7:45 pm EDT, October 11, 2018

NYCC: ‘American Gods’ Neil Gaiman on the importance of getting this story right

Hypable sat down with Neil Gaiman and the cast of American Gods at NYCC to discuss season 2 and the ongoing joy of seeing this story come to life.

There’s a lot to be said for Americann Gods season 2. So much, in fact, that by the time Neil Gaiman and Ricky Whittle were done speaking with Hypable’s roundtable at NYCC, it felt impossible to top those 11 minutes. But the cast of American Gods did just that, waxing poetic on the power of storytelling, the importance of this work, and the beauty that comes from having eight hours to spin these tales each season.

Take away the actors, the film crew, the writing rooms, and the production budget, and American Gods is still a work to be heralded. Published in 2001, the journey of Neil Gaiman’s words took nearly two decades to reach the screen. But thanks in large part to one man’s answer in response to the question, “How can we make this work?” it exists. That person was Bryan Fuller, who said, “I have no idea.”

That lack of vision at the start led to the critically-acclaimed series’ first season. A spectacle of what this great age of television boasts — beautiful cinematography, painstakingly intricate scenes lifted from the page, and a cast that appears to fully embody and elevate the work almost effortlessly.

Watch the American Gods season 2 trailer!

The pressures and the gift of watching this series come to life is not lost on the cast or Gaiman, and season 2 is going to continue to explore and unpack this narrative with the same care that went into season 1.

Hypable asked Gaiman what the experience of watching Ricky Whittle take Shadow’s journey has opened him up to about the character.

“I’ve been fascinated by watching who and what Shadow is in the book and who and what Shadow has to be in the TV series for the TV series to work,” says Gaiman. “As the author of the book, Shadow was far and away the most frustrating character ever written. Most other characters let you know what they are thinking, they let you know what’s going on…and [Shadow] plays everything, including all of his emotions very close to his chest. He does not act unless the time comes to act and he acts very firmly and defensively.”

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Take a look at any scene from season 1 and you will get the same impression from watching Whittle as Shadow Moon. From playing chess with Czernobog to scrubbing the floors of his former home, there is a void with Shadow that readers and viewers alike cannot seem to fill.

“One of the things I love about Ricky is that his Shadow is just much more a man of action. And that’s one of the things I then wind up pushing the showrunners, pushing the writers on,” Gaiman continues. Even with the writers laying outlines, Gaiman feels the need to push Shadow into action. Get him off the pages and moving. “[Things] can’t just happen to him. So, season 2 for me is the start of Shadow having to do stuff… And it puts him into a place by the end of the season where he is going to have to do a lot more stuff.”

There is a point where the focus needs to be off Shadow in order to create this vast universe we’ve only just begun to see unfold. Take, for example, Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney’s on-screen relationship. “There were things we did in the first season that had results we didn’t really expect. Apparently if you put Laura and Mad Sweeney into a car, great television ensues. Who the fuck knew?” Gaiman says.

“There’s a wonderful, weird chemistry that none of us had planned. It wasn’t in any outline, it wasn’t in anything for season 1, but it’s also that thing of saying, ‘Use that, let’s play that, let’s see where that takes us in season 2.’”

In season 2 it will take us to another episode where viewers will have more time to spend with Mad Sweeney, and as revealed at the NYCC panel, another road trip with him and Laura. “In season 1 the Mad Sweeney episode gave you a pretty small slice of Mad Sweeney. This season’s Mad Sweeney episode gives you 7,000 years,” says Gaiman. There are shots of Mad Sweeney over time in the trailer that give some clues about where that episode will take us.

What else does Neil Gaiman have in store for us in season 2? And why will it take so long? Gaiman and Whittle addressed the on-going controversy being reported about production delays, ousting showrunners, and the apparent chaos behind the scenes.

“We could come back sooner,” Whittle opened. “But do we want to sacrifice the quality for quantity? It’s an incredible show, it’s a monster of a show… so we take our time with it. We’ve got an incredible production [team] and every department we have up there in Toronto…the writers need time to bring [Neil’s] words to life.”

Gaiman followed up by saying, “If you actually wind [the cited article] down to actual facts, what happened was we had a script for the finale that didn’t work. And rather than rush it through…we get the script right and then we shoot it.” Quality over quantity. If Game of Thrones fans can wait two years, so can we!

During the downtime, reshoots were done and the script was rewritten. At the time of NYCC, Ricky Whittle had four more days of shooting 2×08. After which he says, “What I’ve seen and what I’ve been a part of is a phenomenal season to the point where I extended my contract. I don’t know about extending your contracts if you’re not happy. I want to be a part of this for a long, long time.”

And who would want to leave before we get to Lakeside?!

Gaiman closed the argument on this issue with a hammer: “Would you have preferred that we shot a script that wasn’t there?” No. Full stop. No.

And who would want a half-finished journey when we’ve come this far? The series is setting a new standard for serialized television. American Gods is the type of show that sticks with you long after you watch an episode. Our recaps on Hypable lean into that by featuring two writers unpacking the episode through conversation. It’s a testament to the work.

Be sure to check out our American Gods coverage.

“I grew up as a serialized storyteller with Sandman,” Gaiman says. “The lovely thing about telling a story in installments is the story has power…[The audience has] to wait for a bit, they have to think about it. These things become part of them and then a new part comes out and that affects them, and it surprises them, it upsets them, it confirms their theories. That’s all a special thing that only comes with serialized thinking.”

As for what’s to come in season 2, Gaiman teases that the wait will be worth it. “They are going to get things that are going to confirm things they thought, upend things they thought, it’s going to take them into places they never imagined, including a 1930s Vaudeville house run by Wednesday with singing, dancing, and stripping going on. You’re going to get more Wednesday confidence streaks…there is all sorts of weird, glorious things, some of which you’re expecting and some you aren’t. And I think that’s the power of the kind of television we can do today.”

If that doesn’t leave you wanting more and appreciative of the wait, I don’t know what will. Stay tuned for more from our conversations with the American Gods cast!

American Gods season 2 premieres on Starz in 2019.

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