With a career spanning the last thirty years, there are a number of things that audiences might recognize Michael Sheen from — maybe Masters of Sex, or Frost/Nixon, or, if you’re of a certain age, the Twilight saga. But many recognize him as part of one of Prime Video’s most beloved series, a show that garnered itself not only a cult following but also what many deemed impossible: a story beyond the ending of the book it’s been adapted from.
This month, Sheen co-leads the highly anticipated second season of Good Omens, adapted from the novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. In the series, he plays the goody-two-shoes angel Aziraphale, one of many lovable characters and a lover of tea, antique books, and classical music. Formerly under service to Heaven, he’s since been cast out by the other do-gooders after preventing the apocalypse with the help of his good friend, the demon Crowley (David Tennant). How that counts as an infraction, we aren’t sure, but now he’s found himself in the midst of another crisis — figuring out just why the archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) has shown up in front of his quaint little bookshop in London’s SoHo, and why he can’t remember a single thing about himself. Not an easy task, surely, but one Sheen plays to perfection as the anxious angel who only ever wants to do the right thing. (A challenge, when your best friend’s a demon formerly employed by Hell.)
Collider was excited to sit down with Sheen to discuss Aziraphale’s journey in Season 2, and what it was like collaborating with Neil Gaiman to create a story beyond the end of the original novel. During this interview, we also discussed what it’s been like for him to work with David Tennant on both Good Omens and Staged, where they play fictionalized versions of themselves, and how playing Aziraphale compares to voicing Lucifer in Audible’s version of The Sandman.
Check out the full interview, conducted prior to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, down below.
COLLIDER: Obviously, when you were making the first season of this show, you had the book to work off of, you had a characterization to work off of, but because this season is an all-new thing that Neil Gaiman has written, did you get to work with him at all to develop what Aziraphale was doing this season, or was it all dependent on what he wrote?
MICHAEL SHEEN: Yes, I think when we were doing the first season, Neil always talked about the idea that he and Terry [Pratchett] had talked quite a bit about future storylines and that they had worked out quite a lot of it, actually. They just never got around to writing it down in a book. So there was quite a lot of material already in his head. One of the wonderful things about this, as well, working on this project, has been how much myself and David have been able to collaborate with Neil on the characters and inhabit them and bring them to life, and developing the relationship between them and the storylines. So it’s felt very collaborative, but then, of course, Neil is very good at making it feel collaborative even when he knows exactly what he wants.
Speaking of that relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale, you are obviously quite close with David Tennant. You work with him not only on this but also on Staged. What’s it like getting to put that friendship dynamic to use on those shows, especially since Staged is something that’s so completely different from Good Omens?
SHEEN: It’s just wonderful, really. You know, often you work with actors that perhaps you have very good chemistry with on-screen or on stage, but maybe off-stage, off-screen there’s not a particular spark. It’s fine, but there’s nothing particularly special about your relationship on stage or on-screen. Then other times, there are people you get along with really, really well, but maybe there isn’t necessarily that amazing chemistry on-screen or on stage. So it’s very rare that you have both. I think with us, we’ve just sort of discovered that that is the case, or it seems to be that people feel like we have good chemistry together when we’re working. And we just have a lovely time together in between working as well, so it’s such a pleasure to be able to do that, and to be able to work on projects like Good Omens and Staged with the characters that we play in those. It’s just a real joy, so, you know, long may it continue.
Personally, I love the relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley, and the show has had such a massive fan response. How much are you aware of that, and what do you hope fans take away from this season as opposed to the first one?
SHEEN: Oh, I’m very much aware of it. Yeah, it’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of working on this, to see how much the audience and in particular Good Omen fans just give to the project. It does feel like a fulfilled kind of creative collaboration with the fans as well. There’s so much talent when people come to writing fanfiction or artwork, or just discussing ideas or things that have sort of been born out of it. I mean, there are all kinds of amazing groups who fundraise now for charities and do all kinds of incredible things. There are conventions and all sorts. I love that, and I love seeing how people have made friends, really close friends, through their connection to this and these characters in this story, and how communities have been created, and how much people are helping each other. I see all that online and I hear about it. It feels very in the spirit of the story, you know, it feels very in keeping with what it’s all about. I think that’s a big part of why Neil and I and the rest of us have all really opened ourselves to that fan community, because I think it feels like a very living part of the story.
How do you think Aziraphale has changed between where we leave him at the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2? Is there anything unusual that we can expect from him this season?
SHEEN: Well, I think he’s in a quite odd position for him because, on the one hand, he’s got a lot of the things that he’s always wanted. He’s always wanted to just be left alone and live in his bookshop, and drink tea and listen to music, and read books and go to the theater, and eat nice meals and drink nice wine, and be with the being that he loves being with the most. But on the other hand, he’s also someone who feels very anxious about not being part of the company, you know, being out on his own and sort of independent. It’s quite a challenge for him. It’s that thing about “be careful what you wish for.” He got what he wished for, but he still feels a bit off-kilter, I think, and then this unexpected guest arrives and turns the world upside down for him again.
But one of the things that we wanted to explore with Aziraphale in this series is perhaps finding something a little steelier underneath the apparent soft surface, that maybe there’s something else going on under there. So we see that kind of come out as the story goes on, as well.
In addition to playing Aziraphale, you also did the voice for Lucifer in The Sandman audio series, which is obviously also a Neil Gaiman joint. So what’s the difference between playing an angel and playing a demon?
SHEEN: Well, of course, Lucifer is an angel, was once a fallen angel. My first experience of Neil’s work was The Sandman. That was what I first read when I was still a teenager in the late ‘80s, and it just absolutely blew my mind and opened me up to all kinds of things and started a journey [with] Neil’s work, but also all the people that Neil kind of points you towards through his work as well. It opened so many doors for me. So to be able to then be a part of The Sandman world, as well, to play such an iconic character, it was and is, because we’re still doing it, just a bit of a dream come true.
I have one last question for you, and it’s a little bit of a silly one. One of the most iconic parts of Good Omens is Crowley’s Bentley, which is cursed to play nothing but Queen songs forever and ever. I would love to know what you think Aziraphale’s favorite Queen song is.
SHEEN: Well, I think he likes the more operatic ones. So he probably…I think he likes “Bohemian Rhapsody.” All those nifty chorus bits. He’d love that. So yes, probably “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Good Omens Season 2 premieres on Prime Video on July 28.