The women of American Gods are about to steal the show. The stars and the creators share why these characters are a force to be reckoned with.
American Gods is an unapologetic masterpiece of television. Any one of the cast members can carry their own series. But when Hypable sat down with the cast and creators at a recent press junket in NYC, every discussion touched on the same topic — the women of American Gods are something to behold.
Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel introduces Laura Moon, Bilquis, Zorya Polunochnayam, Audrey Burton, and Easter. In 2017, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green will introduce you to Emily Browning, Yetide Badaki, Betty Gilpin, Cloris Leachman, and Kristin Chenoweth. Some of these women you’ve seen before. But never like this.
American Gods tells a unique story of America. It is a show of entry points. On the surface, the chapters don’t appear relatable. Somehow they weave together to knit together the numerous stories across the country lacking a voice. Stories of immigration, falls from grace, and the female experience become one.
Expanding the role of women in ‘American Gods’
Co-showrunner and writer Michael Green notes that women of American Gods provide an important contrast. “We were interested in telling woman’s stories as well,” says Green. “The pilot’s going to start with Shadow’s story and that is, necessarily, a male point of view for a large part of the episode. But we also knew we had more episodes to go.”
But the women are not there for sake of balance. Green’s other half, Bryan Fuller, notes that the women stuck out from the beginning. “We started with the book. And we sat down and had a conversation about what do you remember from the first read of the book. Things that stuck with you,” Fuller says. “We were fascinated with the Laura character. But we wanted to do more with her.”
‘I’ve never really gotten to see a woman in a show play the spleen before.’
Enter the incredible Emily Browning. “I think it was obvious straight away that we were in good hands with Bryan and Michael. The first time I met with them I said, ‘If you tell me that she is the heart and soul of the show, I am leaving. That is not what I want.'”
Fuller and Green did not want that either. Laura Moon, wife of Shadow Moon, is not there to ensure the blood, the life-force, of the show merely gets from point A to point B.
Laura filters it through her unique perspective and offers it back to the body richer and stronger. “Bryan and Michael said, ‘If we’re talking about body parts, if anything she’s the spleen.’ Great! I’ve never really gotten to see a woman in a show play the spleen before.”
The spleen may not be as flashy and well-known as the heart, but it is certainly more interesting to watch.
The Goddess of Love
And the women of American Gods are a sight to behold. One glimpse of Gillian Anderson’s all-encompassing Media or Cloris Leachman’s vodka-slugging Zorya and you instantly crave more. Which leads us to a particularly intriguing force that drives American Gods, Yetide Badaki.
“I am a huge geek, anything that is sci-fi or fantasy I’ve probably read it and if not it’s on my list… My first crushes were Data and Captain Picard,” says Badaki upon introducing herself. Already, the room is drawn to her honest candor. However, when she dives into the depths of her character, Bilquis, you can’t help but become captivated.
Bilquis closes out the first chapter of Gaiman’s American Gods, a novel that Badaki read in 2001. Already familiar with the material, Badaki found something not many actors get with a character — time.
“It had been how many years between that initial reaction of ‘something has resonated but I don’t have words for it.’ To now, ‘Okay you are going to go into a room and audition for the goddess of love. What does it mean to you?'”
“Things came to the forefront that I had never fully seen before. The idea of connection and this goddess of love trying to find that in this time and in this age when we are all about emails and alternative truths,” Badaki explains.
Where would a goddess of love turn to in 2017 for worship? Whatever answer you come up with, chances are Bilquis, an ancient god, would see through the emptiness of the answer. Without giving too much away, Bilquis’ entrance is going to incite conversation.
A safe place to lean into their roles
Of the women assembled at the press junket — Browning, Badaki, and Chenoweth — a similar thread ran through their answers — safety. Fuller, Green, and Gaiman made an effort to carve out a space for the female characters to flourish.
‘I think that’s something really fascinating about someone saying, ‘I don’t know what your experience is. Tell me.”
“They made sure absolutely that we were comfortable with everything. And one thing that’s incredibly freeing is that no one, not once ever, made a comment about how we were supposed to look,” says Browning. “There was never any concern that they were going to do a bad job of writing these women.”
And although three men hold the pen that gives these women life, they also have ears to ensure they take in the story. “Bryan Fuller is one of the biggest allies of woman,” notes Badaki. “[He’s] someone that really, truly is interested in the female experience. I think that’s something really fascinating about someone saying, ‘I don’t know what your experience is. Tell me.'”
And they are not patting themselves on the back, either. Browning adds, “It doesn’t seem like there is no part of Bryan and Michael that seems like they are proud of themselves. ‘Oh, we wrote a complicated woman.’ No, they wrote a bunch of people and it’s not a struggle for them to have these interesting female characters… That’s how it should be in my opinion.”
Females are strong as hell
The discussion ultimately led to what it means to be a “strong female character.” Browning nods to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s incredible series Fleabag as the perfect example. “To see a woman who is really flawed and messy and a real human,” Browning says is what we need more of on television.
“I think people misinterpret this idea of when women say, ‘I want to play a strong female character.’ It doesn’t mean a character who kicks butt and has a gun. It can mean that. But it [also] means that we want as much variation as dudes have always had. I want to play a really weak pathetic character. And if it’s written well, then I consider that a strong character,” says Browning.
Kristin Chenoweth, who’s been working with Bryan Fuller for quite some time (see Pushing Daisies) adds that this task is nothing new for the creator. “Bryan is so aware of the strength of women,” Chenoweth says. “I knew that the women would come across strong and be portrayed strong because I know the writer. And I knew that that is what Neil Gaiman and Bryan Fuller and Michael Green wanted.”
Chenoweth recalls a moment, while working with various non-human cast members, that highlights Fuller’s care and attention. “I’ve worked with pigs, horses, sheep, rabbits, bees, cows, and they all are treated so well. Even the bees, I’m like, just kill them, just swat them to death. [Bryan] says, “no, Kristin, no.” That’s how he looks at everybody in the show… Male, female, no matter who they are.”
And if you’ve seen one of Fuller’s shows, you know this is true. “That’s the message I think that [Fuller’s] showing more than just a strong woman. I think he’s sending a message of strength,” Chenoweth adds.
Keep your eye on Bilquis, Media, Easter, Audrey, and Laura Moon. They are going to captivate your mind and spirit as much, if not more, than the rest of the cast. Take away their strength. Embrace their unapologetic actions. Worship them.
American Gods premieres Sunday, April 30 at 9:00 p.m. ET on Starz.