Gaiman’s TV adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens is coming to UK terrestrial TV this January and here’s one of its stars Michael McKean, who plays Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, talking about it…
Talk us through your character, please…
I really like Shadwell. You can’t get any better than playing someone who is destroying evil. The sign on his door, says: ‘Defy the Foul Fiend’ – words we should all live by, especially at the next Presidential election!
How does he become embroiled in this story?
He has stumbled onto this huge event. He doesn’t know that Crowley is a demon and that Aziraphale is an angel. But he is full of good intentions. Life in general is a mystery to Shadwell, but he feels he is doing the Lord’s work. When he meets Beelzebub, he’s terrified. But he knows he is on the right side, so he is willing to ride out that terror and go into action. He is eventually cornered by events into doing the right thing. Redemption is always our favourite story.
How does Shadwell’s relationship with Madame Tracy unfold?
He is clueless in that department. He has no inkling that things might develop with Madame Tracy. He simply goes with her towards the abyss. They are part of the same squad and become like office colleagues. It’s only when he is faced with extinction that Shadwell realises that he would take a bullet – or a lightning bolt – for Madame Tracy. That’s when it dawns on him. When the stakes are so high, he realises that this is about how to sidestep the end of the world and save her. He says: “I’m not going without a fight, and you’ll have to go through me to get to her.”
What has been your experience of collaborating with David Tennant and Michael Sheen?
They are both genuinely angels, but don’t tell David that – it might put him off his character! It’s wonderful to be working with actors whose work you’ve already loved and then to find out that they’re fabulous people as well. David and Michael are so much fun to watch together. The first day I saw them filming, I thought: “There’s the money right here. They did not get this wrong.” You couldn’t imagine anyone else in those roles.
Do you have to play it entirely straight in Good Omens?
Yes. One of the reasons the movie The Death Of Stalin is so hilarious is because the characters are so serious. John Cleese said that farce is what happens on the worst day of your life. I was in the comedy Clue, an adaptation of the board game Cluedo, and the director Jonathan Lynn said: “This has to be a hundred percent real.” It’s exactly the same with Good Omens.
Have you enjoyed working with the director Douglas McKinnon?
Absolutely. The scale of this production is awesome, but what really impressed me is the fact that Douglas is so calm. He’s such a jovial guy. He’s exactly the person you’d want at the centre of the storm. It’s not like making a regular series. It’s a six-hour movie!