Casting Neil Gaiman's American Gods

Feature Rob McLaughlin
17 Jul 2011 - 12:19

HBO’s all set to produce an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods. But who should appear in it? Rob has a few suggestions…

Warning: the following contains spoilers for events and characters in the novel.

It's recently been announced that Neil Gaiman's odyssey, American Gods, is all ready to become a Tom Hanks-produced six-series television event on HBO.

The first question, on hearing the news, would be how will it be possible to spread a four hundred page book over seventy-two hours' worth of television? (Neil Gaiman told MTV that the "overall plan" for the first season will primarily be the events of the book, with some surprises for those familiar with the novel. But he maintains that Anansi Boys is not a sequel and he merely "borrowed a character", Mr Nancy, he hadn't yet developed for the novel. You can watch the interview below.)

That unknown equation aside, the next question would be how do you go about casting the ensemble company of humans, supernatural characters and earthbound gods with actors and actresses who could commit to the entire run and not cost the earth?

So, trying to take over casting duties, here's a rundown of suggestions as to who should embody the main players in the book...

Shadow - Joe Manganiello

In the books, Shadow is an ex-convict who gets embroiled with the war between the gods of myths and legends and the new 'modern' gods of technology and consumerism. The latter want to wipe out their old counterparts, whom they see as archaic and out of touch with what people worship now.

Shadow is described as being well built, large and athletic, with dark skin and black hair, and it's implied that he is also the Norse hero, Baldur.

While the first choice would be Duane 'The Rock' Johnson, I'm sure that the people's champion couldn't commit to a full six series of a television show, now that he's a major action star. Therefore, it would fall upon the impressive shoulders (my wife's words, not mine) of True Blood's Joe Manganiello, whose performance as werewolf, Alcide, shows he can easily pull off the brooding and heroic Shadow.

Mr Wednesday - Brendan Gleeson

The American incarnation of Norse god, Odin, Mr Wednesday is the manipulator of the whole of events in American Gods. A conman, grifter and dodgy businessman, Wednesday's the person who recruits Shadow into the war against the new gods. He manipulates him into pulling off various schemes, tricks and heists as part of the long con to once again return to power by making people believe in him again.

A gruff lady's man, Mr Wednesday has a presence and authority about him, and while he uses every trick in the book to get what he wants and is shown as a smooth gentleman, he has the proficiently of a veteran warrior or brawler when the need arises.

For this mature character, you would need somebody who can pull off suave, but with a hardened, battle-focused core. And somebody like Brendan Gleeson could play the part of the ruler of Asgard perfectly.

Czernobog-  Michael Ironside

An obscure eastern European god, Czernobog is a warrior god of the night. A companion and old friend of Mr Wednesday, Czernobog is from mostly forgotten gods of the Russian steppes, and is slowly aging away in a dilapidated tenement building with his three sisters, who are also gods.

Stern, bad-tempered and angry, Czernobog is shown within the book to be slowly dying through neglect of belief (and too many cigarettes), but still possesses an iron will, given his circumstances. Adept at using a hammer and still deceptively strong, his confidence in his ‘killing' skill and strength, and power in his arm, even in old age, is demonstrated when he wins a bet with Shadow that he could kill him with one hammer blow to the skull. 

Gruff character actor, Michael Ironside, would be perfect as the warrior god who's past his prime, but still has the inner strength and stoic personality be to be able to ride out into battle just one more time.

Mr Nancy - Morgan Freeman

Mr Nancy is the personification of the Caribbean trickster spider god, Anansi. A fun-filled character from the deep south in the books, he's a storyteller, musician and the life and soul of the party. 

The character is the link to Gaiman's other novel, Anansi Boys, in which Mr Nancy's sons play a major role. And while the part of Fat Charlie and his superstar brother were, I think written, for Gaiman's friend, Lenny Henry, Mr Nancy senior should be played for fun by Morgan Freeman, who can show off his comedic and lighthearted side, and showcase his hidden talents in the blues and soul music (Freeman owns a blues club called Ground Zero in Mississippi). All while wearing the canary yellow suit and gloves of the enigmatic Mr Nancy.

Laura - Melissa George

Laura is Shadow's wife, and while it's hinted at that she's not the nicest person in the world (she cheated on Shadow), she is essential to the plot, which is fascinating, as she dies at the beginning of the book. Not to spoil too much for those of you who haven't read the novel, her demise is only temporary, and her dealings with the ‘black ops' secret service agents and their silent helicopters and secret extradition trains is vitally important to the plot.

Melissa George would be perfect for this role and bring the right mix of vulnerability, love and mean streak to the part.

Mad Sweeney - Robert Carlisle

An alcoholic leprechaun, Sweeney is an errands man for Wednesday. In the book, Sweeney's described as a lanky redheaded fight-loving maniac, whose first order of business is to fight Shadow as a test to see whether he's tough enough to work for Wednesday.

While Carlisle has not got the tall gangly look that the character requires (Stephen Merchant, step forward) he has got the intensity and slightly maniacal attributes needed to bring this character to life, essentially being a magical fairy equivalent to his classic take on Begbie from Trainspotting.

Low-Key Lyesmith - Jackie Earl Haley

The personification of the trickster god, Loki, Low-Key is, at first, the cellmate of Shadow during his time in prison, and is one of the key players on the long con. While his part in the books isn't huge, he's still a major player in the events that unfold.

Somebody like Jackie Earl Haley would bring the much needed malevolence and weaseling menace that a character like Low-Key would require.

Hinzelmann - Mickey Rooney

Hinzelmann has a dark secret (which I won't spoil for those who've not read the books), hidden by his exterior personality of an amiable, if aged, handyman and go-to guy, who lives in the town of Lakeside. The town of Lakeside is an important place, where Shadow spends his time while not on missions with Mr Wednesday.

Hinzelmann needs to be somebody who has the jolly nature of a cross between a favourite uncle and Father Christmas, willing and happy to do anything for you as long as it keeps the peace in the town. For this role, veteran actor Mickey Rooney would be perfect.

Mr Ibis - Mark Gatiss

The custodian of the dead, Mr Ibis has the look and personality of Professor Yaffel from Bagpuss, a dry librarian for whom everything has to be neat, tidy and accounted for.

Shadow meets Ibis and his partner, Mr Jacquel, while on 'work-experience' for Wednesday in Ibis and Jacquel's undertaker establishment. Both are personifications of Egyptian gods of the dead and become unofficial guardians and helpers for Shadow and are there when the character faces his darkest hour.

A character like this needs an actor who can pull off implicit tidiness and near obsessive compulsion to administration, and somebody like Mark Gatiss would suit the part.

Mr Jacquel - Idris Elba

The polar opposite to his clerical partner, Mr Ibis, Jacquel is a undertaker who does all the dirty work in the mortuary business. Intense and down to earth, Jacquel would be perfectly portrayed by Idris Elba, whose recent turn in as Heimdall in Thor and Luther in the BBC show demonstrates he can provide the perfect mix of gritty and the fantastical in his range.

And here's Neil Gaiman himself on plans for the American Gods series so far...

Have casting suggestions of your own? Add them to the comments section below.

Follow Den Of Geek on Twitter right here. And be our Facebook chum here.

Read More About

Sponsored Links