Good Omens: The 'magic' of David Tennant and Michael Sheen - plus loads more Secrets From the Set
David Tennant and Michael Sheen reveal what went on behind-the-scenes of Good Omens, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video and airing on BBC Two.
Hit Play above to watch our BT TV exclusive interview with the cast and crew of Good Omens
After a nearly 30-year wait, Good Omens has finally been adapted into a TV show, and the buzz surrounding its launch is palpable.
David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) and Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex, Frost/Nixon) join forces to form an unlikely alliance to stop the end of the world in the fantasy series, streaming on Amazon Prime Video now and launching on BBC Two soon.
An adaptation of the cult and beloved Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel, fussy angel Aziraphale (Sheen) and loose-living demon Crowley (Tennant),embark on an adventure to find an 11-year-old Antichrist to stop Armageddon.
Speaking at the red carpet launch of the show, cast and crew including Tennant, Sheen, Gaiman - who adapted the book for TV - and more, reveal exclusively to BT TV what went on behind-the-scenes of filming, spilling the Secrets from the Set...
The ‘terrifying’ buzz of the first day of filming in St James’s Park
Looking like polar opposites once dressed in their respective costumes, Tennant and Sheen were first spotted filming for the show in September 2017 in St James’s Park, above.
Neil Gaiman, writer and showrunner, tells BT TV that the first day of filming in the royal park - just outside of Buckingham Palace - was actually the biggest scene of the entire show.
He says: “The set for the first day was St James’s Park, where we were shooting the biggest scene of the entire show, which is a pretty bad thing to do on your first day of shooting.
“You should be filming some small, disposable scene, and instead we were doing this giant scene with cranes and everything, having taken over St James’s Park.
“It was amazing there, and it was absolutely terrifying, I couldn’t believe it.”
In fact, having already been announced as the two lead characters, Tennant and Sheen amassed screaming hordes of fans following their every move.
Douglas Mackinnon, who directed all six episodes of Good Omens, tells us: “We started off in St. James’s Park with David and Michael, and wherever they go there was a screaming buzz.
“I’m slightly used to it because I did Sherlock, so I’m used to a bit of screaming going on.”
And it sounds like the buzz of filming such a beloved story didn’t die down, with David Tennant - who plays Crowley - telling BT TV: “Every day was a new form of madness [on set], it was very exciting.”
The ‘emotional’ absence of shooting without Terry Pratchett
The original novel Good Omens - the full title of which is Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch - was co-authored by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, above, in 1990.
Pratchett tragically died of Alzheimer's in 2015, aged just 66, with Gaiman revealing that Pratchett’s dying wish was to make Good Omens into a TV series.
According to The Independent, Pratchett wrote Gaiman a letter asking him to bring the book to life after his death.
“You’re the only other person out there with the same love and understanding and passion for this that I have,” Pratchett’s letter read. “I know how busy you are, but I want to see this before the darkness takes me. Will you do this, please?”
It’s no wonder, then, that the first day of filming was emotional for everyone involved on the set.
Rob Wilkins, who was Pratchett’s former assistant, and who also worked as a producer on the Amazon show, tells BT TV: “Filming was hugely emotional because I would have wanted nothing more than Terry to be there to witness it.
“We started it, so we knew we had to finish it. Knowing I was taking that journey was ridiculously horrible. But, I tried to channel him every day, his hat and scarf were on set every day.”
Asked how it felt to see the book come to life on that emotional first day on set, writer and showrunner Neil Gaiman agrees that's Pratchett's absence is on all of their minds.
He says: “I wish that Terry Pratchett was there then, and right now, I look at this amazing madness [on the red carpet], and I just wish that Terry Pratchett was here.”
In a touching tribute to the famed author, a seat was reserved for Pratchett at the world premiere, his hat and scarf laid tenderly on the seat:
The 'magic' of David Tennant and Michael Sheen on and off-camera
At the show’s red carpet launch, die-hard fans of the book dressed up in costumes pertaining to their favourite Good Omens characters, Crowley and Aziraphale.
Gaiman tells BT TV that much of the buzz comes from the fact that it’s a beloved book, but he also says that the ‘magic’ of Tennant and Sheen - who each have their own loyal fan bases - bring a certain kind of hype to the series.
He tells us: “The magic of our leading men has created a certain kind of buzz. Anybody that has seen any of Good Omens, any previews, any trailers, they fall in love with David and Michael together.”
Gaiman - who also wrote the Amazon series, American Gods - tells us that he was recently asked by writer and director Richard Curtis who was the better actor out of Good Omens' two leading men.
He insists he couldn’t choose - telling us that it’s the camaraderie of the pair together that makes it work. He explains: “What becomes amazing is the coming together of these two things into something that’s even more wonderful than you could have imagined.”
At the red carpet premiere, Tennant and Sheen clearly get on brilliantly, hugging one another closely like close friends - despite never working together before Good Omens.
Reunited for interviews with BT TV on the red carpet, the pair joked that they missed standing beside one other, with Tennant exclaiming with a giant grin once he had Sheen by his side: "Here's my angel friend!"
Speaking about their favourite moments on set, Tennant and Sheen both agreed that working together was their main highlight from filming - recalling a scene in which the show explores their character's backstories.
Tennant describes: "We're both quite fond of the first half of episode 3, because it’s all about our character’s journeys through history, and you see us at the Garden of Eden, then Noah’s Ark, then ancient Rome.
"[Wearing suits of armour] trying to haul ourselves up the side of a not particularly steep incline. That was a tough thing to get around in."
Sheen agrees: "It's hard to forget the image of David in a full suit of armour, and also me in a full suit of armour, meeting in the middle of a misty forest. That was quite a day."
Actress Lourdes Faberes, who plays Pollution in the show, describes the 'banter' of working on set one afternoon when the cast were sat in a camping truck at Bovingdon airbase, waiting for filming to start.
She tells BT TV: "We were just watching afternoon quizzes, and screaming at the telly. David Tennant is very, very good at afternoon quizzes. He was just so fast!
"It was that banter that you don’t normally get in your trailers. It was just a bunch of actors having fun, thinking ‘God, we’re getting paid to do this!'"
Fascinating locations, from Shakespeare’s Globe to the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang set
Shot largely in the UK, Good Omens also filmed in Cape Town - the South African location apparently used to double for scenes in Rome and the Middle East.
But despite travelling to the other side of the world, Tennant and Sheen both tell BT TV that they were most excited about filming in the theatrical home of Shakespeare - London’s Globe theatre.
Tennant, with Sheen nodding in agreement, says: “Shakespeare’s Globe is hard to beat. They actually let us in to film our Shakespearean scene in the Globe theatre.”
For many of the crew, their favourite place to film was the fictional bookshop of angel Aziraphale (played by Sheen), although [spoiler alert] the end was nigh for said bookshop.
Gaiman tells us: “My favourite location was actually one that didn’t really exist. It was Aziraphale’s bookshop. We built it on a disused air base in Bovingdon, and then, and I’m maybe giving something away, we had to burn it down, and that was tragic.”
Rob Wilkins, producer, agrees: “For me, it’s always going to be a bookshop! We burnt it down, but it was still my favourite.”
For director Douglas Mackinnon, he loved shooting in the picturesque village of Hambleden in England, something he describes as a ‘dream come true’ as it was the filming location for one of the UK's most iconic films.
He tells BT TV: “I’m sure my favourite filming location is Hambleden [near Henley, England] where we set Lower Tadfield. It’s such a beautiful little village.
“It’s where they shot Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so it was a dream come true to film there.”
Actress Lourdes Faberes, meanwhile, loved filming at Christ’s College in Guildford - the weather bringing a biblical sense to proceedings.
She recalls: “My first day of filming was by a riverside, and it was like God ordered the lighting. It was like ‘Oh God, this is messianic.’”
First reactions to Neil Gaiman’s ‘extraordinary, fantastical’ script
Good Omens was one of Sheen’s favourite books in drama school, and being a friend of Neil Gaiman, he was lucky lucky enough to see the author's ‘bonkers’ script before he was even cast as Aziraphale.
He tells BT TV: “I’ve known Neil Gaiman for quite a while now, so he would send me early versions of the script, and he would say ‘let me know what you think’ and I’d go ‘yes, very good, very good, keep going!’ so I loved it from the very beginning.
“It was just such a pleasure to read, and then once you know you’re going to be in it, then it gets a bit stressful because then you’re not just reading it to enjoy it, you’re reading it imagining yourself in it.
“You do sort of read it and think ‘how are they going to do this?!’ Every page has some sort of extraordinary, fantastical thing going on.”
On set, Sheen was surrounded by cast and crew who were as obsessed with him about the story.
He tells us: “Everybody in every department seemed absolutely in love with the story and the characters, and just loved doing it. I hope that comes across in the show. I think it does.”
Douglas Mackinnon, meanwhile - who’s directed Sherlock and Line of Duty in the past - immediately knew he wanted to direct Good Omens when he first laid his eyes on the script.
He tells BT TV: “I read the script over two years ago and my first reaction was ‘stand back everyone, I’m going to direct this!’
David Tennant, on the other hand, hadn’t read the book at all, so he had the advantage of reading a fully-formed, ready-to-shoot script.
He exclaims: “I came much later to the [Good Omens] party, and that was my first introduction to the whole story. It was just like stepping into a bath of wonderfulness.
“It’s a brilliant, bonkers world of extraordinary imagination, and I can’t wait for everyone to see it.”
Good Omens is available to stream in full on Prime Video now. It's also airing Wednesdays on BBC Two.