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Why The Sandman's Will Shakespeare Looks So Familiar

Netflix's "The Sandman" is the culmination of a 30-year-long dream by author Neil Gaiman to adapt his celebrated comic book series to the screen. Starring Tom Sturridge as Lord Morpheus, Dream of the Endless, the show is a faithful adaptation of Gaiman's original work, lifting many storylines from the graphic novels with few changes.

Fans of the "Sandman" comics know that Morpheus has a kinship with none other than William Shakespeare. And while Season 1 of "The Sandman" doesn't give fans some of the richer storylines involving the Bard (most of which happen in later issues than the show covers), we do get a glimpse of him. In the episode titled "The Sound of Her Wings," Dream and his sister, Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), visit a 14th-century tavern. There, the Lord Shaper meets Hob Gadling (Ferdinand Kingsley), a man who thinks he can't die. Dream grants Hob's wish of eternal life on the condition they meet once every century to discuss what he's been up to. Returning to the alehouse for their rendezvous in the year 1589, Sandman spots the young playwright, here known as Will Shaxberd, another spelling of Shakespeare. The King of Dreams leaves Hob to speak with Shaxberd, and it's implied that, like in the comics, the two strike a bargain to give Shaxberd the gift of inspiration.

Though his appearance is brief, avid TV viewers may have felt the actor who plays Shaxberd looks familiar. Indeed, the role is filled by a talent who has already developed an impressive list of credits. Here's where else you may have seen him.

Samuel Blenkin is an up-and-coming English actor

William Shakespeare, as depicted in "The Sandman," is played by Samuel Blenkin, a British actor whose fledgling career has already taken him from the stages of London's West End to recurring roles in award-winning TV shows. Blenkin got his start in 2017 with the role of Scorpius Malfoy (the child of Draco Malfoy from the original "Harry Potter" books) in the West End Palace Theater production of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," and soon after, he transitioned into film and television.

According to Blenkin's IMDb profile, he took a bit role in "Doctors" back in 2018, but the next year he took a two-episode role as Jack Wild in the Batman prequel show "Pennyworth." In 2021, he also had a small role as a cadet in the Wes Anderson film "The French Dispatch." Though these roles were minor, they signified that the young actor was on his way to notoriety.

But before appearing in "The Sandman," Blenkin took on even more recognizable roles, including one on another popular Netflix show.

He had a minor speaking role as Adam on Peaky Blinders

One of Samuel Blenkin's first notable television roles was as Adam Parker on Season 5 of Netflix's period crime drama "Peaky Blinders." The show is one of Netflix's more successful forays into prestige television, garnering multiple BAFTA Awards over the years, and follows an English mob boss named Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) in his quest for power. By the start of Season 5, Tommy has managed to obtain political office as an MP in the House of Commons. In those chambers of government, Adam is an office assistant, responsible for managing Tommy's calendar and locking up after him each night.

The role is minor, with Blenkin only afforded a few lines of dialogue during his brief appearances. Nonetheless, he brings a physicality to his acting that fills in the performance — a mousy, wide-eyed quality that expresses the earnestness with which Adam approaches his subservient position in Tommy's office. It was only a matter of time before Blenkin landed a role that not only afforded him more screen time but also let him steal the spotlight entirely on one of the most celebrated comedy shows currently on the air.

Samuel Blenkin brought an extra dose of surrealism to Atlanta

In 2022, Samuel Blenkin appeared in a show-stealing role as a troubled young musician named Wiley on the Season 3 "Atlanta" episode "Cancer Attack." The episode kicks off with rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) missing his phone after a show. Along with his cousin and manager Earn (Donald Glover), they quickly single out Wiley as the suspect and interrogate him in the concert venue's office.

Blenkin is captivating in the role, as Wiley plays mind games with the rapper, repeating personal details that Paper Boi believes could only have been gleaned from looking through his phone. He asks uncomfortable, seemingly tangential questions, such as asking Earn whether he feels like an outsider in the Black community. Before Paper Boi and his entourage give up on recovering the phone, Wiley concludes his interrogation by singing a strangely emotional guitar ballad.

The ambiguity with which Blenkin plays the character — we find out Wiley isn't the phone thief at the end of the episode, but while he's being interviewed, it's genuinely impossible to figure out his innocence or his motives — did not go unnoticed. Rolling Stone wrote, "The genius of Blenkin's performance is that it works both ways." It's definitely one of the creepiest moments of "Atlanta" Season 3.

Blenkin seems to be bringing that same scene-stealing energy to the role of Will Shaxberd on "The Sandman," so fans can only hope he appears in future episodes of the yet-unrenewed Netflix show.