NOC Interview: James McAvoy on Audible’s ‘The Sandman: Act II’

James McAvoy voices the title role of Dream in the Audible Original, The Sandman: Act II. The new installment of the audio drama series was released on Wednesday, September 22 and is a total of 21 episodes. The first installment is currently available for free on Audible, Amazon Music, and through Alexa enabled devices until October 22.

The Sandman: Act II, the much-anticipated second installment of the New York Times best-selling, multi-part original audio drama series, The Sandman, will once again be adapted and directed by Dirk Maggs and narrated by Neil Gaiman, who also serves as creative director and co-executive producer. The ensemble cast will be led by James McAvoy in the title role of Dream, with Kat Dennings, Michael Sheen, and Andy Serkis reprising their respective roles. Jeffrey Wright, Regé-Jean Page, Brian Cox, Emma Corrin, John Lithgow, David Tennant, Bill Nighy, Kristen Schaal, Kevin Smith, Aidan Turner, Bebe Neuwirth, Adrian Lester, Miriam Margolyes, Arthur Darvill, Ray Porter and an expansive list of additional cast. The original score is again provided by the BAFTA award-winning composer, James Hannigan.

McAvoy and I spoke about returning for the second installment of the project, his favorite part about the role of Dream, bringing such beloved material to life, why audience engagement is such a big part of The Sandman: Act II, and much more! Keep reading to find out all of the details.

First off, I want to ask you what it was like getting to return for a second installment of The Sandman?
James McAvoy: It was a massive, massive pleasure. I mean, we loved doing that first one, especially me and Dirk having done pretty much all of it just one on one and not getting the chance to deal with any of the rest of the cast. It sounds like a hindrance, but actually Dirk is so good at this stuff that it was a real joy and pleasure to do it with him.

What has it been like to see the response to the first installment as well as the excitement for the second one?
Sometimes it’s just good enough that I got to enjoy myself, but when it’s actually validated by the response from the audience and it kind of pops off the way the first season did, it’s a beautiful, nice surprise. We don’t do it just for ourselves, we do it for people to listen to or watch, all that kind of stuff, whatever you’re doing, but it doesn’t always get the response that you want, unfortunately. So when it does, you got to take it, you’ve got to celebrate it, and enjoy it.

You are a very talented actor, so I want to ask if there was a specific challenge or something you’ve learned from doing this as an audio only project?
I think that sometimes by giving yourself limitations, it actually forces you to express more. You sometimes have more fun doing it when you’ve got your hands tied behind your back, you know? That’s something that just focuses it and makes it condensed, pure, something like that. I’m struggling to really figure out what it is but for some reason or another, I don’t feel too limited when I’m doing this. I still feel like I’m doing my normal job, and hopefully, you can hear that in the performance that it still is in my body even though you only hear my voice.

The audio series is based on the best selling DC graphic novel series, The Sandman, which is so beloved. What was it like taking that material and really bringing it to this new medium?
You know, it seems to me like almost a perfect medium for something like Sandman, so set in the world of dream, and what is dream? It’s our imagination, guided by our events, the tragedies, and victories that occur to us on a day to day. When you do film or television– I’m not downplaying it, but when you make something in film or television, you tell the audience what it looks like, you prescribe to the audience what it sounds like and what it feels like. With audio drama, there’s a different engagement with the audience, they are creating it just as much as you are, the actor, director, or writer; without them the full experience doesn’t exist, without them the world of Dream, Morpheus, and what it looks like doesn’t happen. It doesn’t exist just with my voice, it happens inside the mind of the listener and that sounds to me like dreaming. So, we need you to dream in order for this to be a complete project.

What is your favorite part of this role and getting to be part of bringing such a well known graphic novel to life?
It was wicked. Look, I’m a fan. I read the first one when I was a kid, as a teenager, and the first episode I read had a serial killer convention, which absolutely fucking terrified me. I loved it, bloody loved it. So, getting to bring that level of weirdness and scariness to modern audiences is what you hope to be able to do, isn’t it, when you start acting? It was a real pleasure.

Are there any elements that you really enjoyed doing in The Sandman: Act II that were new and not necessarily part of the first installment?
Yeah, I enjoyed having less to do. He’s got less to do in the second chapter I feel like— don’t get me wrong, I still had a ton to do, but he sort of seeds the ground to let other characters come to the floor a little bit. They are just as wild, if not wilder, than he is at times and I quite enjoyed being this character that holds the audience’s hand a little bit as you’re introduced to the absolutely mental, bonkers, strange characters. There’s something quite nice and safe about that as a performer.

What are you most excited for fans to hear from Act II and how do you feel finally putting your work out there?
I’m excited for the audience to go on more wild, crazy adventures as imagined by the brilliant mind of Neil Gaiman because he’s just one of the best fantasy writers out there, one of the best writers out there. You don’t get the opportunity to dive into worlds like his everyday. And how do I feel about putting the work out there? I mean, good, that’s why we do it. When TV shows, movies, audio dramas, books, or whatever you’ve been working on disappear, don’t really ever get released properly, or whatever it is, it’s kind of heartbreaking, even when they’re really bad and you know it deserves to disappear. You feel really bad. We do this to communicate with people so I’m very excited for everyone to hear it.

If the opportunity presents itself to do this role again, maybe with a different format or possibly with a third installment, would you be interested?
I would never say no to anything before it’s actually material, but it would have to be good and it would have to not be crap. If it seems like a good thing, you know, it’s got to be the right move at the right time, right material, right quality, but if it was then I’d never say no to it. I love the world, but listen, I don’t really see myself as that character physically. So I’d do it voice wise, but I’m not sure that I’d be playing that character in costume one day.