Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods novel will be arriving on our screens next week. Amazon Prime, the UK hosts of the Starz-produced show, held a swanky launch event to kick off the series.
In attendance were Ricky Whittle (who plays the central role of Shadow Moon), Ian McShane (the mysterious Mr Wednesday, who will embark on a hefty adventure with Shadow in the weeks ahead), Emily Browning (Shadow’s wife, Laura), Yetide Badaki (Goddess of Love, Bilquis) and Bruce Langley (Technical Boy, one of the ‘New Gods’ that Bilquis and her ilk aren’t too fond of). Alex Zane asked them all some questions, and the answers he got were pretty interesting.
Here are thirteen things we learned from the chitchat….
Each episode starts with a short film, essentially, and one of them is animated
“Every episode starts with a different ‘Coming to America’ story,” Emily Browning revealed during the Q&A, explaining how the TV series will tackle the unrelated asides that Gaiman interspersed throughout the novel.
“Every single one of those ‘Coming to America’ stories is unbelievable,” Browning teased. “One of them is animated.” We look forward to seeing how that works!
Season 1 is “the first fifth of the book”
Ian McShane estimates that the first 120 pages of American Gods (the book) are covered in the eight episodes of American Gods (the TV show) season 1, while Ricky Whittle says season 1 is roughly “the first fifth of the book.”
Whittle promises “everything that the Neil Gaiman fans love from the book” will be found in the series, as well as a lot of new additions. “They’ve fleshed out characters, they’ve added so much storyline […] there’s so much more. The season finale is not in the book. Brian and Michael [the showrunners] have created this incredible timeline and switched things around, so it’s going to be fresh for everyone.”
Laura’s role has been expanded
Browning said that “Laura is sort of a pivotal role in the book, in the sense that she’s the reason that Shadow can go on this journey in the first place, but you don’t really get to see much of what is going on with her.”
“In the book she just kind of came in and out briefly and [we] didn’t get to really learn about her history,” she added. “But in episode 4 of this season we actually go back to meet Laura before she meets Shadow. And we get to learn about her, to know her story.”
“And then we sort of see the whole story that we’ve seen so far from her point of view, which is really cool.” According to Browning, Bryan Fuller said that the book, despite its brilliance, is “kind of a sausage party.” He wanted to “make the female roles more interesting.”
Yetide Badaki is huge Gaiman fan
“I’m huge sci-fi, fantasy geek,” says Yeitde Badaki, who plays love goddess Bilquis in the show. “So, I actually think when Neil first met me he thought I was real weirdo. All I could do was shake his hand and then scurry away.”
“I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman’s for a while,” Badaki explained. “The book came out in 2001 and I remember reading that story, and having this reaction of yeahhhh! And not quite being able to place what that was. I’ve just felt this really strong reaction to it. I was excited by that.”
“I felt this empowerment from the get go, and it’s interesting after I was cast all these women were reaching out to me going yeahhhh! And it really called to me.”
Emily Browning was wary of wife roles
Browning relayed this anecdote about going in for the role of Shadow Moon’s wife: “I went for a meeting with Michael and Bryan [the showrunners], and I said to them, ‘you know, I’ve done so many meetings to play the wife character. And if you guys tell me that I’m the heart and the soul of the show, I’m going to kill you. I can’t hear that again.’
There’s so many times that, you’re in a meeting and it’s like, ‘well, you’re the wife, and it’s kind of a small role, but you’re really the heart and soul of the show.’ And they said to me, ‘no no no, if anything, you’re more like the spleen.’ Fantastic, I’m in.”
Browning then read the first scripts and “fell in love” with the character of Laura Moon. “She’s very difficult, she’s not automatically likeable. She’s very crass and abrasive,” she explained. “I’ve never read a character like this, so it was kind of an easy sell.” Just like a spleen…
Technical Boy has new hairdo in every episode
“I feel fantastic about the look, and you haven’t seen anything yet,” said Technical Boy actor Bruce Langley, when Alex Zane asked about his twisted quiff from episode one. “He is like social media, constantly updating, so every time you see him – completely new look, and completely new hair.”
“In terms of what he represents, he’s one of the younger gods. And the whole point is we’re worshipping him without realising it,” Mr Langley added.
Bruce Langley was doing kids’ parties before American Gods came along
Before being cast in an important role in a huge TV show, Bruce Langley’s life was very different. “I was doing kid’s parties at weekends,” he revealed. His repertoire included “dressing up as a Jedi… suitcase full of loo roll, so I could be a mummy… lightsabers and stuff.”
Ricky Whittle first heard about Shadow Moon through social media
Speaking of social media and technology and stuff, Ricky Whittle hadn’t heard of Shadow Moon until he popped up on his online newsfeed. “It started with a search, asking fans on social media, who do you want to play Shadow? And they started hash-tagging Ricky Whittle, all of a sudden it popped up on my timeline, and I was like ‘what is this? Okay, I’ll have a look. Okay, great, I like the character. Oh, this sounds crazy.’
So I reached out to my rep, my agent. He spoke to casting and they said, ‘yeah, we’d love to see him.’ Awesome!”
Whittle ended filming sixteen tapes as part of an audition process that lasted five months.
“It was like American Idol, I felt like I was in X-Factor,” he recalled. “Every week was singing a different tune: let’s do a happy scene, a sad scene, a depressed scene, a Wednesday scene, a Laura scene, a Tech Boy scene. Literally every week I was running the gamut […] they wanted to know that whoever’s playing Shadow can deal with the emotional rollercoaster that he’s about to go on.”
Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle bonded over football
“We’re both from Manchester, and we’re both Manchester United fans,” explained Ian McShane, when Alex Zane asked about the source of his on-screen chemistry with Mr Whittle.
Whittle himself then chimed in: “It was great, one of the first times we met, I was in the office with [pilot director] David Slade and [showrunners] Michael and Bryan, and I think we left them quiet for about 20, 30 minutes while we talked transfers; who we’d buy, who we’d sell.”
An what would Ian McShane do if he was a god for a day? “Banish Manchester City from the Premier League.”
The showrunners compliment each other, and they’re perfectionists
The mighty McShane got talking abut his showrunners at one point, and how their writing styles differ. Michael Green is “kind of oblique” while Bryan Fuller is “more fluid.” McShane says you “can always tell the difference” when you’re reading their work.
McShane also hastened to add that Fuller and Green “make a great match. And the show is a great match for these two”, because it “takes off in different directions” all the time.
McShane also revealed that Fuller and Green insisted that the cast and crew reassemble to reshoot one important scene from the pilot. “Jack’s crocodile bar wasn’t right. And they’re perfectionists, Bryan and Michael, and we went back and did it again.” Jokingly, he added, “As an actor, you’re pissed off”, when you’re called in to shoot the same thing again. But it paid off here.
Pablo Schreiber got injured on set
“Ricky sent Pablo to hospital,” was a sentence I wasn’t expecting to hear at this Q&A. But hear it I did. That’s how Browning described an on-set accident that occurred while Ricky Whittle and Pablo Schreiber (who plays the 6’5’’ leprechaun Mad Sweeny) were filming a fight scene.
“So… in that fight… there’s several head-butts,” Whittle explained. “He [Pablo Schreiber] mistimed one of them […]Caught me square on the forehead, and hit the floor.”
Whittle continued describing the incident: “Literally, he came up, and his head was pouring with blood. He had burst his forehead wide open. Now, I got this from my mum – thank you, mum – my forehead was solid, not a scratch. Nothing.”
Schreiber, however, went “to the hospital, he got his head glued, and he came back and we finished the rest of the scene.”
“When I’m hitting him at the end,” Whittle said in closing, “all that blood around his face and his mouth is makeup, but you’ll notice a slight graze on the top of his forehead… that was me.”
Everyone has a different favourite bit from the book
Okay, I haven’t read American Gods, so I have no idea what this next paragraph means. But a journalist asked the cast for their favourite moments from the book and I thought you, dear reader, would like to know.
Browning’s favourite is ‘the Essie segment.’ Langley loves the ‘Coming to America’ stories. Badaki is fan of ‘The house on the rock’. Whittle cites ‘all the lakeside stuff’ as a personal highlight. McShane is admant that his favourite part “hasn’t been written yet.”
Ricky Whittle is quite defensive about Hollyoaks
Another journalist asked Whittle about his transition from soap star on Hollyoaks to the lead in American Gods. He didn’t take it very well. “I will fight you on that,” he said, which I’m sure you’ll agree qualifies as not taking it very well.
Instead of actually fighting the journalist (although we all know his head can take a blow or two) Whittle offered this statement: “I’ve got some incredible friends from Hollyoaks. Natalie Emmanuel, Game Of Thrones and the Fast [And Furious] films. Barry Sloane just did one of my favourite shows this year, Six. There’s all these incredible actors that came from Hollyoaks, and I’m very proud I had that education.”
“The show was pretty much intense,” He added. “I went from happy nice police officer to drug dealer to stealing drugs for my little sister, got married twice, died on my wedding day.” Alex Zane said it sounded like an American Gods episode. I don’t see the comparison myself, but we all had a good old laugh.
American Gods arrives on Starz, in the USA, on Sunday April 30th. Here in the UK, episode 1 will arrive on Amazon Prime on Monday May 1st.