Note: This interview was conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.Depictions of heaven and hell in films and television has evolved in some interesting ways. In general contrast to the whole history of literature and painting, the concepts of these ethereal realms have become less and less religious over time, with many films using the topographies of heaven and hell to mine humor, parody presuppositions, or interrogate ethical ideas.
One of the most interesting ways these afterlife destinations have been depicted is bureaucratically. Whether it’s the great Albert Brooks film Defending Your Life or the wonderful NBC comedy The Good Place, the afterlife becomes much funnier and relatable when we anthropomorphize it with human experiences — clueless upper management; the tedious doldrums of busy work; rigid social hierarchies; paper-pushers obsessed with analytics and data. In our postmodern world, even heaven is Kafkaesque.
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett did a great job with this concept in their novel, and Gaiman’s Prime Video adaptation of it, Good Omens. The first season was immensely clever in the way they depicted the agents of heaven and hell as opposed but essentially colluding governmental structures. There were worker bees, and there were CFOs and board members; there was documentation and deadlines. It was perfection as imagined by a Human Resources department.
Season two greatly expands on this detail, fleshing out heaven and hell with a wonderful cast of characters with their own moods, concerns, problems, and yes, even emotions. Cast members Liz Carr, Quelin Sepulveda, and Shelley Conn spoke with MovieWeb about what it’s like to play non-human angels and demons, and what they think of Good Omens‘ witty deconstruction of the afterlife. You can watch our edited video interview above.
Quelin Sepulveda and Liz Carr Get Angelic
Quelin Sepulveda was recently seen in the melancholic miniseries remake of The Man Who Fell to Earth, and in Good Omens, she plays the very endearing angel, Muriel. A low-level ’employee’ of heaven, a scrivener with a boring documents job, Muriel is an anxious dreamer who both wants adventure and fears it. She’s one of the more likable angels, compared to the rigidity of higher regiments.
“What makes this show exciting is that they’re supernatural, but they’re very human,” explained Sepulveda. “They are puzzled by the same things that we are, but just in a different context. And so, for me I feel like I wasn’t playing an angel. I was playing somebody who’s young and eager to have adventure in their life even though they’re a little bit scared of it, and wants to be seen and valued, but so very curious of the world. That was really something to think about, when approaching somebody or a being that is not human.”
“I think, in a way, it was kind of to not play it like [a supernatural non-human],” added Liz Carr, the intelligent actor perhaps best know for her eight years on the long-running crime series Silent Witness, where she played a sarcastic lab assistant and helped bring the show to its highest viewership of all time. In Good Omens, she plays the high-ranking heavenly figure Saraqael, one of the original archangels alongside Gabriel (Jon Hamm), whose amnesia and disappearance from heaven forms the major plot of season two. Carr continued:
“There’s so many stereotypes and clichés to being an angel or demon, so we kind of counter that, because the costumes, the sets, they give you that. White? It must be heaven, you know? So in a way, to not do that then makes it funnier, to kind of just be like the rest of us, but in those environments. Because I think that’s a big part of what we get from the show as well — we’re kind of all those celestial beings, and we’re all those humans. So yeah, actually, it was to kind of not play to it, to kind of go against it.”
Shelley Conn on Demons and Sex Organs
“I agree with all of that on the human side,” said Shelley Conn, who does an amazing job stepping into season two as Beelzebub. The high-ranking demon was first played by the delightful Anna Maxwell Martin, but scheduling conflicts led to Conn taking on the role. The actor (perhaps best known for her role as Lady Mary Sharma in Bridgerton, but also brilliant in Terra Nova) does a wonderful job filling big shoes, and Beelzebub ends up having one of the best character arcs of the season.
“But sort of adding to that, I loved being able to kind of physicalize it in a way that I probably wouldn’t have necessarily done if I had thought in a human way,” added Conn about playing a supernatural being. “But also, it was that sort of almost innocent and naive discovery of emotional intelligence that they just don’t possess. I mean, it was a real key.” Conn elaborated:
It hadn’t occurred to me at all, but when Neil said, “You know, you have no sexual organs,” I was like, “Oh okay, okay,” so then it became about pure emotion. And it kind of became this being discovering what that might be, and that is human development. That’s evolution.
“By the way, I only learned that today,” added Carr with a laugh. “I’m quite shell-shocked.”
“These guys want to go back and reshoot now,” smiled Conn.
Heaven Is a Corporation
We asked the cast their own feelings about the show’s perspective on heaven and hell, and good and evil. How did that affect their performances?
“Thinking of it as a big corporation, really, was kind of a big inspiration for me,” explained Carr. “Thinking about that, being a boss, really getting the lowly ones like Muriel to do the work, to delegate and reap the rewards and the status, and only come out when you need to, I found that quite useful. I love the way that they’ve kind of commercialized heaven and hell in like a corporate world. So that was really fun to play with that. It was a help, not at all a hindrance.”
“I imagine, with heaven as something like a corporation, that kind of stuff, it’s straight lines, it’s direct, and I think Muriel finds comfort in that,” added Sepulveda. “But I think there is something that is exciting about the human world that is a little more. It made the difference, doing the scenes in heaven and then the scenes on earth, and then interacting with demons for the first time, it just made the transition very, very clear. And really fun to play with.”
Good Omens season two is just as much fun to watch as it was for these three charming actors to play with. The six-episode second season is now streaming on Prime Video. You can check out the season two trailer below.