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American Gods' Yetide Badaki and Orlando Jones on 'House on the Rock''s new Bilquis
It's been a while, but American Gods Season 2 is here and picks right up where the narrative left off in the Season 1 finale, with the Old Gods circling up for a meeting at the famed oddity landmark, "House on the Rock." It's a packed first episode back, so SYFY WIRE sat down with consulting producer Orlando Jones (Mr. Nancy) and Yetide Badaki (Bilquis) about some of the big moments for their characters, and others, that set up what's to come this season.
Orlando, as a returning cast member and huge fan of Neil Gaiman's book, you were folded into the creative team this season, redrafting episodes. What did you help adjust in the narrative?
Orlando Jones: Frankly, my first job was writing and producing television. I spent the first five years of my career doing this, so I know it well. But I tended to stay out of the process [in Season 2], and then once we are at the point where it needed to be realized and the people who are realizing are discussing the challenges of going about it that way, that's usually my role, particularly as a consultant producer. My job is to step into that role and say, "Okay, here's how we make that happen. Here's what the book is, here's the mythology, and here's how we stay true to it. Here's where the character was, and here's what the character is, and here's where the character is going, so now let's manifest that in a way that makes sense."
We only met Mr. Nancy briefly in Season 1. Was getting him into the narrative more a priority?
Jones: It's, for me, I think not so much about Nancy to me, particularly, as much as it is about the mythology of what the novel is, and I wanna see these things come to life, so for me, I think the focus is on "How do the [gods] actually manifest themselves?" and "How does that happen amongst the characters?" And I guess, most importantly, we ended Season 1 with "Get Yourself a Queen." And here we are now, with Wednesday on his way to get Easter, but who did Nancy go get? And what Queen was Nancy referring to exactly? And what part of the war is a victorious to him and why? What is he really trying to accomplish? Why this war? Why is he helping Odin?
Yetide, that was pretty rude of Wednesday not to invite Bilquis to the party, but I loved that she showed up anyway.
Yetide Badaki: Isn't that what women go through all the time? We are not invited to the table and we have to bring our own folding chair, right? (Laughs)
Season 1 was about origin stories, and Bilquis was mostly in an independent narrative. In the premiere, she is woven more into the narrative, and interacting now with her fellow gods.
Badaki: Yes, and you'll actually get to see it happen in real time. Even in that first episode, as these gods come together and sniff each other out, [seeing that] this god does know this one a little bit more, and this one is still wondering about another. You get to see us really start to fortify those bonds that in previous times they hadn't really spent much time on.
Jones: And I went into this season going, "I need Bilquis to show up at the house more often. She needs to claim her space. She needs to not ask for permission to be there, but then have a voice there, have a seminal place in the center of this as the Goddess of Love, who is using her power to try and create a balance to these unequal sides. That is power in agency, right? It's not just her absorbing somebody every week so that we have an excuse to talk about her va-jay-jay. (Laughs)
What was it like shooting the sequence with Shadow in Wednesday's mind? Obviously so much of that was done with green screen, but what was it like for you, with all green screen and the costuming?
Badaki: We did go out to a beach that was pebbly, and I had some very high heels on. The interesting thing is for some reason Bilquis can move through anything, with Yetidi, on the other hand, as soon as you yell "Cut," I'm falling all over the place. (Laughs) You know, Ricky (Whittle) had to hold my hand, then they say "Action" and Bilquis is gliding through.
She looks very different in that sequence. Is that a by-product of her changing?
Badaki: She's still … I mean, we do talk about the immigrant story. I remember going through this phase myself, an assimilation phase, where I'm talking about my experience where it's very important to fit in. You can see that her hair is straighter. Even the tonality of her voice is different, and I thought it was also interesting to play with that, because we are also in Wednesday's mind at that moment. So, even though we are going back to pure forms, it's still through the filter of his mind. So even her gowns and all that, they are more a part of original Bilquis in Wednesday's mind. But getting to play with that and saying, "What do I sound like now, because I'm in his mind, but in a purer form, but still reaching back to my roots?" Things like that really allowed me to play.
Jones: I think that the show did itself a real service in getting [the gods] to that destination. I think the idea and concept of going into Odin's mind and seeing people in War God form and little things you learn along the way, especially that if you were in Odin's mind that it would feel different and smell different. For me, getting to learn about the world that these individual characters come from is what I was most excited about. I think we definitely made moves back towards the book, but we also made moves further towards the characters, which is not necessarily the book.
Mr. Nancy is also in this episode far more than we saw him in Season 1. He's still enigmatic but now engaged in the narrative. What was it like fleshing him out more?
Jones: He's a very specific character. He talks a very specific way. As Neil created him, he's definitely a showman. There is sorta a flare to him, so it's always tricky when you're playing somebody like that, and I think even trickier for the writers to write something like that, because in this show you have to write like they are the lead, right? They're gods who would never shrink to a secondary position, so it was always a challenge to do that. But I think we've pulled that off, and that is super difficult. But for me, it was also incredibly important, because I think the power of how people met Mr. Nancy is that he wasn't apologizing for the circumstances that have often needed to be put in a polite manner so that people don't feel uncomfortable.
We get teased seeing Salim (Omid Abtahi) and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish) reunite in this episode too. How does that play out?
Jones: In exploring Salim and the Jinn, it's about keeping that relationship alive, but also have it have a complication that wasn't centered around the love that they shared, right? Because that's not sex, exactly. That's love, and so for [the writers] it was like, let's slow that down. Give them somewhere to go. Plus, Salim's so unequivocally American, right? He's in this isolated world where in the midst of the hell that America was for him, he found his beacon of light. From a guy who's been trapped in an amulet around a War God's neck for a thousand years, who has no connection to what he's talking about, none whatsoever, It's usually, "I set you free. Goodbye." So, playing with that dynamic in a relationship, that isn't about their sexuality, what does that look like afterwards? And what gift do you get, or not get?
American Gods Season 2 airs Sunday nights on Starz.