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Neil Gaiman and the American Gods cast hold that 'it takes a while to get good things made' at the TCAs
By the grace of deities both young and old, American Gods is close to returning to Starz for Season 2. The televised adaptation of Neil Gaiman's classic novel has hit some bumps along the way, but as Gaiman said at the 2019 TCAs, "it takes a while to get good things made."
That's not all that Gaiman and the cast had to offer at their panel for the show. SYFY Wire was there, and we have you covered on everything from deviations from the book, casting changes, and filming at the actual House on the Rock. The panel included Gaiman, Ricky Whittle (Shadow Moon), Ian McShane (Mr. Wednesday), Emily Browning (Laura Moon), Pablo Schreiber (Mad Sweeney), Yetide Bedaki (Bilquis), and Orlando Jones (Mr. Nancy).
Let's get "sweeter, smoother, stranger."
On differences from Season 1:
McShane, who serves as an executive producer on Season 2, said that he thinks that the new season is a "great way back to the book," which he thought they got away from a little in Season 1. "We needed to get back to Shadow and Laura," he said. "I think Season 2 does that. Gaiman wrote a great blueprint that can go wherever it goes so long as you stay true to the spirit. It’s not Harry Potter or Marvel." He mentions that he read the book again recently and was very moved by it, but also realized that it is Shadow's story.
For Gaiman, it still feels like the same show. "I was on the show before Bryan [Fuller] and Michael [Green], I got to watch them leave and then Jesse Alexander come on for Season 2," he said. "Season 2 feels like the same show from Season 1. Partially due to amazing actors, and a lot of the people [behind the scenes] did not change, like second unit director Chris Burns. It looks and feels like American Gods."
On casting and character changes:
Gaiman talked about a lot of new characters that will be popping up, including New Media. As he said, "While the Old Gods feel timeless and timely, the New Gods felt dated. We had to update ‘99 Technical Boy to now. He’s no longer a fat kid in his basement proud of ordering a pizza on the internet. In terms of New Media taking over from Season 1's Media (Gillian Anderson), McShane pointed out that they didn't lose Anderson or Kristin Chenoweth (Easter). "They were always guests," he said.
All might not be lost in terms of Easter — Gaiman said, "Somewhere up the line, we meet Easter again. If it’s Kristin, we’ll see. We yanked her early for Season 1. We’ll work it out. There was no plan for Easter." He adds, "For Media, we were trying to look at New Media. Media as Gillian was glorious, but it didn’t feel relevant to anyone under 25 who is interested in New Media. It’s beautiful but already feels like something that is being overtaken."
In terms of a storyline that does not appear in the book at all, Gaiman referred to Mad and Laura going to New Orleans in search of immortality, and added that Shadow and Laura's story will go in "interesting directions." He also said that we'll meet "a previous incarnation of Technical Boy, who was the Telephone Boy, who was the Telegraph Boy."
On the expansion of Laura and Bilquis:
Bedaki said that Season 1 was primarily about belief for Bilquis, and that Season 2 is about remembering. "In a show like American Gods, that is so topical because it comes from the mind of a genius, we get to play with things that are unfortunately still prevalent," she said. "For Bilquis, who was trying to survive in Season 1, she’s now going to thrive. We get to explore the ideas of agency and how she looks back into her-story to confront new elements, and see why Old Gods are old for a reason."
In terms of Laura, Browning said that much of her journey in Season 1 was being reunited with Shadow. "I think it was clear she didn’t have much of a plan beyond that," she said. "It was just blind rage. She realized he was her North Star, and she realized that she wasted her time when she was alive." She adds that Season 2 starts 30 minutes after Season 1, "so she has Shadow, and realizes now that maybe she’s not sure if that’s what she wants. He's grown a lot, and he’s not her puppy anymore. I think it’s about finding new things to fight for."
On potential deviations from the book:
The show deviates, according to McShane, "with the invented, more dominant stories of Laura, Sweeney, and Bilquis." He adds that, "if you read the book, when one door closes, another opens. Nothing is as it seems. All the characters believe."
He shares that Wednesday and Laura will have a story in Episode 3 of this new season, where he takes her to Cairo, IL, "because she's moldy."
Gaiman said that they get to tell Mad Sweeney’s story this season, which will take place in Episode 7. "It’s the last 6,000 years of his life," he said. "It’s not easy being the tallest leprechaun in Ireland. It was wonderful to get involved with that story. I had a lot of backstory from the book I didn’t get to tell, and now we do. It’s not in the book, but I think people who love the book will enjoy it."
Schreiber added to this, and said that "it advances the season, but we learn a ton about him." In terms of the Laura/Mad Sweeney dynamic of Season 1 ("more tall guy, short girl, two a**holes ripping each apart constantly"), he said, "it’s more of that." He was with Browning almost every day of filming, which made his season. "What held everything together for me, regardless of changes, is this cast came together and did outstanding work."
Mr. Nancy sounds like he is also in for quite an interesting story diversion. Jones said, "Meeting Nancy on a slave ship was an interesting beginning. For him, his worshippers are dying, and he’s looking for a way to change that. He wants to get himself a queen, and that’s Bilquis." He went on to say, "You can’t have a war without a queen, so that aspect is about getting her to his side. It’s also romantic. He’s from the Ashanti people of Ghana. It’s a matriarchy, he can’t be thinking about how significant this queen is, and that’s his drive this season."
On Shadow being clueless:
"It’s a great gift with this character," Whittle said. "I know his journey, so in Season 1 I created this void. He lost everything. To latch onto his love, Laura, and lose her leaves him vulnerable to Wednesday. He thought he was just a pervy old man, but Shadow did not believe this was a god sat beside him. To find out he is a god, he’s been awoken into a world. He needs to understand his place in it."
He continued to talk about the stakes of this and how he belongs in the puzzle of it all. "We have a lot more layers to add to Shadow, which creates friction more with Wednesday. It will change, as it will with other characters this season. It’s building positive and negative arcs with the characters."
Will Gaiman appear as a god at some point?
"I don’t have to act in The Simpsons or The Big Bang Theory," Gaiman said. "I say what they have written as me and get away with it. One thing I am certain that I am not, I watch these people and I’m not an actor. I’m a cheerful actor. Now I’m a retired showrunner of Good Omens, and I'm looking forward to writing in my retirement."
On the epic shoot at the House on the Rock:
One of the most memorable sequences in the book happens at a place called the House on the Rock, a real-life tourist location. It is here that Mr. Wednesday convenes the old gods, and it's no accident that he chooses one of the strangest locations in America to do it in.
Bedaki will apparently be present during these scenes (she's not present in the book), because she said, "House on the Rock was a wild experience. You stop seeing the words and step into the world of the book." Jones added, "When you read Neil’s description, you think it can’t get weirder," to which Gaiman responded, "I had to un-weird it to be credible."
To get a sense of what this ultimate house of kitsch is like, Jones said, "There is a full-size whale being attacked by a squid next to a naval ship, and that’s just one room." Whittle was similarly impressed, saying, "I still don’t think we did it justice. It’s incredible."
American Gods premieres on Starz for the sheer, bloody delight of it on Sunday, March 10. Believe.