Neil Gaiman's story about making Good Omens is a love letter his dear friend Terry Pratchett
A lovely glimpse into the friendship of two iconic authors.
The history of Hollywood is brimming with books, comics, and projects that are deemed to be unfilmable.
It's arguable that the wonderfully talented Terry Gilliam has more experience of dealing with 'development hell' than most other directors but with Good Omens finally being released on Amazon, Gilliam's role in its development was key.
In fact, Michael Sheen (Aziraphale) said that Gilliam was the man that suggested a TV show might be the best format to do the beloved book justice.
Released in 1990, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch has inspired a devout following and won numerous awards but like any beloved project, fans can be protective about any potential adaptation.
Fear not though because with Neil Gaiman as showrunner, the show is incredibly authentic to what makes the book so special.
In case you've never read Good Omens, here's what it's about.
Armageddon has never been funnier as the plot revolves around the birth of the antichrist and the end of days. To prevent the apocalypse, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley unite to stop the coming of the antichrist and with it the final battle between Heaven and Hell.
It all sounds very heavy but Good Omens is a riot with discussions about theology and the history of the world sitting comfortably alongside the hilarious-normality of everyday life.
Welcome to a world where a chat about pink biscuits carries as much dramatic weight as the imminent arrival of the antichrist.
Having known each other since 1985, the book is a collaboration between the English authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
Despite achieving incredible success in their respective careers, both authors consistently returned to Good Omens though because they knew that this was something special.
However, like so many novels, the story of Good Omens from page to screen has been eventful. Prior to the release of the show on Amazon, JOE met co-author Neil Gaiman and it's obvious that this is far more than just a show to the talented writer, it's a love letter to his friend, Terry Pratchett.
Sadly, in 2014, Pratchett wrote Gaiman a letter which turned into a last request. Pratchett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, and as his condition worsened, he asked his close friend and if he would make the show himself.
The photos were taken just over 7 years ago, in a Cardiff sushi restaurant. We'd decided to make a TV series of Good Omens.
He died 3 years ago today.
He was the best writer I've ever worked with.
Terry Pratchett. 28 April 1948 - 12 March 2015
Photos by Rob of @terryandrob pic.twitter.com/WO99iOZDb4
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) March 12, 2018
"I wrote the novel and almost immediately, it failed to be turned into a movie by Hollywood. Terry Gilliam failed to make a movie of it for another 20 years and initially, at Terry’s suggestion, he said ‘why not make it into a TV show," said Gaiman.
"We talked with a lot of very fine and terrific showrunners to see if they’d be interested in making this and they weren’t. They’d say that it was too weird and not really TV shaped and you probably couldn’t do it.
"That brings up to 2014 and Terry Pratchett - who never asked for anything for me from all the years of our friendship - wrote to me and he said ‘I know how busy you are and I know that you can’t do this. I know that we said if anything was ever done on Good Omens, we’d do it together but you have to do this. You’re the only other person out there with the understanding and passion for Good Omens. You have to make it into a TV show because I want to see it before the lights go out.'
"I said ok, figuring that I had six-seven years of Terry left, and then he died. This suddenly turned it into a last request. At this point, I came back from Terry’s funeral and I started writing episode one. I made myself showrunner on Good Omens because I knew that I couldn't just hand over a script to somebody and expect it to be the thing that I wanted it to be.
"I made a promise to Terry. So basically, for the last couple of years, I’m a retired novelist that's a showrunner. After Friday, I'll be a retired showrunner and I’m thinking about taking up writing in my retirement!
"I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t promised Terry that I would make it. That’s the thing that kept me going through it because this is my promise"
Pratchett's fingerprints are all over the show as seen by the moment when Gaiman knew that he finally cracked the adaptation. After reading the finished scripts, Gaiman knew that he was doing the book justice because it's exactly what his friend would have done.
Charming and self-depreciating, Gaiman also states that he would have loved to have his friend around to work on the TV show because Pratchett has a tendency to make every line, scene, and piece of dialogue 17% better.
For the majority of the cast, the opportunity to work with Gaiman was too good to turn down, with Michael Sheen, David Tennant, and Frances McDormand all speaking in glowing terms about their friendship and respect for the author's work.
With regards to one of the biggest changes between the book and the TV show, the Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) plays a far bigger role in the show and for Hamm, the chance to work on Good Omens was a no-brainer.
"I had met Neil at a party and we fanboyed out on each other. I read the book when it came out and loved it. What I really loved about it and what I still love abut Neil’s writing is that he doesn't dumb it down, he expects there to be a level of intelligence and familiarity with the culture from the reader. I felt like one of the cool kids because I got it.
"I met Neil again at a party and we really hit it off again. I then went off to do a movie and halfway through it, I got an email from him asking ‘would you ever want to do this? It’s a part that we don’t really know what it is yet’ and I was like ‘Yes, whatever it is. I’m happy to do it.' I was like ‘film me however you want to, I just want to be a part of this’".
With so many pop-culture references, famous moments in history, special effects, one-liners, talented actors, theological discussion, and visual gags, there's an awful lot to enjoy in Good Omens.
For Gaiman, we're certain that the thing that makes him the happiest is knowing that he kept the promise he made to his dear friend.
Good Omens is now available to watch on Amazon.