Neil Gaiman on Stephin Merritt, 30 Rock and Amanda Palmer
Last winter when we stopped by a reading that cult author Neil Gaiman was giving at Columbia of his Newbery award-winning The Graveyard Book, we were blown away by the diehard affection of his many grown-up fans — in fact, there didn’t seem to be a kid in sight. One woman even started sobbing when she got to hug him (evidently, it was her birthday). Lately, Gaiman-mania has only intensified with the musical adaption of his children’s novel Coraline by Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, with book by David Greenspan. The show is finishing its run this week at the MCC Theater.
How involved were you in the making of the musical version of Coraline?
I let them do their thing, partly because I think Stephin is a genius and what he would do was bound to be interesting and unique. I thought it was absolutely brave, smart theater, they made interesting choices that people wouldn’t normally make — beginning with casting a 50-year-old actress as a 9-year-old girl.
Why are you drawn to such scary topics?
I think it’s a good thing to create stories that have some kind of cost, some kind of price to them. In the case of Coraline, I began the story for my daughter, who would come home and climb on my lap and dictate nightmarish stories to me about little girls coming up against evil witches. I thought, well, I’ll write her something like that, and then discovered that there wasn’t something like that out there — terrifying stories for kids.
You wrote the screenplay for Beowulf and have had your books adapted into feature films. What are your feelings about working in Hollywood?
The enormous amount of money that it costs to make a movie makes people bet on the side of making stuff kind of bland. You’re much better off making something that you like and seeing if there are other people out there who like it too. That’s really how my career has always worked. I just do the stuff that I like, and I hope there are other people out there who like the same thing.
What’s your latest pop culture obsession?
The English Doctor Who science fiction series — when it’s at its best it’s some of the best television out there. Also I’ve just discovered 30 Rock, way after the rest of the universe did [laughs]. So my daughter and I have ordered the whole thing on DVD, and are catching up from the beginning.
You’re dating another great artist, Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls —
I am, she’s awesome.
The two of you recently collaborated on a book, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. Are you doing anything else together?
I nearly said nothing we can discuss in public — but actually, yes. I was asked to make an eight-minute silent film for a series of silent movies being done in the UK right now. I realized that one of the things I love about Amanda is that although she’s most famous for making her music, before that she was a living statue, and is absolutely one of the most amazing pantomime artists I’ve ever encountered, in terms of what she can do with her face and her expression. So I’m putting her in a movie. I’ll write and direct it.
Who is behind the project?
I don’t actually know that I can say who’s doing it — but it’s a big, real entity.
You grew up in England, but now you live in Minneapolis. How did you end up living there?
My ex-wife had family from this part of the world. And basically, I discovered I could get a huge Addams family-like mansion with 17 acres for the same cost as a one-bedroom flat in London — and not a nice one-bedroom flat in London — that it seemed like a very, very good idea.