Though it’s at best his second most defining feature, The Sandman’s Corinthian has an undeniable style. Dressed in creamy whites, sporting pale hair and a pair of ever-present sunglasses, the Nightmare cuts a fine figure, whether in the pages of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic or as played by Boyd Holbrook in Netflix’s adaptation. It’s a look so together that you may miss his most defining feature: The mouths where his eyes should be.
As a rogue nightmare, AWOL from the Dreaming in Dream’s absence and serial killing his way through the waking world, the Corinthian is a mess of menace and charm. And that required Holbrook to play the role in a way he had never been asked to before.
“I think there was a sexuality to the Corinthian that I… had never wanted to do, nor asked to do,” Holbrook tells Polygon. “So that was definitely something that was uncomfortable in the beginning that I had to work my way into.”
Holbrook notes that he and the rest of the cast were instructed to make their respective characters their own and not fall into the trap of feeling too penned into how the character had to work. Instead, the most important thing was that they “play a rooted real person.” Of course, with the Corinthian’s eyes being the stuff of nightmares, he also had to work his way into it without the aid of the windows of the soul.
“I really thought that I would have to do, or I [would feel] some obligation to bring something else to the role that wasn’t on the page,” Holbrook says. “But Neil Gaiman and Allan Heinberg, our showrunner, really just put me at ease with that. Because rather than a hindrance, it’s more of a weapon.”
It’s an easy magnetism that oozes out of Holbrook’s performance, a natural relaxedness that still manages to imbue every moment he’s on screen with threat. With his eyes somewhere behind the side-paneled sunglasses, every act of kindness seems tinged by a bit of malice. He is cool and composed perhaps precisely because he knows he is untouchable in almost every way that counts.
“I think it would basically paralyze anybody,” Holbrook says. “Once the glasses come off and you see the teeth for eyes, I think it would just kind of shell-shock people.”
Additional reporting by Tasha Robinson.