How “Dead Boy Detectives” scored those “The Sandman” cameos

How “Dead Boy Detectives” scored those “The Sandman” cameos

Netflix's new supernatural show sees Death and Despair from a different angle.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Dead Boy Detectives.

It’s a rainy day in England, and Entertainment Weekly has just broken the news to The Sandman star Tom Sturridge that his TV siblings have been cheating on him. While Sturridge wasn’t looking, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Donna Preston (who play Death and Despair of the Endless on that show) made brief guest appearances on Netflix’s newest supernatural series, Dead Boy Detectives — itself based on a particular issue of Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman comic.

“I didn’t know you did this,” a shocked Sturridge tells Howell-Baptiste after EW asks her a question about her cameo appearance in the Dead Boy Detectives premiere.

“Yeah, I snuck off to Canada,” Howell-Baptiste says impishly. “I shot on a different show!”

“How long were you there?”

“One day. I mean, I flew in, I shot, and I left the next day. It’s been a family secret!”

“It feels…kinda weird,” Sturridge says.

In his defense, this wasn’t always supposed to happen. In fact, Dead Boy Detectives showrunners Steve Yockey and Beth Schwartz were originally told it couldn’t happen. After all, their show was first being developed for Max, after the main characters were the focus of a backdoor pilot episode of Doom Patrol.



But Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland, two ghostly English boys who reject the afterlife in favor of solving supernatural mysteries on Earth, originated in issue #25 of The Sandman (written by Gaiman with art by Matt Wagner). So Yockey and Schwartz knew they wanted to keep a thematic connection with Gaiman’s world, even if they weren’t allowed to do so legally.

“Warner Bros.’ business affairs department sat us down and gave us a talking-to about, ‘Please don't dip your toe in the Sandman pond, because that belongs to Netflix,’” Yockey tells EW over Zoom. “So we decided that, rather than run away from that IP, we would build around it so that we could still just internally take place in The Sandman universe, even if we weren't allowed to specifically reference it. That ended up paying off big dividends because then there was a shift at the studio that moved us from Max to Netflix. I mean, it happened in a matter of weeks. I've never seen a TV transaction happen that fast.”

Fortunately for both shows, Netflix was very receptive to Dead Boy Detectives, and made Howell-Baptiste and Preston available for their respective appearances. More than that, Gaiman himself helped script the scene where Howell-Baptiste’s Death appears in the series premiere.

"Neil wrote the first draft of that scene, so that was a total pleasure,” Yockey says. “We asked him and said, ‘If we're going to have Death, we know she's your baby — maybe even more than Dream in certain respects.’ He did a beautiful job, but then Kirby was a pleasure to have on set. She literally just becomes that character, in such a warm way. It's just such a magical thing to be able to have in the pilot. I think Beth and I are both still kind of a little bit shocked when she pops on screen. It's like, 'Oh, right, we got to do that!'"

What’s interesting about Death’s role in Dead Boy Detectives is that viewers get to see her from a different angle. In The Sandman, she’s the supportive big sister — both to Sturridge’s Dream and also to viewers. Her focus episode from The Sandman season 1, and the comic issue it’s very faithfully based on, is all about making the experience of death seem comforting, even loving.

But in Dead Boy Detectives, that familial connection is gone. Edwin and Charles don’t want to hear about how the afterlife isn’t as scary as it seems; they’re too busy running away from it (and her) as fast as they possibly can.

“I had a great time filming. Those guys are fantastic,” Howell-Baptiste says. “I think what was really nice about that was we talk so much in The Sandman about Death's job. ‘I have to go do my job and this is what it entails.’ We saw some of that in my episode last year, but it is nice to see it not in the context of her walking someone through it, but just going about it.”

<p>David Bukach/NetflixDavid Bukach/Netflix</p> George Rexstrew and Jayden Revri on 'Dead Boy Detectives'

David Bukach/NetflixDavid Bukach/Netflix

George Rexstrew and Jayden Revri on 'Dead Boy Detectives'

But of course, Death is not the only member of the Endless to show up in Dead Boy Detectives. Her sister Despair also appears in the season finale. For all the characters fear Death taking them away and separating them, they may not have considered the terror of Despair's realm, which exists on the other side of every mirror.

"So I met Donna and Kirby, and that was such a dream day," George Rexstrew, who plays Edwin on Dead Boy Detectives, tells EW. "I got the idea of what this show could be in terms of scale. And it was really fun getting to enter Despair's realm with the mirrors, because our set designer Tony Wohlgemuth almost exactly emulates the panel from The Sandman comics. It was quite surreal to be in the physical space."

Dead Boy Detectives is streaming now on Netflix.

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