Neil Gaimon Interview, Stardust

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline caught up recently with best selling English author and cult superstar Neil Gaiman at Comic-Con to talk about his imaginative new film "Stardust.” Gaiman is a prolific creator of science fiction and fantasy short stories and novels, graphic novels, comics and films who first created the world of "Stardust” in his acclaimed series for DC comics, illustrated by Charles Vess.

Gaiman’s New York Times-bestselling 2001 novel for adults, American Gods, was awarded the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, SFX, and Locus awards, was nominated for many other awards, including the World Fantasy Award and the Minnesota Book Award, and appeared on many best-of-year lists. His eagerly awaited novel for adults, Anansi Boys, debuted on the New York Times Best Seller List in 2005.

With Roger Avary, Neil Gaiman wrote the script for Robert Zemeckis’ upcoming "Beowulf” with Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie starring and "Coraline,” based on Gaiman’s award-winning children’s novel and directed by Henry Selick. Gaiman also wrote "Mirrormask,” a Jim Henson Company Production directed by Dave McKean which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.

Gaiman is co-author, with Terry Pratchett, of Good Omens, a comic novel about how the world is going to end, which spent 17 consecutive weeks on the Sunday Times (London) bestseller list in 1990 and went on to become an international bestseller. He was also the creator/writer of monthly cult DC Comics horror-weird series Sandman, which won nine Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, including the award for best writer four times, and three Harvey Awards. Sandman #19 took the 1991 World Fantasy Award for best short story, making it the first comic ever to be awarded a literary award.

Gaiman's 1999 return to Sandman, the prose book The Dream Hunters, with art by Yoshitaka Amano, won the Bram Stoker award for best illustrated work by the Horror Writers Association, and was nominated for a Hugo award. In 2003, Gaiman issued his first Sandman graphic novel in seven years and Endless Nights, which was published by DC Comics and was the first graphic novel to make the New York Times Best Seller List. In 2004, Gaiman published the first volume of a serialized story for Marvel called 1602, which was the bestselling comic of the year.

Most recently, Gaiman collaborated with director Matthew Vaughn on "Stardust,” the enchanting tale of a fallen star who crashes into a magical kingdom – and turns out to be no ordinary meteorite at all, but a beautiful, imperiled woman chased after by an incredible array of seekers who want or need her secret powers. From wicked witches to power-mad princes, from flying pirates to dueling goblins, each person who encounters the star has his or her own agenda, but they all desire just one thing: her heart. The film stars Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Claire Danes, Peter O’Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro and Ricky Gervais and is narrated by Sir Ian McKellan. Here’s what Neil Gaiman had to tell us:

Q: Do you have a cameo in ‘Stardust’?

Neil Gaiman: No. It’s terrible. I’ve got all of these movies coming out and I don’t have a cameo in any of them. I mis-timed my cameo for ‘Stardust.’ The only scene that I was there for the filming of was actually the one in the Inn. If I’d been sitting in the corner, reading a paper, or something, people would have noticed.

Q: Roger Avary said he was scanned in for ‘Beowulf.’ You weren’t?

NEIL GAIMAN: It was very important to Roger that he get scanned and put in there. Roger looks like he could be a Viking. He’s huge and hairy. For me, they’d be going, "Why is that man wearing a black leather jacket?” And, if I wasn’t wearing a black leather jacket, nobody would even know it was me. They surely didn’t have black t-shirts in Viking times. English professors would write and complain.

Q: You even wore that leather jacket in the heat in Brazil once.

NEIL GAIMAN: I got a really good leather jacket when I went to Singapore last time that was paper-thin. But, unfortunately, like most paper-thin things, it then ripped and that was the end of my paper-thin leather jacket.

Q: You have a big fandom, like Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Do you see yourself like that?

NEIL GAIMAN: I come out to something like Comic-Con and I get reminded of things like that because you can’t really escape it. You get people coming up at panels, saying "Oh, my God, you are a God man!,” and you go, "Thank you!” Mostly, I think of myself as somebody who tries to figure out what’s happening on the next page. You don’t get up in the morning and go, "I am great!” You get up in the morning and go, "So what the hell is actually going to happen in chapter 6, anyway. I’ve completely lost the plot here, and I need to get back onto it.”

Q: Do you have more stories to tell?

NEIL GAIMAN: What’s nice is that I probably have too many stories to tell. People keep getting grumpy with me because I don’t like sequels. Mostly, I don’t like sequels because, if given the choice between a sequel and something that I’ve never done, I’ll do something that I’ve never done. And then, the people who want ‘Neverwhere 2,’ or another ‘Stardust’ story, or more ‘American Gods,’ or more ‘Sandman,’ or more ‘Coraline,’ are standing there going, "Well, what about us?,” and I’m going, "Well, your thing wouldn’t exist, if I hadn’t moved on to do something else, anyway.”

Q: You don’t get attached to the characters you create, or the stories you create, and want to revisit them?

NEIL GAIMAN: Oh, yeah. And, sometimes, it’s enormously fun. Going back and doing ‘The Endless Nights’ for ‘Sandman,’ five, six, seven years after I’d done my last ‘Sandman’ story, I was really worried that it would be one of those awkward things, like when you run into old school friends and you don’t have anything to talk about. But, it wasn’t. It was like running into a bunch of friends that you’d been really close with when you were 15 and, suddenly, you discover you have everything in common and it’s just lovely to see each other.

Q: Would you work with Marvel again?

NEIL GAIMAN: The last thing I did for Marvel was ‘The Eternals,’ which I enjoyed, enormously. Really, I think that’s the first time, probably since the ‘Books of Magic,’ that any comic company had ever come to me with a request. The ‘Books of Magic’ started with DC saying, "Can you do us a four-book Prestige series about our magic characters?” And, for this one, Marvel came to me and said, "We’ve got The Eternals. Jack [Kirby] created them. People have [screwed] them up so badly now that they’re useless. Can you somehow clean them up and make them interesting and put them back into play in the Marvel universe?”

Q: Was it weird to deal with characters that already existed?

NEIL GAIMAN: You cope. The joy and the tragedy of shared universes is that you’re dealing with shared universes. I remember, with ‘Sandman,’ in ‘Sandman 22' he was meant to go to hell, except that there was still stuff happening in hell in the rest of the DC universe and they said, "No, you’re going to have to put it off a month,” and I got really, really grumpy. Now, I think the timing of this is terrific. It probably wouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well. I got to plant a bunch of stuff that became very, very useful later.

Q: With people like Alan Moore and Frank Miller getting mad at Hollywood, how do you define your relationship with Hollywood?

NEIL GAIMAN: Alan and Frank have very, very different relationships with Hollywood than I do. Alan’s relationship was very, very simple. He started out going, "It has nothing to do with me. You can give me the money and go and make a film, but I’ve made the comic, and that’s great.” And then, he got hurt. Films that were not faithful, and films that were wrong, got made. At the point that ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ got made, it was a bad thing. Frank went through the traditional Hollywood experience with ‘Robocop 2' and ‘Robocop 3.’ He wasn’t happy with the films, and he wasn’t happy with what had happened, so he went off and did not come back until [Robert] Rodriguez sold him on doing ‘Sin City’ that way. That was Frank’s return, not that he hadn’t written some scripts and stuff in the meantime.

For me, watching what happened to Alan taught me that I was not going to walk off and leave my babies. I sold ‘Stardust’ to Miramax, at one point, and it nearly went wrong and bad. When I got the rights back, I thought, "I’m not doing that again.” So, for many, many years after that, my agent would call me up and say, "Such and such young, beautiful star wants ‘Stardust’ as a starring vehicle for herself,” and I would say, "No.” Or, they would call me and say, "Such and such director wants it,” and I’d go and look at their stuff, and I would say, "No.”

Q: What changed your mind?

NEIL GAIMAN: Matthew [Vaughn]. I trusted him and we’d worked together on a film where he’d produced me, and he’d actually stuck to his word, which is really weird. Recently, I was approached by a producer, so I phoned a scriptwriter friend of mine who had actually worked with this producer, and I said, "Is he trustworthy?” And, he wrote back and said, "Asking if a Hollywood producer is trustworthy is kind of like asking if this lion is vegetarian.” But, I did trust Matthew. Matthew, more or less, became a director by accident, with ‘Layer Cake.’ He prepared the script for Guy Ritchie, but Guy wasn’t interested. Matthew looked for a director and then said, "Fuck it,” and did it himself, and did it beautifully.

Then, when Matthew walked off ‘X-Men 3,’ and just was not happy with the script or the budget or what he was being asked to do, he basically called me up, about a week later, and said, "I want to do ‘Stardust,’ and I want to work with you on it. I want you to produce it with me and, if you want to write it, you can write it, but I want to do it with you.” And, I said, "Sure.” And, actually, I didn’t want to write it. I went and found him Jane Goldman, as a writer, because I thought they would work really well together. And, I got to oversee it, I got to help, I got to advise, I got to argue and I got to check out the casting process. I got to feel that this was my thing.

Q: Do you prefer working with somebody who’s adapting your work, or adapting it yourself?

NEIL GAIMAN: It depends on what I did the first time, honestly. Mostly, I think I prefer not adapting my work. I like adapting other people’s work, or doing something new in film, because otherwise you end up running through the thought patterns that created the thing, in the first place. It was much easier for me for ‘Coraline,’ for example, to let Henry [Selick] do it, and then advise and say, "I wouldn’t do that.” And, Henry has been incredibly receptive.

"Stardust” opens in theaters on August 10th.

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