James McAvoy Talks Returning to The Sandman

The Sandman is having arguably the biggest year since the Neil Gaiman-written DC Comics series ended its original run. The Sandman Universe line of comics just wrapped with the conclusion of its crossover with Locke & Key. Netflix is promoting its upcoming streaming adaptation of the comic, and Audible has released The Sandman: Act II, continuing its full-cast audio adaptation of the series. Returning cast members include Kat Dennings as Death, Michael Sheen as Lucifer, and James McAvoy as the title character, Dream of the Endless. You can get a sampling of Sheen and McAvoy's interactions as Dream ventures into Hell at the beginning of the iconic Sandman story "Season of Mists" with our exclusive preview from the new release.

ComicBook.om spoke to McAvoy about returning to The Sandman's world for a second outing. We've already shared what he had to say about another topic, a possible return to the role of Professor X in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We also asked if anyone has spoken to him about his desire to play a beloved Star Trek character. Here's what he had to say:

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I was on a call with you when the first chapter of The Sandman came out and there was some talk about how the cast recording was this great big party where they got all of the cast members together except for you, who got stuck in your own house. Was the recording process any different this time around?

James McAvoy: Yeah, it was. I wasn't stuck in my own house, but I still was pretty much just on my Jack Jones, unfortunately. But you know what? Dirk Maggs is somebody who understands this work and Neil's material -- and these are the words of Neil here -- almost better than Neil himself sometimes. And as such, he's a director and writer, and adapter, he's also a drummer and the sporter of one hell of a glam rock metal haircut. And there's a performer in him. And he understands this work so well. And he can really give it some big licks when he is the guy acting opposite you in the booth. And honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way now. I love getting to do it with Dirk. He really is pretty exceptional. I love it.

Did you find it easier to fall back into the role of Dream now that you've done it before? Or were the stories this time around different enough that they posed their own challenges?

They definitely posed their own challenges. I think one of the virtues of The Sandman is that it is so incredibly different from episode to episode. And that's one of the things I dearly love about it, and it gives me the opportunity to do such wildly different things. So sometimes he even feels like he's a different character from episode to episode, from issue to issue. The tone of the episodes certainly feels different. Sometimes you're in a horror, sometimes you're in a buddy movie, sometimes you're in a really sad story about an old person's life ending. It really is a bit of a trip that you go on when you read, perform or listen to The Sandman. And sometimes, especially when a good year's gone by or whatever, I needed them to play me some material so that I could remind myself, what does he sound like? But then you've got to just play the truth of each moment and hopefully the truth of the sound and who he actually is comes out from just you reacting with the material organically.

Gaiman has talked about that variety you've mentioned before. He's talked about how he'd alternate between, I think he described them as masculine and feminine stories, the external, adventurous ones versus the internal, more character-focused ones. In this volume, that'd kind of be like a "Season of Mists: versus "A Game of You." Did you find that pattern while you were performing this? Did you see that pattern? Did that influence your performance?

No, I had no idea that he was doing that, but it makes a lot of sense now in hindsight. That's amazing. And it's good to know. No, but I didn't see it in that way specifically. But it's really, really interesting to hear that he was doing that because a lot becomes clear now. I kind of wish I did know that beforehand.

Sorry, I may have gone too deep into my own personal Sandman obsession.

No, I love it. Are you kidding? It's fantastic.

Given how malleable Morpheus is as a character and the different kinds of stories he finds himself in, is there something essential that defines the character for you? Something that you cling onto that makes him him no matter what story he's in? And has that altered and changed the more you've played him over time?

I think, when I first started playing him, he'd just be coming out of incarceration and humiliation and torture. And so it was about trying to get him back on his feet and find himself again. But once he found himself, and I think maybe one of the things that helped him find himself, was his sense of duty and responsibility. Because I feel that of all the Endless he and Death, possibly, are the two who respect that element of who they are, what they are, and the job that they're supposed to do for not just humanity, but also ancient beings. And that's why they are, it's who they are, and it's what they do. And without that, I think he feels lost.

I think his sense of responsibility is something that I hang onto. It's not like a procedural cop thing or something like that, but some of the weird shit that goes down in his life, it's not that weird, because it's day to day, it is procedural for him a little bit, you know what I mean? There's something slightly domestic and dull about what he does and how he does it, and I think I've just really enjoyed that. I think it's really fun, especially when you put it in the world of this, just crazy fantasy and outlandish imagination that Neil is experimenting with. You have somebody being just a bit, not glib or flippant, but just taking it as it comes, because that's his life. And that's how he does things. I think that sense of responsibility is the thing that defines him for me in some ways.

He's almost a little jaded, isn't he?

Almost. He's been here a hell of a long time, so yeah, almost, I'd say.

This isn't Sandman-related, but I do love Star Trek, and I've been following in interviews where you've talked about wanting to play young Jean-Luc Picard, and you even put together some homemade videos riffing on Star Trek. This is interesting because we've now seen the trailer for Star Trek: Picard's second season and they are actually going back into Picard's history, which means there's some possibility that we could see a young Jean-Luc. Has anyone contacted you about that, even if only to say something like, "James, that's cute, but no, we're not doing that."

No. What are they doing? Where are they going in his history, do you know?

[Explains the gist to the most recent Star Trek: Picard trailer]

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Okay. No, they've not spoken to me about it, unfortunately. I'm devastated, but I'll keep you posted if they ever get in touch.


This interview has been modified for clarity and length. The Sandman: Act II is now available on Audible.