Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel, American Gods, posits a world where gods become physical manifestations roaming the United States that thrive based on the strength of human beliefs. Over the centuries, though, the Ancient gods find their powers waning because of the rise of New gods, representing contemporary obsessions like drugs, celebrity and even the Internet, as personified by the character known as Technical Boy.
In the novel, Technical Boy was originally described and rendered as the stereotypical, obese basement dweller with an angry temperament and adult acne. Obviously in the last 16 years, the Internet has proven to be an equal-opportunity Svengali, enrapturing every gender, race and age range with its siren's glow from our phones, tablets and laptops. And so American Gods the series (debuting on STARZ April 30, 2017) from executive producers Gaiman, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, is updating the Technical Boy character to better reflect what those 0s and 1s have done to humanity in the now.
Played by British actor Bruce Langley in the series, Technical Boy is now like a club kid on steroids. Introduced in the last act of the American Gods pilot, the character rules from the back of a stretch limo where he confronts Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) about his bodyguard role protecting the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Gone is the corpulent whiner persona of the book, and instead audiences will come to know a slick, chameleon-like adversary intent on obliterating the Old gods.
In an exclusive chat with Langley, we talk about the potency of Technology Boy's reboot, the changeable nature of the character's look and personifying society's technological fixation.
American Gods ended up casting a significant amount of actors to play the various gods. How did you get onto the producer's radars?
Bruce Langley: I auditioned for this over a year ago. It was a protracted process really. It took about four months. Initially, it was an emotional audition that I did where I really connected with the character and really loved him. But as I'm sure any actor will testify, once you do an audition you tend to put it out of your mind and carry on with your life or otherwise, you'll go insane. Then a couple of months later, I was [called] by the lovely casting directors, Margery Simkin and Orly Sitowitz, who are absolute angels. From there, it was about two months of re-taping a couple of scenes over again and Skype calls with Bryan, Michael and David (Slate) with the team getting to know everyone. It culminated in me being flown out to test. And then from there, it's been reading up on the series and reading a bunch of Neil's other stuff, and very much enjoying the ride.
Audiences, and Shadow, meet you late in the pilot in a very dynamic introduction. Was that scene part of the audition?
Yes. That was my first audition scene. It was a hell of a lot of fun. As David Slade, who directed the first three episodes, is very fond of saying that we played with it so much I'll probably be able to say that scene on my deathbed. (Laughs)
What appealed to you most about Technical Boy as a character to embody?
It's hard to put my finger on. There's something about the character in that there's so much going on behind the scenes with him, so to speak. He's such a gold mine of a character. For a start, he literally thinks faster than any human being, which is a hell of a lot of fun to play with. Then he's a god, so the whole idea of trying to climb into the consciousness of what it means to be a deity, and an incredibly young one who has only known consistent worship. He doesn't know anything else as he hasn't gone through the hard times that Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), or Mr. Wednesday, has gone through.
The character has gone through a dramatic reimagining for the series. Tell me about that.
Absolutely. As you've said, Neil and the EP's have done a fantastic job with rewrites in the adaptation because he's a reflection of our relationship to technology, and us as a society, and our relationship - or lack thereof - to each other. Yes, it's very surface level. But at the same time, we are slowly but surely moving further and further away from the normal, deep human connection and storytelling that made us who we are as a species. People are more or less dopamine addicts. It's the notification, and the constant hit of Instagram.
Because he represents a lack of connection, where does that place in him the god hierarchy?
It makes him isolated because there's not too many people he can connect to, to a certain extent, because his consciousness is on a different level. Everything is a metric for him. Even people on his own team, so to speak, don't really seem to like him very much. But he will always consider himself to be the alpha, full-stop. That said, the relationships with him and the other New gods does develop and we get to see more of that as the season goes on. And he sees when running a certain algorithm, if it doesn't work, he has to change it.
What's his problem with the Old gods?
I think for him, he literally struggles to understand why they are still alive. Everything in how he dresses, and how he presents himself and the costume changes, he updates constantly. What he considers old, he gets rid of it. There is nothing in his life that isn't now, now, now! Then there's this concept of a gaggle of ancient beings clinging onto these old traditions, trying to establish old beliefs in a world that he has never had a tangible connection with. They are harping on, very eloquently, about the importance of belief, blah, blah, blah. They are beyond irritating to him. As a far as he's concerned, they should be scrubbed, or destroyed. Also with the hubris and arrogance that goes along with the power he's always known, he doesn't really consider them to be too much of a threat. But much like when there is a bit of source code that doesn't add up, a computer can't process it so it keeps coming back to it, so they're infuriating to him. These Old gods have the audacity to still exist and they don't compute. These people are refusing to update, so they are code that he has to get rid of.
You play Technical Boy as if the Internet had a physical form. What was the process in determining his myriad of looks?
It was so much fun. I got to know the ladies in costume and in the hair department like we are now practically family. It took a month in and out of hair, make-up and costuming. Karola (Dirnberger), who is our incredible head of hair design on the project, played with so many varieties. She would have a litany of ideas and would run them through the EP's and come to a short list, and then she'd play with my bonnet. (Laughs) The process was evolving all the time throughout the entire shoot. I was always trying something new. It was very similar with costuming too. Suttirat Anne Larlarb, our head of costuming, is an angel. The sheer creativity she employed with her costume choices is incredible. I practically lived there. We'd do hours of trying on bits and bobs, and finding what was the character in any moment. His clothes are incredibly brazen.
Was there a specific costume choice, or prop, that serves as his own iconography?
Pretty much everything is constantly in flux. That said though, interestingly enough one thing I noticed is the vape pen he has - lovingly name Toby for the shoot - remained the whole time. I don't know whether that's intentional. I made a decision for the character about why it was there. I thought it was interesting that this literal invasion into someone else's nostrils and personal space was a relative constant. But it may change, so we'll see.
Does he use his exterior representations as a tool for intimidation?
For him, it instantly establishes that he's the big daddy dog. It's also incredibly audacious. Everything he wears pretty much says to anyone else in the room, "Fuck you." If you are wondering how he feels, it's pretty much an extended middle finger. (Laughs)
In the pilot, we see that he has minions to do his bidding. Are they a physical extension of his being, or are they separate and a potential disappointment to him?
Interestingly enough, both. On a practical level, they are visual representations of his own mind in the physical realm. He operates on exponential growth curves and transistors and microchips so it is insulting for him to have to converse with a human, or the other gods. The only people he can stand to be around is himself. With that said, I think he is perfectly capable with associating some negative emotions at his children. But he can upgrade and change them anytime he wants. They are his only real source of constant "human connection" because they're not, but they're all he's got.
When you describe him that way, Technical Boy sounds like a tragic figure. I'm sure he'd be livid at being called that, but do you think he acknowledges it?
I don't think he's aware that he is. But in a word, perhaps. I think he is a worryingly accurate representation of some aspects of our relationship with technology. The whole crux of the series is about people's beliefs calcifying into the gods. There's all of this energy going in and it's kind of addictive, in the same way that worship can be. It gets a hell of a lot done, but it lacks connection. He doesn't realize he's missing a vital part of what it means to be fulfilled because that's not what gave birth to him. I'm not going to be breaking out the violins [for him], but at the same time he's missing what it is to be fulfilled and that's pain. He's a maelstrom of all this bluster and anger, but also don't see me because I'm missing something. It's a sad truth that he may well never because he's a god.
American Gods premieres on STARZ April 30, 2017. Watch the brand new trailer.