Exclusive: Neil Gaiman on Stardust

Any comic reader of the last fifteen years probably knows who Neil Gaiman is, thanks to his enormously successful and influential “Sandman” graphic novels. And with his latest novel, “Anansi Boys,” debuting at number one on the New York Times bestseller list, odds are non-comic readers have probably heard of him too.

A freelance journalist from Sussex, Neil Gaiman broke into comics in the ’80s and soon migrated to America with the first wave of the ‘British Invasion,’ bringing with him a unique storytelling apparatus — a little bit of Lord Dunsany, a little bit of John Crowley, and quite a bit more — mixing reality, fantasy, mythology and literature to come up with some truths and some down right lies that are even better than the truths. He’s done as much as any writer ever to expand the bounds of literary aspiration for comics, crafting stories that are, to steal from Clive Barnes, not just illuminating, but dazzling.

And that was just the beginning. After moving on to a successful career as a novelist he stands on the precipice of film success as well, with several of his books being adapted for the big screen, and the first of these will be Stardust, a classic heroic journey via Gaiman’s unique perspective.

Neil was able to speak briefly with ComingSoon.net about the Stardust adaptation as well as some of his upcoming projects before being whisked off to his next interview, and even though it was over the phone, I imagine he was dressed in his trademark black shirt and leather jacket, and – despite being in doors – probably sunglasses as well.

CS: Hello. We only have a few minutes so I’m going to try and talk fast.

Neil Gaiman: Okay, I’ll try and talk pretty fast as well.

CS: Back when you were first working as a freelance journalist did you ever think you’d be on the other side, having to put up with someone like me?

Gaiman: Um… yeah. [Laughs]. Eventually. I guess I did because I always figured that I was going to be a writer. I knew I wasn’t a real journalist, and so I always figured that sooner or later I’d be writing and I’d be doing that kind of stuff and that would be what I did and who I was. I don’t think I ever in my wildest dreams thought that I would be even a fraction as successful as I have been. I may have been astonishingly arrogant but I don’t think I would have allowed myself to go “oh yeah, you’re going to have Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards,” and all of this kind of stuff.

CS: I understand you had or were at a screening for “Stardust” recently, a few days ago.

Gaiman: I was. I saw it on, um… Sunday, in England.

CS: What was it like? Was it like what you thought it would be, close to the book?

Gaiman: It was terrifying, in terms of sitting there. I was allowed to invite 50 friends — not that anybody made that sort of an arbitrary rule, it was just that that was what you could fit into the screening theater — so I invited 50 of my friends and I’m sitting there just praying that this thing was going to be good, and if it wasn’t I would have 50 friends who would either, depending on the friend, give me serious sh*t about it, or just be terribly, terribly polite, and I’m not sure which one would have been worse. I loved it, but I really was holding my breath until my friends started coming out of the thing and just loving it, and coming up and telling me how much they loved it. That was sort of, that was the point where I was like, “okay, I can breath now.” I thought it was magic, you know? It was an astonishingly… it’s weird, I was going to say it was an astonishingly faithful film, but that makes it sound like one of those films like “Rosemary’s Baby” or even like “Sin City” where if you’ve read the book or comic there’s no real point in seeing the film because there’s nothing that you won’t have seen before, and vice versa. They don’t do it like that. If you have read the book there’s going to be a lot of surprises, but having said that, it’s astonishingly faithful to the spirit of the book. There’s no doubt that what you’re watching here is absolutely “Stardust” and that makes me so happy.

CS: You’ve been working a lot in film recently. Compared to films like “Beowulf” or “Coraline, ” how would you describe your involvement with “Stardust”?

Gaiman: What I got to do with “Stardust” was very odd because what I got to do with “Stardust” was be a producer and I actually got to be a producer who did lots of big and important things early on. For example, I got to put Matthew Vaughn, the director, together with Jane Goldman, the scriptwriter. I’ve known Jane forever and liked and trusted her and thought she’d be a really good scriptwriter, and thought she’d be right for this, and put them together and they hit it off and I was enormously relieved when suddenly they were off and making it. And I sort of traded a lot of things for influence. My deal with Matthew Vaughn was an astonishingly simple deal, which was that he had the film rights for absolutely nothing, but that I got to really be listened to. I got an amount of influence and input that nobody really gets, if you’re just the writer on the thing. And I was incredibly proud and lucky that they gave me that.

CS: Why Matthew Vaughn? I loved “Layer Cake” but watching it, the first thing that comes to my mind is not “Stardust.”

Gaiman: I guess that… the background on this is — it will probably make a little more sense if I tell you the sort of history and how we got there. Or it may make a little more sense. Matthew and I met when Matthew was the producer on the first film I ever made, the only film I’ve ever directed, a little thing called “A Short Film About John Bolton.” And he — mostly because his wife had read it and loved — read “Stardust” and loved it. He was saying it was, at the time, something that he really wanted to produce. And he wound up doing “Layer Cake,” which was a script they had put together for Guy Ritchie and Guy didn’t want to do it for various reasons — and Matthew couldn’t find a director who he liked and trusted with the material — so he did it himself. But it wasn’t so much Matthew was a… he wasn’t born to do gangster material, he just had this script and wanted it to be made, and made well. And the kind of stuff, when we talked, that he really wanted to do, he wanted to do a fairy tale. He wanted to do “Stardust” and he wanted to do it properly. So that meant that I didn’t think of him as “well he’s that ‘Lock Stock’ and ‘Snatch’ and ‘Layer Cake’ guy.” As far as I was concerned he was a very smart, nice producer who I liked, who had now started directing and had turned out to be really good at it.

CS: How is “Death” coming along? I keep hearing about it, that you’re going to be taking over the director’s chair, how is that all happening?

Gaiman: Everything is moving, slowly, but it’s moving. One of the things I’ve learned about Hollywood is that things move slowly and there’s nothing terribly wrong with that. Guillermo del Toro is now executive producing, which is a wonderful thing and something I’m enormously relieved about because Guillermo is amazing. And I’m actually planning on going out to Prague [note: he probably meant Budapest] very, very soon to do some stuff with Guillermo on “Death.” I think it definitely seems like it’s going to happen but I’ve been around Hollywood so long that the only thing I’ve learned for sure is that thing’s always happen in ways you don’t expect at the time you don’t expect them to happen. It’s not that they don’t happen, but they don’t happen in the way you think they’re going to. It’s always slightly different.

CS: I’m going to throw in a quick addendum before I’m cut off. If it does happen is there any chance you might go back to your old stomping grounds at Vertigo and do something else?

Gaiman: I don’t have anything against doing stuff with the Endless, or with Vertigo. It might be an awful lot of fun. It would depend on a lot of things. The biggest problem that I have with all of that kind of thing is that there is a limited number of hours in a day and I have one full time career as a novelist, and then I seem to keep winding up writing movies and things and a lot of the time I’m just sort of frantically trying to find the time in order to do things. Even over the last month I’ve had to do an incredible amount of proof reading and copy editing and stuff on the next volume of “Absolute Sandman” and it’s really hard to find the time but it’s also stuff I can’t not do. It has to happen. So… does that answer your question? I’m not going, “no I don’t want to work for Vertigo.” I like Vertigo and I like Karen and I love “Sandman,” it’s enormously fun stuff, but it’s much more there’s only a certain amount of hours in a day and I’m writing as fast as I can.

CS: I couldn’t ask for anymore than that and I think my time is up. Thank you.

Gaiman: Thank you.

Stardust hits theaters on August 10, Beowulf on November 16 and Coraline in 2008.

Source: Joshua Starnes