Former Hedwig and the Angry Inch performer Mason Alexander Park landed their latest role as Desire in Netflix’s The Sandman through a tweet. That is hardly news to anyone as the Netflix official socials and novelist Neil Gaiman recently drew attention to the very public tweet while reminiscing on the now-streaming show’s pre-production process.
But what led to that very moment?
Park was in New Zealand shooting a different Netflix series, Cowboy Bebop, which they appeared in for five episodes as jazz musician Gren. "We had a very strict two-week quarantine and about eight or nine days in, I started getting the jitters. I was losing track of time and things to do."
The performer says that they had been following Gaiman—the author behind The Sandman DC comic book series—for years as a "massive fan" of his work and had been keeping track of his tweets about the upcoming television adaptation. Sparked by a new sense of interest, Park grilled a friend who had auditioned for The Sandman after starring in the adaptation of Gaiman’s American Gods: "How long ago was your audition? When did you start this process?"
After finding out that the initial audition was almost a year ago, they thought, "There is no way that they don't have this role cast."
Park recalls, "I could’ve easily reached out to my agents in the morning. But I don't know, I felt like I wouldn’t get an answer about this for a while. I just felt very bold. It was 4 AM—I was a little delirious—and I thought, 'I'm just going to tweet Neil.'"
So, they shot their shot October 17, 2020, accompanied with an "I am begging you from my soul" gif of Sarah Paulson in the first season of America Crime Story. "I just asked if Desire was even going to make an appearance in Season One because in the event of comics, Desire doesn't come in until issue 10. He got back to me and told me that they didn't have the actor yet. I don't know if they had started looking at that point or not, but he sent the casting director’s information to me, and then I forwarded all that to my team, and they took it from there."
Will Desire be making an appearance S1? And if so, please tell me you haven’t found them yet/are still auditioning 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/rNUthhHbj8— Mason Alexander Park (@MasonAPark) October 17, 2020
Roughly two weeks before Park wrapped Cowboy Bepop, they received an email outlining the next steps and submitted an audition tape. And when they landed back in Los Angeles, they were cast.
Playbill caught up with Park about their experience filming The Sandman (which also stars Hedwig co-creator John Cameron Mitchell), their relationship with the comics, and how their theatre experience guided them on set.
When did you first read The Sandman and how has your relationship with the comics changed throughout the years?
Mason Alexander Park: I had come across it at multiple points in my life, reading single issues, but I had never completed the story. But once this became a possibility, even before I auditioned, I started reading it from the beginning and finished the series. While I was in quarantine, I used to walk in circles, driving myself crazy, out in the fenced outdoor area that we are allowed to use for an hour a day, and I’d listen to the Audible version of The Sandman. Doing those two things at the same time allowed me to do a deep dive into the mythos and the world of it and reignited my passion. Since then I’ve probably read it at least a dozen times, especially the chunk of the comics that we covered season one.
Both as a fan and a performer in the series, do you think it's most important that The Sandman stays true to the original source material or do you appreciate that it's a bit modernized for its new audience?
I love that it's set today. I love that Neil [Gaiman] is willing to let his works continue to breathe as time goes on, and he finds ways to make it feel real and timeless as the world shifts around us. So, both Neil and Allan [Heinberg, co-developer], we had dinner last night and one of the things that Allan said, which I hadn't heard before, was that they wanted it to be something that people could watch 20 or 30 years from now and not feel dated.
How did your theatre background prepare you to step into a role that's so theatrical in nature?
Desire is slightly campy and slightly theatrical, but in a grounded and fun way. Essentially, I only had a day on set. I was in London for months, but a lot of it was quarantining, sitting around, and going to fittings. When we shot all my material, they shot me out in a day. We ran it like it was a play.
Tom Sturridge is a remarkable stage actor, and Donna Preston as well. We all rehearsed in the morning and then we ran the scene in its entirety. Then by the end of shooting, we would go and do smaller chunks, but for the most part, everything you saw in the series was filmed in its exact chunk. It was nice to treat it as a piece of theatre and capture it as such. I just let instinct take over and let the relationships speak for themselves.
Your character doesn't make a physical appearance until the end of episode six, and then in the next episode, we get John Cameron Mitchell as Hal. Did you two have hang out on set?
He was sending me texts before I even got to London that would send the Warner Brothers team insane. I really appreciated it. I knew so much more about the show and about his experience than I did about anything because he was so excited. He and Neil have a relationship from How to Talk to Girls at Parties [Cameron directed the movie which was based on Gaiman’s short story of the same name] and ever since then they've been friends. Hedwig was a big part in why Neil took me seriously to begin with. He knew that I played the character and he saw footage of me as the character and sent that over to Allan. Because of how difficult and challenging that role is, Neil knew that I was a serious actor, and not just some crazy person on Twitter trying to be like, “Please cast me.” That show really does speak for itself. Anyone who's ever seen it or been a part of it understands how remarkably challenging the role Hedwig is.
It was fun to meet John through that process, six or seven years ago now, and remain friends. He's a lovely, lovely person and that was one of the first tangible experiences that I ever had with an individual, whether fictional or non, that helped me feel a lot better about my expression and my gender identity, and my understanding of my solid sense of self. So, it's really cool to get to share this experience with him. When Neil and I first met, one of the very first things he said to me was, “We got John Cameron Mitchell!” and I had to tell him, “I know I've seen every single picture from set.”