When the acclaimed fantasy writer Terry Pratchett sadly left us in 2015 one of his final requests to author Neil Gaiman was that he find a way to make Good Omens, the novel they co-wrote in 1990, into a television series.
Gaiman honoured that request and on Wednesday 29 May joins us at Southbank centre to discuss the process, challenges and rewards of adapting the much loved fantasy novel for the screen.
Good Omens is about the forthcoming end of the world, and the unlikely alliance of the representatives of Heaven and Hell on Earth in an attempt to prevent it. The only problem is they’ve lost the Antichrist, an 11 year old boy who was supposed to bring the end of days, and so they must find him before it’s too late.
The first episode of the Good Omens series premieres on Friday 31 May and stays largely true to the original novel - albeit with a few subtle twists and incorporations of plots penned for a prequel book that was sadly never written.
As a testament to the esteem in which Pratchett and Gaiman’s novel is held, the latter has been able to assemble an incredible all-star ensemble cast to bring the book to life. Here are just a few of the famous names you can expect to see and hear in Good Omens.
David Tennant is Crowley, a demon and representative of Hell on Earth who not so much fell from heaven, but ‘sauntered vaguely downwards’. Originally named Crawly, he has been on Earth since the dawn of creation, when he was the snake who tempted Eve with an apple from the tree of knowledge. He enjoys music and sleeping - the latter so much that he once snoozed through an entire century.
What you’ve seen him in: Doctor Who, Broadchurch, Hamlet (Royal Shakespeare Company)
The two-time winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress has a hefty billing in Good Omens as the voice of God. However Frances McDormand’s casting was somewhat ungodly; the actress reportedly asked Gaiman if she could use his house in Scotland for a break, with the author duly obliging, but only if she take on this role in Good Omens.
What you’ve seen her in: Raising Arizona, Fargo, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Reportedly a last-minute addition to the cast, but a pretty seismic one, Benedict Cumberbatch plays the voice of Satan, who appears in episode six of the series. The actor was reportedly cast when Gaiman realised they needed ‘somebody who could actually give Frances McDormand a run for her money’.
What you’ve seen him in: Hawking, The Imitation Game, Sherlock, Brexit: The Uncivil War
Taking on the role of Beelzebub is the multi-award-winning Anna Maxwell Martin. Leader of the forces of Hell, it’s safe to say that Beelzebub is a little disappointed with how the forthcoming Apocalypse is panning out on Crowley’s watch.
What you’ve seen her in: Bleak House, Poppy Shakespeare, South Riding, Motherland
Michael Sheen plays the role of Aziraphale, an angel who serves as representative of Heaven on Earth, guarding the eastern gates of paradise. He has been on Earth as long as Crowley and though they represent polar opposites the two have become good friends. A well-dressed, nervy and fussy character, he runs a bookshop in Paris.
What you’ve seen him in: The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Damned United, The Deal, Dirty Filthy Love
Playing the role of part-time medium and courtesan Madame Tracy is Miranda Richardson. Madame Tracy gives help to the Witchfinder Army in their pursuit of practitioners of the dark arts, both in terms of spiritual guidance and a good square meal, although the Army’s commander Sgt. Shadwell is far from accepting of her spiritualism - considering it a dangerous step towards actual witchcraft.
What you’ve seen her in: Blackadder II, The Crying Game, Damage, Sleepy Hollow
Death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse - or in this case, motorbike riders of the apocalypse - is summoned by the onset of the end of the world. Beneath his crash helmet Death may not have a familiar face, but he does have a familiar voice, that of the acclaimed British actor, Brian Cox.
What you’ve seen him in: Titus Andronicus (Royal Shakespeare Company), L.I.E., Deadwood, Churchill
Playing the role of Agnes Nutter, a 17th century witch who predicted current events through her book The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter - the only accurate book of prophecies ever written - is Josie Lawrence. So specific were her prophecies that they had no relevance to the world in which she lived, but are about to come very much alive.
What you’ve seen her in: Whose Line is it Anyway?, Outside Edge, The Taming of the Shrew (Royal Shakespeare Company), Eastenders
In the novel Good Omens Gabriel was only mentioned, with his role set to be expanded in the never-finished sequel. For the television series, Gaiman has incorporated elements of that planned plot into Good Omens, allowing an expansion of the character, and the perfect role for Jon Hamm.
What you’ve seen him in: Mad Men, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
A familiar face from british television and film, Nina Sosanya plays the role of Sister Loquacious. A member of the Chattering Order of St. Beryl - a satanic order of nuns - Sister Loquacious somehow managed to inadvertently switch the baby antichrist with a human baby. Now, eleven years on, she has left the order to host corporate training and team building events at the old nunnery.
What you’ve seen her in: Teachers, Love Actually, Last Tango in Halifax, W1A
In the novel, the leader of the forces of Heaven was the Metatron. Though his role in the television series may have been diluted somewhat by the expansion of Gabriel’s involvement, the interim Voice of God as it were still needs a notable presence; step forward the hugely acclaimed actor, Derek Jacobi.
What you’ve seen him in: Hamlet, I, Claudius, Much Ado About Nothing (Royal Shakespeare Company), Cadfael
The last officer of the once proud witchfinder army, Sergeant Shadwell is played by Michael McKean. A fan of a Sunday lunch, and effectively fuelled by condensed milk, Shadwell is tasked with ridding the world of witches and those who practice dark magic.
What you’ve seen him in: Laverne & Shirley, This is Spinal Tap, Short Circuit 2, Best In Show, Better Call Saul
Newton Pulsifer, played by comedian Jack Whitehall, was once a wages clerk at United Holdings (Holdings) PLC, but is now the right-hand man of Sergeant Shadwell. A descendant of the witchfinder who burned the prophet Agnes Nutter at the stake, he also had a brief fling with Nutter’s descendant, Anathema Device, which may or may not have ended.
What you’ve seen him in: Fresh Meat, Bad Education
The mysterious booksellers Harmony (Pemberton) and Glozier (Gatiss) appear in the television adaptation of Good Omens by way of a film noir interlude set in the 1940s. Though written-in with the actors in mind, the parts are said to provide an explanatory link in the rest of the story.
What you’ve seen them in: Inside Number 9 and Benidorm (Pemberton); Sherlock and Wolf Hall (Gatiss), and The League of Gentlemen (together).
In another inspired piece of casting the comedy actor Nick Offerman plays the role of the U.S. Ambassador Dowling, father of Warlock, the child wrongly presumed by all who seek him to be the Antichrist.
What you’ve seen him in: Parks & Recreation, Fargo (series)
The actress and model Adria Arjona plays the role of Anathema Device, Agnes Nutter's last descendant and a witch herself. Having inherited, and repeatedly read, Nutter’s book of predictions, she is all to aware of the upcoming Apocalypse, and travels to Tadfield to seek out Adam Young in an attempt to stop it,
What you’ve seen her in: True Detective, Emerald City
Good Omens the television series allows a look back through time at the doings and coming togethers of Crowley and Aziraphale throughout history that was only briefly mentioned in the novel. One such instance involves William Shakespeare, here played by another familiar face - well, beneath the goatee - Reece Shearsmith.
What you’ve seen him in: The League of Gentlemen, Catterick, Psychoville, Inside Number 9
Neil Gaiman, along with David Tennant and Michael Sheen, joined Kirsty Wark in conversation to discuss Good Omens here at Southbank Centre on Wednesday 27 May.
Southbank Centre is the home of literature and spoken word events in the UK. Throughout the year we host talks, discussions, readings and more featuring bestselling authors, award-winning poets and inspirational writers.