Netflix is highly anticipated the sandman – based on Neil Gaiman’s much-loved comic book series – proved to be a hit for the streamer, amassing a billion minutes of watch time and storming to the top of its own charts just three days after its release in August. The series also charmed critics and fans alike, praised for its lavish fantasy world and the emotional depth of its characters.
A significant portion of the noise was directed at Jenna Coleman’s Johanna Constantine, the occult detective with a penchant for exorcism whose actress plays two iterations: one based on the modern day (basically a gender-flipper version of DC superhero John Constantine), the other of her identical 18th-century ancestor. Although she only appeared in a few epodes, it wasn’t long before calls were made to give her own spin-off series.
Coleman, however, was nowhere near bathing in the glory, having shot through various parts of North America in recent months. Wilderness, Amazon Prime’s road trip love story limited series from director So Yong Kim, in which she stars alongside Oliver Jackson-Cohen. And having finally wrapped up in the Grand Canyon at the end of September, Coleman is now back in the UK for the world premiere of an entirely different project, the directorial debut of actor-filmmaker Neil Maskell. Whistleblower.
A darkly comedic, Ben Wheatley-produced thriller about a hapless government whistleblower and his partner who is sent to a remote Belgian cottage (“whistleblower” is Dutch for “whistleblower”), the film gets its first bow at the BFI London Film Festival on Oct 8. Whistleblower also marks Coleman’s first major film role after a decade of an extraordinarily strong small screen rise following her big break as Doctor Who companion Clara Oswald in 2012.
Speak with The Hollywood ReporterColeman discusses shooting Whistleblower in lockdown (while living in a big house and sending people out to run errands), Gaiman’s eagerness to see more of her Johanna Constantine on screen, and whether the public support for her character was behind Warner Bros. Constantine sequel starring Keanu Reeves.
You must be happy with the response to the sandman and in particular your character Johanna Constantine.
I’m so excited. It was clearly one of those shows that is so hard to adapt which is why it’s been 30 years in the making. I managed to go to Comic-Con and hang out with Neil and everyone there and see the trailer for the first time, so to see the whole Gaim-ian imagination and see his world portrayed cinematically, it was real exciting. And I feel it has had a great response from both the fans and the critics.
Have you had a chance to see it for yourself?
I haven’t seen it yet! Wilderness is one of those shows that is so intense that I haven’t been able to watch anything in ages. It’s been crazy hours and a lot of travelling. But everyone seems to love it!
Have you heard all the calls for a Johanna Constantine spin-off series?
I have, from Neil himself! One of the reasons I wanted to do it was because the character felt so molded, and what was very thoughtful of Neil and Alan (Heinberg) was that they sent the script to me, but they didn’t tell me who the character was. used to be. So I didn’t know it was Constantine when I read it. So I formed my own thoughts about who this person was with no preconceptions about Constantine, which was very smart. But yes, Neil informed me.
And is it something he would like to do?
Yes, he and Alan are really behind it. They seem to think it’s a good idea.
And have you heard any news about an assignment for a second season?
Not me. I know discussions are underway at the moment, but I was pretty off-grid in the Arizona desert.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that shortly after the sandman launched, Warner Bros. confirmed. the Constantine movie sequel with Keanu Reeves.
I couldn’t comment but Constantine in its and her many forms seems to be making a comeback. I would gladly take the credit for it!
How does it feel to be a little related to Keanu Reeves and also take over from Keanu Reeves?
I know, I enjoyed it. I actually walked around and said I’m actually Keanu Reeves.
you play in Whistleblower, which will have its world premiere at the London Film Festival. From the trailer, it looks a little crazy. Can you describe it?
It’s totally crazy. Just saw it on the train, and I absolutely love dark comedy and I’m a fan of Ben Wheatley who produced this. It has a very unnerving, claustrophobic, pungent off-kilter feel. You have a sense of unease watching it all the way through, but the comedy opposite takes you in such a different direction. Neil (Maskell) writes so sharply and hilariously, you have a creeping sense of dread all the time. I have to say, Tom Burke and Roger Evans are absolutely hilarious, and it was one of those jobs where we did a lot of takes and improvise, and seeing them as a comedy duo, with these dark undertones, was brilliant.
The last time I saw Neil, he chopped off fingers in the absolutely brutal Taurus. This doesn’t sound so bloody at all.
No, it’s definitely not that bloody. It’s a comedy thriller that kind of sends you in a different direction and then the comedy makes you feel settled for a moment and then it gets undercut and it shifts. It is mainly about giving the public a false sense of security. It’s very unpredictable.
You’ve obviously made a lot of TV over the years. Is this your first movie role in some time?
Yes, it’s been a long time. I had a period I was working on doctor who and three weeks later it went straight through Victoriaand then a play, and then The snakewhich was a very lengthy series, and then Whistleblower was one of the first scripts I read in lockdown and it was a lockdown shoot we did. It felt wonderful to make in so many ways. It is also made with so little money. We were all supposed to pretty much live together in this big house and have three weeks to film it, literally sending people out to run errands because we couldn’t leave. It felt like a real labor of love to get it made. And Neil was great. You could tell he was in his element for his first movie.
And did it feel good to take a break from the TV? Do you want to film more?
Yes, I would really like to get into the indie film world more. Especially if you’ve done some long jobs and the beauty of something more written, you can get into that world and it’s not that big of a commitment. But the thing is, there are so many good scripts on TV right now, too.
you mentioned doctor who. It’s been a few years since you’ve been to the TARDIS, but are you still checking in on all things Whovian and excited about Ncuti Gatwa’s incoming reign?
Yes, very excited. And, of course, to see Russell T. Davies back at the helm. I still speak to Matt (Smith) and Peter (Capaldi). I recently got a really nice message from Steven (Moffat) saying it’s been 10 years since I’ve been on it, which was terrifying. But yeah, it’s like a family. I feel like it’s one of those jobs that you never leave.