Bilquis has a small but memorable role in Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods. Her big scene features her using her nether-regions to swallow a man whole, and this scene was featured in the very first episode of Starz' American Gods TV series. However, that was just the beginning for Bilquis actor Yetide Badaki.
Over the course of Seasons 1 and 2, Badaki has taken the character on a journey that is not a part of the original book. She’s an old goddess who gets the occasional assist from the new gods, and oh yeah, she’s also the Queen of Sheba. Love, in all of its forms, is her domain.
Badaki and Bilquis are back in a big way in Season 3 of American Gods, and SYFY WIRE talked with Badaki about Bilquis’ neutrality, love vs. obsession, and much more. We also asked her about her continually being fancast as Storm in an X-Men reboot — and she's very into the idea.
Bilquis is an old god, she deals with the new gods a lot, but she maintains that she is neutral. Does she really mean that?
I love how the gods are so confused by this concept. That’s part of the reason that Bilquis is such a hard god to pin down. With the other gods, they know the different ways that they can control each other with power with money, and none of these things really matter to Bilquis. She cares more about the whole, and we find her in this season with the walls really coming in and the gods really trying to make her take some kind of stance that benefits them. I think it's pretty exciting, it’ll be pretty exciting for everyone to see the ways in which he reacts to that and reacts to the labels and the boxes that individuals want to put her in.
Is she looking at the bigger picture for everyone, or more in service to herself?
It’s really in the bigger picture for everyone. I mean I think that's one of the great things that runs through the season, the idea of “I” is weak. We see every single character… we see Shadow Moon, we see Laura Moon, Salim, Technical Boy… we see all of these characters go on these journeys of self-discovery, and what we find is that the more that they learn about themselves the more it then adds to the whole. So the more each of them involved themselves, the more they're evolving the bigger story. That's what Bilquis is interested in. The more she learns about herself the more she understands how she fits into the whole and how she can be more part of the tapestry.
One of the thrills of the show is seeing that gods are just as petty and awful as the rest of us, but not necessarily Bilquis. Would you say that in terms of the gods we've met she’s more of what we would hope an actual god would be?
That’s such an interesting question because at the end of the day the gods are really just distillations of things that we believe. They are created by belief and are sustained by it. So all of the things that make us so human, both good and bad, we see reflected back in these gods. You could then say that this journey that we're seeing her go through, maybe reflecting more of the positives, are the things that we hope that we would see not only in God but within ourselves.
She’s so wrapped up in the concept of love which is so intangible and ineffable, that could really in some ways at the heart of why she's the way she is.
She’s a distillation of love, and that's one of the things I love that they did this season is that we're looking at the fact that there are many different parts to love. There are many different facets to love. Love, it’s not any one thing. We start to see that reflected back in her journey, and as you've mentioned we are seeing all of these gods reflect back a very, very human experience. I think it's very interesting that in this season we're speaking to something that is occurring right now, and that's thanks to Neil Gaiman and his wonderful writing, and the team of dedicated passionate writers that were so prescient in their work.
We see Bilquis, and we see this mirrored a couple of times with different individuals, you see them in a space of isolation. I think that is a fascinating journey, especially where we find ourselves right now. As they find that they cannot travel outwards the more they travel inward. The more that they evolve themselves the more they evolve the whole. I think that's something we're starting to be reflected back at us in the present day.
What would Bilquis say is the difference between love and obsession?
She’d say that love serves the whole, obsession serves only the one.
We've seen Bilquis be quite powerful, but we’re wondering if we’ll ever see, for lack of a better way to say it, “Bilquis Unleashed.”
I think that's something that we would all very much like to see, who wouldn’t? We get to see some of it this season. We get to see what I called the SPEC, which is “super-powered empathy conductor.” Something that I would hope and wish that actually existed.
Hopefully, we have many more seasons of the show and more seasons of watching you and the character, but some fans online really love the idea of you playing Storm when the X-Men eventually come back. How do you feel about that?
Oh, just unmitigated joy. Both as a sci-fi geek and as an individual. I just want to see this beautiful, powerful, incredible woman explored on the big screen. I think she comes up a lot, as individual people want to see her solo film, which we haven’t seen yet. For a myriad of reasons, you can see the importance of showcasing all that she is, especially now. So it makes me really happy when people associate my name with Storm. I'm as much of a fan of her as pretty much anyone who mentions the character, so it's always a joyful moment whenever that is brought up.
Season 3 of American Gods comes to STARZ on Jan 10. Sweeter, smoother, stranger.