The Sandman: Boyd Holbrook and Vanesu Samunyai describe their creative process
The Sandman is a ten-part TV series brought to screen from the graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman. The dark fantasy explores the shifting of balance between dreams and the waking world when Morpheus, the King Of Dreams, is captured and held prisoner for over a century. The Netflix production is an explosive action-packed ride as he escapes and restores the realm. The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking to Vanesu Samunyai about her role as Rose Walker, and Boyd Holbrook, who plays the Corinthian, about how he prepared for the character.
Vanesu, how did you prepare to play Rose Walker, who is such a rich and mysterious character?
Vanesu Samunyai: I actually didn’t have too much time to prepare. I booked the role and I had about two to three months before we began shooting, and then I didn’t really get to have a comprehensive discussion with anyone too early on – all the preparation really happened about two or three weeks before filming. It was about creating Rose off the page. I only had so much to go off from the comics; there’s an inherently different comic Rose to a TV Rose so I couldn’t rely too much on her comic personality. I did read all the comic issues, but it was more about creating who I wanted Rose to be and exploring that.
The Corinthian is a bit of a nightmare – a rascal, but quite charming too. How was it, exploring that side to him? And how did you prepare for the role?
Boyd Holbrook: He is quite charming, indeed, and I think that’s something we wanted to expand upon from the comic books because we only have The Dolls House to work upon – we only have these ten episodes to go through. Really intelligently, Allan Heinberg and Neil Gaiman came up with this character that wasn’t really abrasive or wouldn’t do home intrusion, but someone who would be invited to your home and then that would be your mistake. He was developed as a more sophisticated character, and that was fun to embody because he became more of a connoisseur – a sommelier of all things – so he was very particular and delicate in his movements. So that was always great to play around with.
I prep everything the same way: I find the voice of the character – what they sound like, then I find the arc and break it down. He rarely enjoyed what he was doing, because ultimately he knew there was this ticking clock on him that was going to send him back to the Waking World, so I was aware of the juxtaposition of him wanting to live this life but knowing it was ultimately never going to happen.
Rose Walker has such a huge impact on Dream [played by Tom Sturridge] – she helps bring out the humanity in his character and the evolution of his story. Did you have any conversations with Tom before shooting the series about how to play out their relationship?
VS: We actually didn’t talk too much about it in advance. There were some decisions about the actions and how we wanted to play about with them, so we did lean into that – like, opening up a bit more, or the way he changed his interactions around Rose – so no prior discussion, but we did play around with it on set.
Boyd, when portraying the Corinthian, what do you think he saw as his endgame and his purpose? Could you relate to his character in this series?
BH: For the Corinthian, I think for his future, he wants to somehow transform into what a human can feel – I think that’s what he’s always craving and desiring. That’s why he’s keeping his victims. I think his main purpose is to not go back into the Dreaming. In a way I’m a prisoner – I’m just a figure that functions in this matrix; I’ve had to do all these terrible things and now I’ve managed to escape that world, and in the Waking World I’m just causing as much havoc as I can for Dream. I think what I find similar between us is an outsider quality to the Corinthian: I felt like an outsider most of my life and that feeling of not belonging – I can relate to that.
You were a very successful male model before you became an actor. Did that help with your acting career?
BH: I have been asked that question a lot, and I actually think it hurt me. There’s so many layers to acting – psychologically breaking down a character to perform that character and technically knowing how to perform that, so it has the best representation of that. I mean, I’m lucky because being a model paid for me to go through film school and to study acting, so I used it as much as it used me.
It’s such a lavish production – the costumes are amazing, the set is amazing, the makeup and special effects are all amazing too! Which aspects had the biggest impact on you and why?
VS: There’s so many great things in the production, but, even though I loved my costumes, they were pretty ordinary, in terms of what I was wearing. But when we were filming the cereal convention episodes near the end of this first series – those were the ones to write home about. The whole setup was so much fun to be around. And in episode seven, when we arrived at the old people’s nursing home – to this huge and grand beautiful historical building… The whole production was just amazing.
Did you get to spend time together outside of filming as a cast?
VS: We did, yes. Obviously, Covid restricted a lot of things but we had a few opportunities just to sit down together and ask some questions. Yesterday, in fact, we all had a dinner, so we got together then.
The Sandman is released on Netflix on 5th August 2022.
Watch the trailer for The Sandman here: