand, the voice of sanity, the voice of just going, 'This is actually kind of nuts'. He gets to be that person, especially when arguing with Patton Oswalt [who plays Morpheus’ raven Matthew].

Clearly, the celebrated and multi-award winning Gaiman is happy with the casting of Hamill, as well as the rest of the main actors in The Sandman.

Response to calling The Sandman series 'woke'

On that note, Gaiman has responded to the negativity about the casting for key roles in The Sandman, particularly with popular characters like John Constantine and Lucifer.

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Gaiman responds to online trolls and their negativity due to the apparent "woke" changes made from the original comic book versions, such as gender swapping Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie).

Both characters have been played by male actors and in very popular portrayals by Matt Ryan and Tom Ellis, respectively. However, in Netflix’s The Sandman, John Constantine will be replaced by Johanna Constantine, an ancestor of the irreverent magus to be filled by actress Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who). On the other hand, Lucifer will be played by Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones). Jaded Sandman fans have also called out that Dream's sister Death will be portrayed by a Black actress (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).

Speaking to Yahoo! Entertainment, Gaiman responded to the negativity by saying:

I know the rule is you’re meant to ignore the trolls and not feed the trolls. ut I would look at people sounding off on Sandman who were obviously not Sandman fans. What I would watch would be 60,000 Sandman fans going, 'Of course you’re doing it this way. Of course you have a non-binary Desire, Desire was always non-binary, that’s brilliant casting.' Or 'Gwendoline as Lucifer, what amazing casting.'

Netflix has also released the updated synopsis of The Sandman series:

There is another world that waits for all of us when we close our eyes and sleep — a place called the Dreaming, where The Sandman, Master of Dreams (Tom Sturridge), gives shape to all of our deepest fears and fantasies. But when Dream is unexpectedly captured and held prisoner for a century, his absence sets off a series of events that will change both the dreaming and waking worlds forever. To restore order, Dream must journey across different worlds and timelines to mend the mistakes he’s made during his vast existence, revisiting old friends and foes, and meeting new entities — both cosmic and human — along the way.

The Sandman comes to the Netflix streaming service this August 5, 2022.

Geoff Borgonia
Geoffrey "Borgy" Borgonia is a veteran writer, artist, journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur based in the Philippines. When not contributing to some of the top pop culture sites on the planet, he spends the rest of his time running his business, practicing martial arts, working on and developing books, comics, and games. In his man-cave, his only luxury is sleep. Borgy on Linkedin.
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