The cast and creators of American Gods including Bryan Fuller, Neil Gaiman and Ricky Whittle appeared at San Diego Comic-Con today to give fans a first look at the highly anticipated Starz series.
‘American Gods’ SDCC panel highlights
Starz brought American Gods to San Diego Comic-Con on Friday with a panel comprising of showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, author and executive producer Neil Gaiman, and stars Ricky Whittle (Shadow Moon), Ian McShane (Mr Wednesday), Pablo Schreiber (Mad Sweeney), Yetide Badaki (Bilquis), Bruce Langley (The Technical Boy) as well as a surprise addition from Kristen Chenoweth, who’ll be playing the goddess Easter. The delightful Yvette Nicole Brown was the panel’s host, and between the undying loyalty of Fuller’s fannibals and Gaiman’s presence as a benevolent deity for this Comic-Con congregation this event was one of the most highly anticipated of the weekend. The room was packed to the rafters, with even network executives only able to grab standing-room spots against the walls in order to witness the world’s first look at the long-awaited adaptation of this cult-classic novel.
‘America Will Believe’
The panel began with a first look at our gods on-screen, which you can now watch below. The one-minute-forty trailer opens, as it should, on Shadow in prison doing coin tricks, and discovering his wife Laura has been killed. Soundtracked by a haunting cover of American folk song “In The Pines,” Shadow attends her funeral and then her grave, and has his fateful first encounter with Mr. Wednesday – all incredibly significant moments for fans of the book. There’s also contrasting shots of Mad Sweeney confronting Shadow and Zorya Vechernyaya confronting Wednesday about Shadow’s readiness to become part of their world. Shadow encounters the bone orchard that haunts his dreams, and is visited by his undead wife – we even get to hear her call him Puppy.
The scope is incredibly cinematic – I expect nothing less from Fuller, and I already know I’d love to see every episode of this on a big screen – featuring a gorgeous wide shot of Shadow on a grassy plain and a car driving a long and abandoned road, reminiscent of the novel’s original cover. We got glimpses of old gods and new – Mousa Kraish as the flame-eyed Jinn, Bilquis in the process of receiving her sensual form of worship, Peter Stormare’s Czernobog preparing to use his hammer, the Technical Boy in the back of his limo, and the chilling Crispin Glover as Mr World, and even of a tree which might just be Yggdrasil, the world tree of Norse mythology which plays a significant part in the novel.
In the beginning…
The panel opened up with discussion about the significance of the source material – Gaiman revealed that he wrote the first chapter on the way to Comic-Con in 1999, on a three-day train journey from Chicago, making it quite a special occasion to bring the show to the convention all these years later – and whether this is a project more designed for fans who know the whole story, or newbies who won’t necessarily read the book before watching the show. Naturally, the team wants both factions of people to enjoy the experience, and though showrunner Michael Green recommends that everyone reads the book eventually, “because it’s wonderful,” Gaiman promises surprises even for readers who think there is to know about his book.
A lot of the new material may be focused on characters outside Shadow – as the novel’s story stays with his perspective, we don’t see much of what the gods are doing with themselves outside his encounters, so it looks like beloved single scenes, like Bilquis masquerading as a hooker in order to devour her lovers or the queer, cab-driving Jinn in New York City, may be drawn out into full storylines for those characters, widening the American Gods universe and turning it into an ensemble show.
Happy Easter, everybody!
When asked about what drew them to the project, answers ranged from Whittle’s dreamy “They promised me candy and cuddles,” (he gave a sincere answer praising the caliber of the cast and crew too, don’t worry) to Badaki’s recognition of American Gods as an immigration story, something she relates to, only becoming an American citizen three years ago. Langley describes every single script as “a plate of gold,” and declared that working on the show as “the most fun, full stop.”
Gaiman was very involved in the casting at first, particularly in finding his Shadow. Whittle was apparently put through the wringer, supplying a total of 16 audition tapes to Fuller, Gaiman and co before securing the part. “We made him work for it, and eventually we decided that he actually could do it,” Gaiman teased. When it came to Wednesday, it was a bit of a different story – as simple as Fuller calling Gaiman and saying “What about Ian McShane,” and Gaiman replying “Oh my god yes.” McShane, who’s worked on another Gaiman adaptation Coraline, and with Green on Kings, describes his character as amazing, a role that comes along once in a long while, and that Wednesday doesn’t think of himself as a god. “They’re people getting on with this lives – he’s a small-time but elegant, dressed by GQ grifter, and he employs Shadow as his bodyguard.”
At around this point in the panel, some people in slightly creepy rabbit suits started wandering out from backstage and installing themselves at the sides of the stage. When Brown adorably brought this up – “Mr Fuller, there’s at least two more bunnies in here than I expected…” – Fuller announced that although spring is over, they have a special “Easter egg” – American Gods has cast the goddess Easter, who plays a crucial role in later parts of the novel, and they used their Comic-Con panel to introduce her – the one and only Kristen Chenoweth, the tiny blonde Broadway legend who worked with Fuller on Pushing Daisies. Fuller describes the first time he saw Chenoweth perform – in her last performance as Glinda in Wicked – but this event was the first time that Chenoweth had met some of the cast, and she had the audience in stitches as she played coy with Gaiman and described how excited she was to come “scratch around” in the American Gods playbox. When talking about belief, Chenoweth proudly declared her faith, but admitted to finding the flip side interesting, because despite being a Christian, she relates that Easter is very pissed that Jesus took her holiday!
The old gods and new.
Brown quizzed the cast members about their character insights so far – Schreiber addressed his first delve into fantasy after the heavy realism of his previous roles including Orange is the New Black. “I’m into human behavior at its most outrageous, and really trying to make it incredibly believable at the same time,” he told us, claiming this trait as a factor that links his Pornstache with Mad Sweeney. Badaki was simply asked “How? Some of the scenes – y’all know the scenes. Just how?” What Brown wasn’t saying, but what everyone in the audience knew, is that we’re introduced to the ancient goddess Bilquis through an incident where she – let’s not sugar coat it – eats a man with her vagina. According to Badaki, the star of the scene – the one that does the consuming – is called “Joy,” which appears to be a running joke with the cast, and apparently this scene was her audition, which was very weird. When asked if Technical Boy considers himself a misunderstood hero, Langley frankly declared “He doesn’t give a crap.” This new god considers your perception of him as “cosmically irrelevant,” and much like the ever-changing and upgrading technology we use every day, you never seen the same version twice.
The concept of the old gods – of myth and folklore – and the new ones, things we’ve deified by unknowing worship, like Media – is also relevant to an issue that Fuller wanted to address, the gaping lack of human connection and loss of empathy that the internet, as a world of its own, fosters. “They proliferate a climate of hate, and I think we can all do better,” he challenged, going on to air his worries about the absence of love and absence of tolerance. American Gods will tackle topical themes in an attempt to fight hate – you can expect to see issues like gun control, women’s rights, the misuse of social media, racial politics and more be tackled head on, along with the overlying theme of faith and belief – that everybody believes in something, and that it’s okay to believe in whatever gets you through the day. However, it’s not all grim – Fuller actually promises that the show is funnier than the book, with more dark comedy aspects.
“They are worshiping.”
American Gods is already receiving praise for the simple fact that it didn’t white-wash its cast, particulary Shadow. This factor was crucial for Gaiman in getting the show made – he told us that he went in saying that only thing he was going to be hardline on was the racial makeup of the characters, and was heartened when the response from Starz was basically “yeah, of course, duh.” However, Green believes that it isn’t something the show should get credit for – that rather, it should be the baseline for adaptations.
When taking audience questions, Gaiman pondered over whether, in his world, there’s a god of atheism, since so many people believe in it, which lead to the theory that the new gods don’t see themselves as gods and are probably atheists themselves. This train of thought lead to the concept that human beings will always find a way to engage with something in a worshipful way – most recently, he quipped, with Pokemon Go. McShane revealed that he had no intention of coming back to series television, but the writing convinced him, and we’re told that the special effects, including animated sequences, will blow our minds. Gaiman also assured a fan hoping for a certain scene that “as a general rule if you love it in the book, it will make it on screen,” which means we can look forward to Gillian Anderson as Media as Lucille Ball asking Shadow if he’s ever wanted to see Lucy’s tits.
It’s seeming more and more likely that Gaiman will complete another novel set in the American Gods universe, and mentioned a “Coming to America” scene – the small interludes in the book that introduce various gods – he always wanted to do that may make it into either the show or another book: one of a kitsune in a Japanese internment camp. I wonder if anyone’s told him about Teen Wolf yet, but I’d still want to see Neil’s version. A fan in cosplay was casually greeted with a “hey, Lex,” from The 100 alumni Whittle, and asked which of the cast was familiar with Gaiman before signing onto the project, with Badaki being the biggest fan as a long-time sci fi geek, even quoting one of his inspirational New Year’s Eve wishes to the audience.
On a personal note, this presentation was one of the most incredible and overwhelming experiences I’ve ever had at a Comic-Con. I cried several times during the panel – when the entire room jumped to their feet in a standing ovation for Gaiman as he entered the stage, when director David Slade talked about his relationship with the book and how long he’s wanted to be a part of it, when Fuller despaired over the lack of love in the world, and of course, during the trailer, seeing instantly recognisable moments come to life and preparing for the journey I’ll be going on with these characters.
American Gods is the closest thing to a magnum opus that Gaiman has produced thus far – I’d argue a case for The Sandman and The Ocean at the End of the Lane – and although he’s far from done and more celebrated than ever, there’s something about this title that’s always going to be synonymous with him and with why people love him. The idea of anything tainting such a work – something we’d all have to say “we pretend that didn’t happen” about years down the track, like the movie adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass – is abhorrent, but the idea of it actually working was almost too good to be true. On an even more personal note, I’ve known Gaiman in person for about eight years, and while my idea of Gaiman the person is somewhat removed from Gaiman the cultural phenomenon, it’s hard for me to read some of his books without picking out little personal pieces of him, and American Gods is one of them.
My investment in this adaptation being done right is pretty high, but while Gaiman’s involvement in the project is the ultimate assurance, I actually might have trusted Fuller on this one by himself. I’m glad it didn’t come to that, though. Together, they are a perfect storm – the greatest 21st century showrunner, one I’d hand over literally anything I love to work on, one I know gets me, gets fans, gets caring about things, never condescends, and isn’t scared of anything, one who’s going down on the right side of history, and my most beloved author, a cult figure, a purveyor of dreams, a rockstar of the literary world who transcends genre and medium and age and every other possible factor that could get in the way of storytelling.
Until today, I couldn’t really wrap my head around the fact that this project was real and it was happening. Even with the casting announcements and my familiarity with Fuller’s work, I couldn’t fathom what it was going to look like, how it would feel or sound, what the tone would be – nothing. I did not dare to imagine. And yet here it is, immediately immersive and, dare I say, perfect.
American Gods is set to be an unmissable adventure. All you have to do is believe.