I don’t think any of us will be forgetting Mr. Nancy’s iconic opening sequence in “The Secret of Spoons” from episode two of this season, but for those of you who just can’t get enough of Mr. Nancy, you’ll be pleased to hear that he will be making a reappearance tonight on the season finale of American Gods.
Anansi, played by the energetic and exuberant Orlando Jones, is more than just an agent of chaos in this world, but embodies one of Neil Gaiman’s most notable characters. Not only a character in American Gods, Mr. Nancy also features as a catalyst of sorts in the in-universe novel Anansi Boys published in 2005 which follows the story of Mr. Nancy’s two sons.
But while we will have to wait a little more time for Anansi Boys to be reinvented on our television screens, we only need to wait a few more hours to see Mr. Nancy back, and this time with Shadow and Mr. Wednesday. We caught up with Jones to talk about his character and the conception of the infamous African trickster god:
“When I first came in touch with him, it was [through] children’s stories. Anansi was a spider who went to the sky god and asked for all the stories in the world. The sky god said, ‘Look, I’m not giving you all the stories in the world. And if I were to give you all the stories in the world, what would the price be?’ And he said like, ‘Go capture the leopard, go capture the dolphin, and go capture the baboon. And if you bring those three back, then I’ll give you all the stories in the world.’ Like, how is a spider going to capture a baboon? Anansi goes and tells three different tales to those three different creatures to trick them and trap them and he takes them back to the sky god and gets all the stories and spreads them to the corners of the world. That’s how I met this character. When I saw the Neil Gaiman American Gods interpretation of him, I was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s the same character.’ He’s still a trickster, he’s still in the middle of his con. For me, that’s where the trickster god is, you don’t know where he stands.”
Indeed, tricksters are well known symbols and spirits of chaos. And we see that in his first introduction on that slave ship, as both an advocate for the good and the bad. While there is definitely a moral grey for most of the characters on American Gods, tricksters like Anansi thrive in the neutral. However, if his position as an old god is threatened, how far will he go to gain his power back? Will he pick a side in the war of the gods?
Jones exudes many of the more jovial aspects of Mr. Nancy, so much so that he seems the most obvious pick for the cast of the character. However, he, along with all of his castmates, also did not shy away from the serious aspects and themes of a show like American Gods. A show grounded in the idea of immigration and diversity and oppression, Jones commented on the topical nature of the series while referencing his own personal experiences.
“I’m a black kid from the southern part of the United States living life where you were unequivocally a second class citizen, often treated as if you’re subhuman. It makes you question the ideals that the country you live in claims to purport. There’s always a difficult balance of separating the people who really do believe in [treating people like] that, the people of all colors who use whatever tools [they have] at their disposal to strip you of your human rights. So, to be thought of in that capacity throughout most of my life, to be having diversity conversations still going on in this industry that I’ve been in for a long time, I think certainly I’ve always thought of that. But I also think, it’s still the most amazing country in the world. So, yes, it has an amazingly, hideously large military. Yes, it has all of its problems, it certainly does. But it is also my country.”
Despite the separation that can be the result of differences of culture, sexuality, religion, or race, there are still things in this world that keep us together. In particular, Jones talked about his love of fandom, saying, “[It’s] the idea that there are all these different people from all these different walks of life that have all these different political views, [but] nobody’s fighting with one another, it’s all the celebration of the thing you love, and accommodating each other. Though we understand that we’re different, somehow in that universe we understand that the other person isn’t the enemy.”
Jones has a lot of experience being active in fandom from his time on Sleepy Hollow and interacting with his fans and fans of the show on Twitter, as well as within other fandoms.
Jones also commented on his first reading of Mr. Nancy’s monologue on the slave ship.
“I joked when I first read it, I was like, ‘Man, I didn’t know these guys were Black Panthers! Like, who are these white dudes? These white dudes are mad at white people!’ It’s a brutally honest accounting of the historical elements that come into play.”
We’re eager to hear about Anansi’s involvement in any part of the plot in American Gods, and excited to see him interact with Wednesday and Shadow, but also potentially with many of the other gods. With the finale around the corner, it’s up in the air about how active of a role he’ll be playing in the episode, but hey, there’s always season two!
The American Gods season one finale, “Come To Jesus”, airs tonight on STARZ.