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Early Roles The Sandman Actors May Like You To Forget

Quickly becoming the most watched show on Netflix upon its release (via CBR), there are many things deserving of praise in the acclaimed fantasy series "The Sandman." Much of its strength comes from the remarkable performances by the entire cast, comprised of both industry veterans and rising stars. The spectrum runs wide: Vivienne Acheampong (Lucienne) and Razane Jammal (Lyta Halt) nail their first starring roles, while established performers like Tom Sturridge and David Thewlis have been lauded for the way they've skillfully brought their characters to life.

Decades in the making with a budget approaching $15 million per episode (via Deadline), a legion of fans anxiously awaited this adaptation of Neil Gaiman's legendary comic book series. It's safe to say that everyone involved in the project should be proud of their work, but just about every actor has some moments from their early career they'd prefer not to think back on. Here are some early roles that the cast of "The Sandman" might wish could be lost to time. 

Tom Sturridge wasn't a child actor ... or was he?

At the center of "The Sandman" is Dream, aka Morpheus, who emerges from a century of imprisonment and must embark on a quest to bring order to the chaos that has reigned in his absence. Actor Tom Sturridge told Digital Spy about the physical work that went into embodying the ethereal character, which involved working out to maintain a lean physique and perfecting an otherworldly style of movement. It was all done in the name of impressing the legion of "Sandman" comic fans, as he told Digital Spy, "That was weighing me down more than the weights."

The son of director Charles Sturridge ("Longitude," "Brideshead Revisited") and actress Phoebe Nicholls ("The Elephant Man," "Persuasion"), Tom Sturridge was first cast in his father's 1996 miniseries adaptation of "Gulliver's Travels." He made his acting debut as Tom Gulliver, the son of the protagonist and narrator, Lemuel Gulliver (played by Ted Danson of "Cheers," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," and "The Good Place"). As it turns out, though, Sturridge doesn't quite consider his Lilliputian adventures to be a real acting role. 

"I wasn't a child actor. It was just three weeks of my life when I was eight," he told The Guardian. "My dad just needed a child actor." Despite his family of industry veterans, Sturridge avoided relying on those connections to land jobs. He considers his highlight roles to be "Being Julia," in which he starred alongside Annette Benning and Jeremy Irons, and "Punk Rock," which earned him an Outstanding Newcomer nomination at the 2009 Evening Standard Awards (via Curtis Brown) and a win at the 2009 Critics' Circle Theatre Awards

Vivienne Acheampong has dabbled in magic before

Dream's unwaveringly loyal subject and the fastidiously dutiful chief librarian of The Dreaming, Lucienne, is played by Vivienne Acheampong. "She knows the essence of Dream and she understands the way he is," she explained of Lucienne's deep bond with Lord Morpheus, speaking to Entertainment Weekly. "She understands why he is like that, because he's got everyone's dreams and thoughts and feelings inside him."

"The Sandman" is Acheampong's second foray into magic, but her first was not as well-received. In the 2020 version of Roald Dahl's "The Witches," she appears as the mother of Alice, Agatha's childhood friend who was cursed into becoming a chicken forever. Perhaps it's a silver lining that Acheampong's screen time in the Robert Zemeckis film is rather limited, because the movie was panned by many critics, who found it too ghastly and lacking of any Dahllian playfulness. "A visual tour-de-force perhaps," wrote The Straits Times film critic John Lui, "but emotionally, about as deep as a layer of pixels on a monitor."

"The Witches" also garnered significant criticism from the disability community for giving its evil witches deformed hands, arguing that it perpetuated stigma against people with ectrodactyly and other limb impairments. Anne Hathaway, who plays the Grand High Witch, apologized on Instagram and promised to do better in future.

Boyd Holbrook got a single-digit critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes

While Tom Sturridge delivered a perfect audition that matched exactly what the "Sandman" bosses Neil Gaiman and Allan Heinberg were looking for, Boyd Holbrook gave them a Corinthian they were not expecting. "We were expecting charm," Gaiman revealed to Digital Spy. "But what we got was a rather genuine niceness and gentleness, and the idea that yes, this character is absolutely the patron saint of serial killers."

Boyd is enjoying a good decade in Hollywood ⁠— he counts among his credits David Fincher's "Gone Girl," the popular Netflix series "Narcos," and the highly acclaimed "X-Men" entry "Logan." He did, however, hit a bump in 2011, when he acted in "The Reunion" with WWE superstar John Cena. With only a dozen professional reviews registering on Rotten Tomatoes, it reached a critic score of 8%, with a 32% audience rating. "There's one thing to be said about WWE Studios — they're consistent," said one scathing review from The Hollywood Reporter. "Every one of their movies designed to showcase their stable of popular wrestling stars has been a critical and commercial disaster."

Patton Oswalt had some things to say about college loans

Even though he's not human (not anymore, at least), Matthew the Raven is one of the most compelling characters in the cast of "The Sandman." While he sometimes acts as Dream's moral compass throughout his trials and tribulations, most other times, he offers an unfiltered running stream of hilarious commentary on Dream's plans. Unsurprisingly, the actor behind the funny bird is Patton Oswalt, who's known for lending his voice to two other animals — Remy in "Ratatouille" and Max in "The Secret Life of Pets 2." He's also been a fan of "The Sandman" comics for decades, as Gaiman notes. "Patton Oswalt, 30 years ago, was standing in line to get his copy of 'Seasons of Mists,' the hardcover, signed at Comics Experience in Divisadero in San Francisco," the writer recalled during an interview with "Happy Sad Confused". "He was there in that line, and would show up afterwards at signings and events." 

Oswalt is an illustrious comedian with an impressive resume across film, TV, and standup, but his comedy wasn't always so successful. Like most other comedians, his early material could be pretty rough, especially his first gig in a 1990 educational video about college loans. An example of the sparkling material on display: "Dining hall food in college, you like it, man? Yeah, me neither, man, I hated that stuff. It's like a testing ground for airline food." 

In 2013, Oswalt tweeted his brief summary of the experience: "First paid acting gig. 19 years old. $300. Educational video about student loans. Sweater vest. Kill me."

David Thewlis was happy to get injured to escape this movie

David Thewlis' John appears in only the first half of the season, but it doesn't take long to realize how deceptively villainous the psychiatric patient is. Having been driven irreparably mad by Dream's magical ruby, John embarks on a quest to force people to speak nothing but the truth — even if it comes at devastating costs. He's the centerpiece of the fifth episode, which brings one of the "Sandman" comics' darkest and goriest storylines to life, and Thewlis' performance under director Jamie Childs is so remarkable that it became one of Gaiman's favorite scenes, according to CBR

Good filmmaking is a joy to see, but bad filmmaking is often as much a nightmare to make as it is to watch. Thewlis certainly found that out on 1996's "The Island of Dr. Moreau," the box office disaster infamous for its trainwreck of a production. "It was a bleeding nightmare to make," he told Phase 9 Entertainment. There was infighting among the cast and crew (screenwriter Rob Hutchinson even called lead actor Marlon Brando a "monster" in The Guardian) and communication breakdowns ran rampant on set. Thewlis himself had to work a little script surgery by rewriting his entire character by himself — as an actor!

Interestingly, he nearly managed to get off the island and out of the movie at one point. "I broke my leg in the middle of the film and I thought, 'That'll do it!' But they just dosed me up with painkillers and got a good double on," he recalled to The Independent.

Gwendoline Christie has a drama school regret

Dream's other nemesis — and by far the more powerful one, compared to John — is Lucifer Morningstar, who is played by Gwendoline Christie. Some fans might have hoped for a return of the previous Tom Ellis, who played Gaiman's version of the character on "Lucifer," but Christie was unfazed by the naysayers and didn't even refer to that other Netflix urban fantasy series. "The things that I looked at were that Neil said his first inspiration for this particular Lucifer was from [19th-century French artist Gustave] Doré etchings, and I was familiar with those," she told Netflix Tudum

This ruler of Hell is a very fashionable one. In stark contrast to Dream's all-black full-on goth look, Christie's Lucifer is beautifully elegant in her imposing stature. The chic costumes were specially designed by Christie's partner, Giles Deacon. They were both excited to be working on the show, as she told Collider. "We all loved the idea of the fallen angel being presented in that way, magisterial, and then moving into something harder and more brutal," she said. "I did feel transformed by the costumes."

Christie's formidable height adds to the fear and respect that Lucifer commands — an effect that also helped her project strength as Brienne of Tarth on "Game of Thrones" — but her physicality wasn't so advantageous as a fresh-eyed drama school student. Her height caught the attention of Australian photographer Polly Borland, who photographed her, mostly nude, for a series challenging notions of femininity. The actress says it's something she wouldn't do today. "At the time it was exciting, it was the opportunity to share my ideas and for that work to be realized by someone," she said to Stylist. "It's only in retrospect that I'm shocked I did it. It was giving so much of one's self and I wouldn't want to do that now."

Kirby Howell-Baptiste waded into high school gossip and drama

Certain segments of the internet complained about the casting of Kirby Howell-Baptiste, a Black woman, as Death. The controversy angered Gaiman himself, as he tweeted, "Sandman went woke in 1988, and it hasn't gone broke yet." He added that he did not care at all about "people who don't understand/haven't read Sandman whining about a non-binary Desire or that Death isn't white enough." Indeed, reviews proved Gaiman absolutely right and the haters wrong — Howell-Baptiste was praised for her performance in Episode 6, in which she takes Dream on several trips to visit people at the point of death.

"She's a nurturer, she's maternal, she's caring, and she takes her job very seriously, which is being there at the very end," Baptiste told Collider, "so that people aren't scared, and they have comfort in going into the next phase of their life or afterlife."

Alongside "The Sandman," Howell-Baptiste has had a fantastic run of TV roles, including "Killing Eve," "Barry," and "The Good Place." What might be less fantastic to watch is her on-screen debut, in a short film called "Prepping Keisha." In this extremely low-budget teenage drama flick, Howell-Baptiste plays the title character, Keisha James, who moves to a private boarding school to remake her image and escape her school bullies, only to discover that things might be worse than before.

Razane Jammal was in a movie made by Kanye West

"The Sandman" is British Lebanese actress Razane Jammal's breakout role, and boy does she knock it out of the park. Lyta Hall mourns the death of her husband, and in her character's most vulnerable moments, Jammal felt very emotional as an actor too. Just as she was about to shoot the scene in which Lyta says goodbye to her husband as he dies, she received a call that her mother had just slipped into a coma.

"I was playing a character that was going through grief, and I was in parallel losing my own mom. Nobody knew except for my co-star Vanesu [Samunyai] and maybe two makeup artists. I didn't want to make a big scene about it," Jammal told Esquire Middle East. "I was filming a scene of losing someone without knowing if I had lost her already."

Jammal has experience in the Arab cinema world and a few parts in Hollywood, but if there's something she'd like never mentioned again, it would probably be Kanye West's "Cruel Summer." As The Complex reports, this auteur movie asked for a lot — screening the movie at Cannes required a custom-built cinema involving seven screens (three in the front and one on the floor, ceiling, left and right each) and pyrotechnics that The Los Angeles Times described as "mak[ing] a 3-D Michael Bay effort feel like an iPad short." Now the art piece itself was positively reviewed, to be fair, but given all the controversies and backlash surrounding the rapper now, it might not be best for a rising star to be associated with this outlandishly ego-driven project.

Arthur Darvill introduced the day's programming schedule to British kids on CITV

In the surprise final episode of the show's first season, Arthur Darvill makes his entrance as struggling writer Richard Maddoc, who imprisons Calliope for inspiration and catapults himself into a highly sought after and world renowned author. Before "The Sandman," Darvill spent time captaining the Waverider as Rip Hunter on "Legends of Tomorrow," befriending the Eleventh Doctor as Rory Williams on "Doctor Who," and providing spiritual support as vicar Paul Coates on "Broadchurch." All excellent jobs — better than the one that gave him his start in show business, continuity presenting on CITV

If it offers any comfort, many other stars of British television have done time on CITV too — it's almost like a rite of passage. As chronicled by Digital Spy, other alumni include Ant & Dec ("Britain's Got Talent," "I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!"), Holly Willoughby ("Good Morning Britain"), and Cat Deeley ("So You Think You Can Dance"). But this still won't stop viewers — and perhaps Darvill himself — from cringing as the spiky-haired, poorly dressed teenage-lookalike jumps face-first into the camera and makes a fool of himself while announcing the upcoming programming schedule. 

Jenna Coleman danced as a child, embarrassingly

Coleman's career, while not entirely smooth sailing (she remembers working at a pub in Hampstead for a long time amidst rejection after rejection, as she told The Guardian), has been filled with outstanding performances. Her debut as Jasmine Thomas, at 19 years old, was so impressive that her role on "Emmerdale" was expanded from a minor bit to a five-year series regular. She also starred opposite Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi as Clara Oswald on "Doctor Who" and led the cast of ITV's historical drama "Victoria" as the title Queen herself. In fact, she'd already gotten to work with Neil Gaiman before joining "The Sandman," as he had written the script for one of her first episodes of "Doctor Who."

Is there honestly anything she can't do, or anything she wants never to see the light of day? The only thing she's embarrassed about is a dance shows she did as a child, she explained to The Guardian. She once played an Italian bridesmaid with Darren Day ("Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Celebrity Big Brother") in the musical "Summer Holiday," for instance. "I got the job by singing 'Happy Birthday' to myself in the audition, literally inserting my own name into the song," she added, laughing.