American Gods’ Emily Browning: ‘Fans don’t want to see Shadow and Laura together’

Actors Ricky Whittle and Emily Browning tell us about stunts, SFX and being the ‘Ross and Rachel’ of American Gods…

Warning: contains spoilers for American Gods season one.

Shadow and Laura Moon were a married couple with issues. He was rootless, she was disaffected. He wasn’t living up to his talents, she was bored out of her skull. He went to prison, she had an affair. Now she’s dead and her corpse is losing structural integrity by the second and he’s the bodyguard of the Norse god Odin who ordered a leprechaun to kill her.

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As I said: issues.

Season two of the fantasy series also hasn’t been without its issues, but we’re not here to talk about showrunner exits and production delays. We’re here with actors Ricky Whittle and Emily Browning to talk stunts, superhero moments and why Shadow and Laura are the Ross and Rachel of American Gods

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In season two then, according to Neil Gaiman, things get worse for everybody.

Ricky Whittle: Yeah, what about the characters though? [laughs] Badumtish waaaaay!

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Emily Browning: Things were pretty bad for Laura in the first season. She died. That wasn’t ideal. [Ricky laughs] but yeah, they get bad in different ways this season. I think Laura’s finally starting to realise that maybe Shadow doesn’t want his decaying, smelly…

RW: Cheating.

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EB: …wife back.

RW: Don’t forget cheating!

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EB: But we need to get over that at this point, it’s been a while now.

RW: It still hurts, man. We’ve not talked about it yet. [Clutches heart in mock pain]

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EB: Laura has a new arc this season, she’s still always watching out for Shadow but I think she has some new things to fight for this season as well.

Such as?

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EB: Revenge. She’s getting closer and closer to realising that’s her mission at this point. But yeah, Shadow and Laura are finally together again, in front of each other in the first episode and then very quickly they’re not again!

RW: In true TV style! When fans want something we do the opposite and split them up straight away. We’re Ross and Rachel!

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EB: I don’t think fans really want to see us together!

Is Laura a figure of hate for fans? You said at NYCC that you were worried about being booed when you came on stage?

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RW: What?!

EB: I remember coming out on stage at Comic-Con and feeling that. I think that was just me playing into the fact that a lot of people dislike her. I was very aware of that from the beginning, I knew that she was going to be a divisive character – some people would like her and some people would hate her.

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RW: It’s what you want as an actor, you want to evoke an emotion, a strong emotion, one way or another.

EB: Definitely.

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RW: [To Emily] What you’re very talented at doing along with Pablo [Schreiber, who plays leprechaun Mad Sweeney], you created a character that people love to hate. Laura’s a despicable character, but I don’t think fans hate her. Fans love to hate her.

EB: She’s a despicable person but a really cool character.

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RW: Fans love to watch her and Sweeney go at it because you’ve created this layered character who’s deeply flawed.

EB: Deeply

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RW: But unapologetic about it.

EB: It’s really fun for me. I think that dudes have been able to play those characters for so long.

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RW: Dudes! [laughs]

EB: Dudes. I know, what should I say? I have seen a few responses, just a small minority of people who genuinely are like ‘get Laura out of here, she’s awful’ and it’s always funny to me because they always refer it back to the cheating, which is a really shitty thing to do, but at the same time, Wednesday had her killed and lied to Shadow about it. No-one feels like he’s bad! I’m like, hang on a second.

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Do you get involved with the fan response online? Or the theories? If I said ‘King of America’ to you, Ricky, for instance?

[Ricky gives a sharp intake of breath.]

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RW: I don’t get involved in fan theories. I look into it. Orlando Jones [who plays Mr Nancy aka Anansi, the Spider God] is very into going down spirals online with fans.

EB: He starts all the theories

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RW: He actually starts all the theories [laughs]. He’s incredible and fantastic in this season. [King of America] is obviously a big statement that will come through in the future.

We have a flashback for Shadow in season two, a flashback episode where we see a younger Shadow and why he’s so pure and innocent and able to keep taking these beatings emotionally, spiritually and physically and keep getting up and moving forward. It’s interesting that Shadow is kind of the protagonist of the show and he’s probably the person you know the least amount about, which is kind of fun to play, that mystique. But everyone has secrets on this show and maybe in season two we’re going to find out a few more.

On the subject of beatings…

[Both laugh]

RW: I’m hoping this question’s for you!

It is! Emily, tell us about Laura’s fights scenes. As an actor with a slight frame, is there special choreography involved with her super-strength?

EB: The fight scene that Laura has in season one before she saves Shadow was… she’s meant to have just walked out of her grave and mid-fight, she realises that she has this strength, so we barely choreographed that at all. I just knew when each guy was going to come at me and from which direction, but we wanted it to look really sloppy and like she was strong but had no technique whatsoever, which is exactly how it looks [laughs].

Then second season, we liked the idea of the fact that her and Sweeney, even though they still kind of can’t stand each other, that they actually kind of organically work really well as a team and so we choreographed [episode two’s] train fight scene, which was kind of hilarious. Pablo just walks in there and he’s like a stunt guy and my rehearsal is just mostly me talking about it and being ‘okay, but then where would this be?!’ [both laugh] and them just very slowly running me through it. I come at it like it’s dance choreography.

RW: It is, essentially.

With American Gods’ special effects, Ricky, you did an entertaining skit about green screen filming at NYCC. You must have done a lot more of that in season two? Is it feeling any more natural?

RW: Yeah. As long as you’re just prepared to let go, I think the more you let go the more fun you’ll have. Green screen and blue screen is the one time you really can revert back to your childhood of playing cops and robbers.

EB: You kind of have to.

RW: You do have to because there’s nothing there. The only thing is that you need to ask a lot of questions. With our executive producer Chris Byrne directing the first and last episode of season two, he has a lot of prep and will always have images for you to look at and he’ll say ‘this is what I’m thinking of for the tree or for the buffalo’ or whatever’s coming up in season two and so you have an image of what’s going to be around you, so you take that and then you go back into your inner child and just let it fly.

Is there going to be an explanation for Shadow’s dream buffalo?

RW: There will be! There will be. The buffalo is very important in Shadow’s future. He’s kind of guiding Shadow at the moment. We don’t know why and we don’t know where… But the buffalo is very important and there’s something going on. Shadow’s having these very graphic dreams and as we kind of flash-back, we’ll see that Shadow’s always had visions, shall we say.

Yetide [Badaki] explained about her special effect [in which the goddess Bilquis absorbs people whole through her vagina]…

RW: [laughs] Her special effect! She does that for real. That’s no special effect!

… that the bed she was on had a trapdoor through which the worshippers would drop. What ingenious behind-the-scenes tricks created some of Shadow and Laura’s best effects?

EB: I don’t know if I’m allowed… It’s not spoilery.

RW: It’s not spoilery, it’s behind-the-scenes stuff, which is fine.

EB: It’s kind of spoilery. In episode two. One of the great practical things we had to do is where Laura loses her limbs and Sweeney has to carry her. They put me on this rig, it was like a harness that usually attaches you to something that’s hooked into the roof or the walls, but the harness attached me to Pablo [mimes the straps fitting around his torso, like a baby papoose] and I had to have my legs in blue folded in. I hope that we got behind-the-scenes footage of that because it was hilarious, and in between each take he’d have to spin me around so I was like half sitting on his lap [laughs] attached to him, so we did a lot of practical special effects like that.

RW: What we try and do is make a lot of stuff practical. In season one, you had shots of Laura and Shadow in their beds while Shadow was in prison, so they actually built beds up against the wall. We weren’t lying down flat, we were actually strapped in to beds against the wall to get these funky angles.

Also, when Shadow falls out of Tech Boy’s limo and is beaten up in the field, Shadow is falling through nothingness, and they just had me bouncing on a trampoline and filming it in slow-motion as I kind of fell backwards.

EB: That looked amazing.

When you’re being tortured in that sci-fi contraption on the train in episode two…

RW: Oh my goodness!

Were you channelling a particular memory to evoke the sense of pain?

RW: All I could think of was that those arm restraints…

EB: He hadn’t eaten in three days! That’s exactly what he was channelling!

RW: I had eaten but I hadn’t drank. I was dehydrating myself to look as lean as possible, but those restraints had no need to be… they were solid metal so they were really painful.

EB: He was stuck there for a long time.

RW: I ended up getting a lot of pain in my shoulders for about two weeks after that because I had to pretend to be in all those different positions. That was actually a very, very painful scene to shoot.

Suffering for your art.

RW: Suffering for my art! There was no acting required, it was all real pain! We try and do a lot of stuff to make it as practical as possible. I end up on a lot of winches and pullies and wires in season two. In the very opening episode I have a great fun superhero moment where I kept being winched up and disappearing into the sky and every single time they would lower me down I would always hit my three-point superhero stance [mimes it] because [laughs loudly] I want to be a superhero!

New episodes of American Gods season two arrive weekly on Amazon Prime Video on Mondays.