In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Boyd Holbrook discusses his character in Netflix’s adaptation of The Sandman and his hope for a comeback in season 2:
The Corinthian is all about the eyes. The living nightmare who looms over season 1 of Netflix’s The Sandman is most notable for the fact that his sockets are filled with teeth (which he uses to eat other people’s eyes, before he kills them). Naturally, this is something the character keeps hidden behind sunglasses most of the time, so that he can walk around in public without raising undue alarm.
When actor Boyd Holbrook thinks back to his audition process amidst the raging COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, he’s confident that securing the role and gaining the approval of The Sandman co-creator Neil Gaiman came down to how he handled his shades.
“I know I’m giving too much away, but I think Neil’s thing was that he never really liked how actors took off their glasses in these auditions, because it was maybe a little heavy-handed, a little over-the-top. So I latched onto that,” Holbrook tells EW over Zoom. “If you have a disability, or a special ability, it’s not special to you. It’s second nature, so you don’t really have to present it. It’s just in a fluid motion. So I really saw the power in that and how to make it unique.”
As created by Gaiman and artist Mike Dringenberg, the Corinthian first appeared in issue 10 of The Sandman comic. His horrific eye-teeth immediately made him an arresting figure who is not easily forgotten by The Sandman‘s legions of readers over the years. Eisner Award-winning comic writer James Tynion IV, who is currently tackling the Corinthian in the ongoing sequel comic The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country, calls him “one of the best horror images in the history of comics.” Holbrook adds that the horror of the eye-teeth comes from “the surrealness of it all. It’s familiar, but on a primordial level, it doesn’t belong there.”
To create the eye-teeth, The Sandman‘s effects team took full photographs and scans of Holbrook’s body and basically transplanted photos of his own teeth into his eye sockets. He said he didn’t have to wear special contact lenses or anything like that, but was initially worried about losing access to his eyes as an acting tool.
“When we were first talking about doing this, I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is going to come across,'” Holbrook says. “You can watch a silent film or a foreign film and not know anything about what the actors are saying, but you can detect what’s going on in the character’s eyes and their face. That was tricky to me. But Neil and [showrunner] Allan Heinberg reassured me, like, ‘Trust us. It’s going to be a benefit, not a hindrance.’ Once I embraced that, we took off.”
But the Corinthian of the comics is also a little ratty. Always appearing in a sleeveless T-shirt, he clearly gives off more menace and power than the other attendees of the story’s serial killer convention, but still looks scuzzy.
By contrast, Holbrook’s incarnation is suave, flirtatious, and well-dressed, with a hint of his actor’s Southern drawl. Other characters on screen are drawn to him despite the danger he presents, and the same is true for viewers: The eye-teethed serial killer has been the subject of numerous internet “fancam” videos and Tumblr gifsets.
“I just started investigating what kind of character this guy is. Early on, we figured out that after living a millennia, you become quite sophisticated. You become a connoisseur of things,” Holbrook says. “There’s an elegance in that. I think that’s what was a change from the comic: How you would get lured into inviting this guy into your home and that being the great mistake that you make, rather than him being a home intruder and just bullishly busting your door down. He loves the cat and mouse of it all, and he doesn’t really discriminate between male and female.”
The Corinthian’s role is also expanded from the comic. Instead of just being the main antagonist of The Doll’s House story arc, Holbrook appears in nearly every episode of a season where most characters only pop in for a single chapter. Unlike in the source material, the Corinthian plays a major role in securing the decades-long imprisonment of his creator, Dream (Tom Sturridge).
The show even presents a relatable motivation for the Corinthian. He doesn’t just want to kill and terrify people for the sake of it. Like a demented version of a Disney protagonist, this Corinthian wants to be real. He doesn’t just want to be a figment of dark dreams; he wants to be where the people are.
“I think we all yearn for something that we don’t have,” Holbrook says. “It’s that feeling of man, that would be nice to hear the crowd cheer after dunking a basketball in a game, or knowing what it feels like to be in love. So there’s a sadness to him and definitely an outsider point of view. When I was in my teenage years, I definitely had a feeling of that outsider quality because there’s something that I was yearning to do, which was to perform and to be a performer, and not really knowing where to find it. There’s a lost quality that we are fumbling through life to find. I think I really relate to that. I’m sure a lot of people can.”
The Corinthian’s extended role meant that, in a show that mostly consists of self-contained stories, Holbrook got to work with more actors than anyone besides Sturridge. Vivienne Acheampong, who plays the dream librarian Lucienne, previously told EW that her scene with Holbrook was her favorite on the show: “I really feel for him. I’d love to do more scenes with the Corinthian because that was really thrilling to work with. He’s a very exciting presence when you’re working with him.”
It all leads to an epic confrontation with Dream in the season 1 finale, as the Corinthian finally meets his maker.
But is that really the end for the Corinthian? Not necessarily. Readers of The Sandman comic know that Dream later recreates the Corinthian as more of an antihero than a villain.
Now that the TV series has been officially renewed by Netflix, it’s very possible that viewers will see Holbrook reprise the role in the future. He’s already excited about the possibilities.
“I think the reincarnation aspect is really exciting because you’ve already set up the Corinthian as this bad guy, but then if he’s reincarnated as a good guy, you’re always constantly wondering if it’s for real or not,” Holbrook says. “I think you’ll have people on the hook. You can reel them back and forth and really play with that. I think that’s going to be even better, actually.”
Holbrook continues, “I’ve been getting some information trickling down about that. I think we’ll go back maybe in the summer to start doing some stuff, but I don’t know when they’ll call me, if it’ll be season 2 or be season 3. But I love that the Corinthian has made an impact and that people dig it.”