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The Sandman actor explains how playing Desire is 'the ultimate form of dress-up'

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Some things are just meant to be. When the cast of Netflix's The Sandman came through EW's video studio at San Diego Comic-Con last month (which you can watch above), actor Mason Alexander Park revealed when they first heard that the show was being made, they messaged creator Neil Gaiman to ask if the part of Desire had been cast yet. As it turned out, the answer was "no," and Gaiman was impressed both by Park's professionalism and the acting talent on display in their clips. They got the part, and what a part it is.

The protagonist of The Sandman is Dream (Tom Sturridge), an immortal being who embodies the concept of storytelling. But Dream isn't the only one of his kind. He has a family called The Endless, full of other personifications of universal concepts — and Desire, the avatar of lust and sex, is the trickiest of all. Depicted as non-binary even in Gaiman's original The Sandman comics from the '80s and '90s, Desire is now played by a non-binary actor who uses they/them pronouns.

Catching up with EW in a more detailed interview over Zoom a week after Comic-Con, dressed in an impeccable suit that even Desire would admire, Park says the role contains everything they've always loved about acting.

"There's something about that kind of sibling dynamic, messing with someone just for the fun of it, that roots the character and the storytelling in such a youthful, childlike state. It really just feels like the ultimate form of dress-up," Park says. "It feels like I'm putting on catsuits and messing with my older brother. That is everything I could've ever wanted when I was younger."

The Sandman
The Sandman

Netflix Desire (Mason Alexander Park) schemes with Despair (Donna Preston) in Netflix's 'The Sandman.'

Park says that they first encountered The Sandman in their youth as part of their shared comic-collecting habit with their father, and learned even more about Desire specifically as part of a research project into non-binary characters in literature. They heard about the adaptation when they were deep into production on Netflix's recent Cowboy Bebop show, and filled the hours of their New Zealand quarantine protocols by reading The Sandman comics from start to finish and listening to the recent audiobook adaptation by Audible (in which the role of Desire was played by Justin Vivian Bond). After getting the part and discussing it with Gaiman, Park realized what makes Desire tick.

"Desire can easily be interpreted in a myriad of ways, both positive and negative, which is true of the emotion and the need that they represent," Park says. "That's what stands out to me the most, because when I talk to certain people about the character, they think Desire's the big bad villain of the story. But when I first talked to Neil about the character, he had nothing but incredible things to say: 'Desire is awesome, Desire is amazing, Desire saves the universe in the end.' He told me that Desire is the hero of Desire's own story, and The Sandman could very easily be told from Desire's perspective and Desire's experience — and it would probably be a lot more interesting and have a lot more sex in it! I took that to heart."

The Sandman
The Sandman

Netflix Desire (Mason Alexander Park) messes with their brother Dream (Tom Sturridge) on Netflix's 'The Sandman.'

Desire is indeed responsible for some of the bad things that happen over the course of The Sandman's first season, and Park has a very interesting read on why. It has to do with the family dynamic of The Endless — specifically, Desire's relationship with their twin sibling, Despair (Donna Preston).

"In both the comics and the television series, Desire and Despair are, strangely enough, the closest of any of Desire's relationships," Park says. "It used to be that Dream and Desire were thick as thieves. Desire was Dream's favorite sibling until they had a falling out that we won't discuss. But now, these grudges have led to where we are when the show picks up. And Despair is one of the only Endless that has died. Now we're on another Despair. It's not the original Despair. And it's really, really, really difficult for an Endless to die. The understanding of that was something we really worked with in this show when it came to their relationship."

The Sandman
The Sandman

Netflix Despair (Donna Preston), the twin sister of Desire, on Netflix's 'The Sandman.'

Park continues, "so, a lot of the scheming and a lot of the games that Desire is playing in this show are in the same way as when you are deeply afraid of losing someone who may be in a really depressive state, or maybe really hard to reach. A lot of times, the thing that you try to do is give them reasons to stick around and give them things to do. A lot of these games that the twins are playing with Dream is Desire's way of including their sister in life and including their sister in the family, as much as they possibly can, in order to keep her alive and keep her around. There is something really beautiful and grounding about the fact that a lot of the nefarious things that Desire does to Dream exist because of this relationship with their other sibling. They know that Dream is going to be fine. But they don't necessarily know that Despair will, because history has proven otherwise."

The Sandman season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.

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