The Sandman SDCC article Dream and Rose

‘The Sandman’ star Vanesu Samunyai on evolving Rose Walker’s autonomy: ‘Maybe Rose is allowed to be angry’

Continuing our coverage of The Sandman at SDCC 2022, Subjectify spoke with Vanesu Samunyai, who plays Rose Walker, at the show’s roundtable interviews following their Hall H panel, about Rose finding the right to grasp a little human autonomy in her new world of gods and monsters.

‘The Sandman’ at SDCC 2022

Panelists at San Diego Comic-Con included The Sandman’s author and creator Neil Gaiman, showrunner Allan Heinberg and stars Tom Sturridge, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Mason Alexander Park, Gwendoline Christie, Vivienne Acheampong, Boyd Holbrook, Jenna Coleman, Vanesu Samunyai, and Patton Oswalt. You can watch The Sandman’s full trailer, which premiered at the panel, below.

After the show’s Hall H panel, Subjectify joined The Sandman’s roundtable interviews with the show’s executive producers and a number of the cast. First up, we shared our takeaways after talking with Tom Sturridge, the actor who portrays Dream, the eponymous Sandman, in the Netflix series. Next, we have a chat with Vanesu Samunyai, who plays Rose Walker.

Related: ‘The Sandman’ star Tom Sturridge at SDCC 2022: ‘What’s really important is for large groups of people to bear witness to the same stories’

The Sandman is the first major role for Vanesu Samunyai, but despite her lack of prior credits, it seems as if casting her was a no-brainer. “We read so many Roses,” showrunner Allan Heinberg shared at The Sandman’s SDCC panel, “and the second Vanesu came up on my screen, the computer screen, it was only ever her.”

Rose Walker is the main character of The Doll’s House, the second major story arc of Sandman, which viewers will see play out in the final four episodes of the Netflix adaptation. After taking up lodgings in a boarding house run by Hal (John Cameron Mitchell) full of friendly, if eccentric, characters, Rose sets out to find her young brother Jed, who she has lost track of after a family separation. She is accompanied on this quest by one of the house’s other residents Gilbert, a self-described “amateur knight errant” who, in the series, is played by none other than Stephen Fry.

Sandman SDCC Vanesu Samunyai as Rose Walker

At first glance, Rose Walker is a normal 21 year old human woman, but she plagued with a strange power that is somehow related to the Dreaming, which makes her a person of interest to Morpheus, and her long-lost brother Jed becomes the focus of one of Dream’s escaped nightmares, the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook.) In the comics, the Walker siblings ultimately find themselves at the center of a plot that’s endlessly larger than themselves — larger than they could ever imagine — and their story serves as a clue and a catalyst for many more events to come, as the story of Sandman continues to unfold.

Samunyai sat down with Subjectify and two other outlets at one of The Sandman’s press room roundtables for a conversation about her experience as Rose.

What was it like working with Stephen Fry? Gilbert is a big part of Rose’s journey, so what was that experience like as scene partners?

It was great. Stephen Fry is great, he’s very hilarious. Everyone on set was very happy when he was around. It was nice filming our scenes, you know because the care that he has — the care that Gilbert has for Rose and the care that Stephen had when we were together, it was very real. So it was able to translate genuinely into the scenes and that was just a very nice thing that we had.

Because there’s so many fantastical things going on – what grounded her in that search for her family, what was it that kept her going on that path?

When I was working on it, working on developing her story and developing all the in-between points that I was going to use for, acting out the scenes, there was a lot of desperation of course, but there was also some guilt at the fact that she went to college, she carried on with her life and her brother wasn’t there and then her mum died. Getting Jed back — it was steeped a lot in guilt, and her not being there and her feeling like she wasn’t a good sister, and that kind of kept her going. Just being like “I need to get him back, and I need to right my wrongs.”

The Sandman SDCC article Jed and Rose

She’s obviously this human being thrust into this world of mythology and gods and entities and, without giving too much away, she is being used as a pawn in this battle between the Endless, this very small being in this grand universal plot. As a young woman, what was important about you keeping Rose’s autonomy for herself while doing that?

I think in the beginning, actually, I went through my own evolution, as I was playing Rose. And in the beginning I kind of didn’t feel too much or see too much in terms of her having her own autonomy. It was kind of like “Oh, this is what’s going on” and I think it’s funny, because that was the same for Rose, you know? She was like “This is what’s going on”, she didn’t have that sense of autonomy.

Of being able to take back any control.

Exactly. And so eventually I did get to a point where I realized that, and she realized that. She became empowered after a certain traumatic point in the series, she kind of realized “Hold on, I can’t keep on going along with this,” and it had to do with her best friend, and that motivated her to get more. And for me seeing just the way Rose was written and her evolution, I was able to be like “Oh, okay, you know what, maybe Rose should take more and maybe Rose is allowed to be angry.” Me as a person, I naturally also kind of felt that I didn’t really… I didn’t feel too much… not entitlement, but I didn’t feel that allowance. I didn’t feel allowed to feel angry or to feel truly in my feelings, and I kind of just went on that journey with her and discovered that for myself.

The Sandman SDCC article Matthew and Rose

This is your first big TV role as well, so what was the biggest learning curve for you being on that show? What was the kind of biggest takeaway?

I’m not sure about the biggest because there’s so many. I was learning to do a lot of things for camera. I’d done short films and one feature film that had started out as a short film, but you know, learning to do certain things for camera. Having several scripts to really digest and learning how to work with scripts properly like that. This is my first big role, but also it’s a very big, very important character. And so for my episodes, [Rose] was just like most of the script. And it was just learning how to pace myself, learning how to take everything in, learning how to conserve my energy. You know, this job, it takes a lot of energy and I didn’t realize how much it did at the time and the fact that it can be hard and it is an actual job and I’m allowed to take care of myself. I almost sometimes neglected myself, almost in compensation for the kind of job that I had because it was such a good job, but it’s not a very sustainable thing, you know? You need to take care of yourself.

‘The Sandman’ season 1 is out now on Netflix