Amidst the visual effects and the mythological plot and the thematic symbolism, Starz’s American Gods stands out as a unique series in this golden age of television. If you’ve read the book and seen the series, you probably think that you’re well versed in Neil Gaiman’s fictional America that mixes magic and the supernatural with cross-cultural mythology. But, here are nineteen things you might not know about the making of the television series.
It should be familiar to you now, but the image of “godflesh” is what happens when the gods reveal what they are made out of on the show. Notably, you can see it in the first scene with Technical Boy, or in that last scene with Easter. The concept came from early conversations with David Slade, director and executive producer to the show. “The book is based on thoughtform, which means that if you believe it enough you can manifest it into reality, so the gods aren’t necessarily made of the same physical stuff that we are,” showrunner Bryan Fuller said.
“They’re made from little pieces of ideas and hope and faith. So David came up with a way of filming them on a rig that we call the “Sladar Rig”, and it’s essentially a six camera apparatus that films you from a variety of different angles and re-skin you with a variety of different shapes whether they’re mushrooms or chiclets or little cones. It felt like it was a great visual style that science fictionalized the fantasy of the book, and so in those moments, it’s appealing to me as a science fiction fan.”
“It’s a strangely massive version of Snapchat,” co-showrunner Michael Green added.
18. Mr. World’s Metaphors
There isn’t much that we know about Crispin Glover’s illusive Mr. World, but it’s hard to deny that there’s something eery and scary about his presence. This isn’t Glover’s first Neil Gaiman project, before American Gods he worked with Gaiman on Beowulf. Despite Mr. World’s purpose and the conglomerate persona that he embodies, Glover himself couldn’t be more the opposite of his character. He told us something that Fuller and Green told him that helped him in developing the character of Mr. World.
“One of the things they said to me about the character was, ‘We are the world, we are the children.’ And, it sounds funny, and there is something funny about it, but there’s actually a lot to it. It’s part of what I like about the whole thing, it works in metaphors, which I don’t think we’re seeing too much in our corporately funded and distributed entertainment media. Metaphor is really very important for the human psyche. It lets people involve their own thought processes, as opposed to being dictated as to how somebody’s supposed to think. It also leads towards the question of, what is the best being put forth?” — Crispin Glover
Although Glover didn’t explain what his interpretation of the phrase was, it definitely left a strong impression on us about where the character will be going in the future. Do you think he gave anything away about what we’ll be seeing next from Mr. World?
17. Page Numbers
As Shadow and Mr. Wednesday travel across America, we see them stay in various hotel rooms. According to Bryan Fuller, in those particular scenes, production tends to put a significant number on the door as a sort of easter egg. In this case, the numbers that you see on the motel doors coordinate to where the characters are in the story within the book. So if you ever want to read along, those motel door numbers are a good indication of where you should read up until!
16. No Tongue?
While it’s still up in the air what exact relationship Mr. Wednesday has with Easter, we know that he’s had quite a good relationship with Cloris Leachman’s Zorya Vechernyaya. In their tender scene together in which Wednesday and Zorya walk together in the rain, Ian McShane revealed that she is an old goddess that Wednesday loved. He also added, “The funny thing about Cloris is that when we kissed, she said, ‘Is that it? No tongue?’ And I said, ‘We can’t do tongue.’ She’s amazing, she’s hilarious.” On top of it all, Leachman ended up having her 90th birthday on the set of American Gods, according to McShane.
15. Musically Inclined
By now, we should all know about the amazing talent of Brian Reitzell. As the musical composer of American Gods, he hits the nail on the head for every single scene by bringing life and enhancing the tone of the episodes with his compositions and choices. For many of the tracks in the soundtrack, Reitzell features Shirley Manson, the lead singer of the alternative rock band Garbage. According to Bryan Fuller, in “Git Gone,” Manson specifically wrote a song for Laura Moon called “Queen of the Bored.”
Similarly, in the 1970’s Tehran scene with Bilquis, Reitzell and the American Gods group were able to work with both Manson and Debbie Harry, lead singer of the infamous new wave group Blondie, to create a brand new disco song to a Giorgio Moroder inspired track. Harry, touring in Australia at the time, agreed to do the recording while traveling on the road.
14. Double Down
Anyone who picked up American Gods by Neil Gaiman and read it would know that this story doesn’t do well if you hold back. It needs to embrace the weirdness that is at the very soul of the novel in order to tell the complete story. It’s a tale about mythological gods from different cultures battling against new gods like technology and media, you have to kind of go in expecting things to get weird.
But in the first version of the script of the pilot, when Shadow is mugged by Technical Boy, Shadow was just knocked out from behind. David Slade decided to take it one step further, said Bryan Fuller, and developed the idea of a face-hugger device that would anesthetize him at the same time. On top of that, Starz initially hated the look of Technical Boy’s limo, saying it looked too much like a virtual reality at first, but instead of dialing it back, they went further and made it weirder. “We’re going to double down,” said Bryan Fuller, and we are definitely glad he did.
13. This is Day One
For Bruce Langley, who plays Technical Boy, shooting in the limo made for an exciting first day of shooting.
“You get there day one, and they’ve created this monolith of a limo that literally, physically extends telescopically on these wooden and metal rigs with a team of four guys to move it, which was pretty cool to start. So I kind of shuffle in with these little shoe socks on so I don’t get weird marks on my pristine 3-D printed limo, and I sit down at the back. They zoom in this camera on this extendable crane to my right eye, and they’re like, ‘Okay, rolling in 3—’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, this is day one.'” — Bruce Langley
12. A New Type of Television
Although for some writers of adapted television shows and movies might not get to collaborate with their work once it’s been taken to another medium, this was not the case for Neil Gaiman. “He read every outline, he saw every cut, he watched all the dailies for like six months, he said that was his television,” said Michael Green. Green called him a happily accepted sounding board, saying that Gaiman would respond positively and suggest further possibilities.
While we haven’t seen Gaiman pen an episode of his own, he did offer to write one early on, but then his wife had a baby. Perhaps we will see one in season two?
11. More Audrey
If you were a fan of Laura’s standalone episode “Git Gone” and of Betty Gilpin, who plays Audrey, you are definitely not alone. According to Emily Browning, Bryan Fuller is trying to bring her back for more scenes in the future. Browning talked a little about her scene with Gilpin in the bathroom when Audrey finds Laura in her house. “We were not expected to be sexy women,” she said. “That’s me shitting my guts out on the toilet.” Gilpin had outstanding scenes with both Laura and Shadow that mixed sorrow with humor and was also lauded by Browning for her acting.
10. Inner Child
There’s an undeniably large amount of green screen in American Gods. Much of the visual heavy lifting is done by the post-production team in creating the masterpieces we see on our own screens. For some actors, it’s a familiar territory, but for leading man Ricky Whittle, it was his first time. In one particularly green screen heavy scene, in “Come To Jesus,” we see Whittle climbing through and up a mountain of skulls to reach the top where he sees the tree and white buffalo from his visions.
Whittle expressed his excitement in filming the scene, but also how he was able to film it, saying, “You gotta let the inner child out, which is exciting and fun. At the end of the day, we’re only playing cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. We’re playing make-believe for a living, which is a very blessed position to be in.”
9. The Big Bang Theory
While many famous individuals have made a cameo on the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory, one person they did not get was Neil Gaiman. Gaiman said that he got a call from the show asking if he would like to play himself on the show, and had to decline because it was the first day of shooting for American Gods. “And they said, ‘We understand that.’ I went off to Toronto and I watched Ian and Ricky meeting each other on an airplane, and I thought, ‘Okay, this is in good hands,'” the author recounted.
8. 400 Pages of Mad Sweeney
We’re all fans of Mad Sweeney, right? It’s hard to deny the charm in Pablo Schreiber’s Mad Sweeney as he embodies the role of the literal larger-than-life leprechaun. Neil Gaiman was approached by Fuller and Green on extending the Mad Sweeney’s story. Schreiber himself heard talk about a four hundred page backstory written for Mad Sweeney after Gaiman had seen Scheiber embody the character. Gaiman went on to explain:
“They [Fuller and Green] said, ‘He’s getting bigger, his role is getting bigger. Pablo is inhabiting it gloriously and we’re leading him on the screen because we love him. Can you tell us about him?’ And [I said] sure. And I sat down and wrote the 6k year history of Mad Sweeney. This is what he was when he began, this is who he became, this is what he was after that, and this is watching him decay to the point of leprechaun-hood. And they’re like, ‘Oh, this is really good! Could we do an episode of just young Mad Sweeney?'”
And so began the story of “Prayer for Mad Sweeney,” in which we not only learn Mad Sweeney’s origins and how he came to America, but we learn about his ties to Wednesday and learn about his relationship with Laura. Gaiman had more to say about Schreiber and Browning’s performance:
“Pablo, for me, is one of the absolute delights. There are lots of things that are as good as I thought they would be, lots of things that are amazing. There are things like, you know, Emily Browning’s performance as Laura, which if there is any fucking justice in the world she will get serious nominations for that, because nobody’s seen a performance like episode four, as far as I’m concerned, like ever. So, you better nominate her. For me, Pablo, is the lovely, wonderful surprise. It’s that thing where you write the dialogue, and you write the character, and you’re very proud of what you’ve written, but it’s watching Pablo doing the coin trick and delivering the lines. I’m laughing at a joke I wrote 15 years ago, because of the way it’s delivered. It’s amazing.”
7. The (White) Anansi Boys
In the world we’re living in now, diversity is on everyone’s lips. Whether you think it’s a marketing move or a genuine decision to reflect the global audience, it’s a hot button issue. But, there was a time when producers and executives wouldn’t even think to cast people of color and would advocate for whitewashing characters. Thank god we’re starting to move beyond that.
For anyone who is a fan of Neil Gaiman’s, and especially a fan of American Gods, you’ll probably know about the novel he wrote after American Gods called Anansi Boys, which involves Mr. Nancy’s two sons. Obviously, if you were to adapt Anansi Boys you would need to cast two black actors to play the lead, but Gaiman recalls a time when that wasn’t the most obvious answer to a casting question:
“When we began talking with Bryan and Michael, I said, you know one of the things that is sacrosanct was the racial mixture. Many years ago, I got a phone call from a fancy Hollywood director and producer and they were like, ‘We love this book [Anansi Boys], it’s a New York Times best-seller, and we think this plot is amazing. We want to make it into a movie,’ and I’m like, ‘Great!’ ‘We want to offer you a ridiculous amount of money,’ and I’m like ‘Great!’ And they were like, ‘We want to make everybody in it white!’ And I said, ‘What?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, everybody’s gonna be white.’ And I said, ‘But you can’t it’s Anansi and it’s a black god from Africa.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, you don’t get it. Black people don’t go to fantasy movies and white people won’t go see fantasy movies with black characters,’ and I said, ‘Okay, I’m not selling you the book, it’s been great talking to you.’ And that’s where everything ended.”
Yep. White Anansi boys. Thankfully Gaiman rejected the offer and thankfully American Gods has remained loyal to the diversity of novel.
6. The J. K. Rowling Thing
I acknowledge that “The J. K. Rowling Thing” could be in reference to many of the things that Rowling has done in her career, but in this case we’re talking about Gaiman. In creating the TV series, Gaiman advised Fuller and Green on many things, but given that the novel has a sequel in the works, there were certain things that Gaiman had to pinpoint in order for the story to work out in the long run.
“I will do the J.K. Rowling thing, where I will tell you stuff that is happening later, because there are lines of dialogue and there are little things in the first book, which may seem inconsequential, or may seem like irrelevancies, or may seem like someone just said something weird, but they are like the grappling hooks on which the ropes fall [attached to] the next novel. And these characters are going to become important, so you better cast them well, even though they’re apparently tiny, and this is a thing that will be happening. So Bryan and Michael know more than anyone else does about upcoming stuff, the grappling hooks are there for these eight episodes.”
Hmm… So I guess it’s time to start hounding Bryan Fuller and Michael Green for details about the next book?
5. Visual Effects On Hand
Sometimes, you don’t have to visualize a mountain of skulls and just use your pure imagination. Sometimes you get lucky and your visual effects department mocks something up for you the day-of so your imagination can get the boost it needs. Pablo Schreiber remembers one such scene:
“So I had one sequence we were shooting inside on a stage, we were shooting an outdoor sunset scene where we pull the cab to the side of the road, and we’re standing on the side of the road watching a sunset, we’re shooting that inside a sound stage. They had built a sort of road with all this grass and a field. And then, I got out of the cab, looked at the [green screen] sunset, and then walked over and looked at the shot we had just shot and they had all the post-vis, what the background looked like on the green screen, right there that I could see as I was shooting it. It wasn’t always like that, there’s a lot of exterior shots that they did a lot of work on in post that changed,
It wasn’t always like that, there’s a lot of exterior shots that they did a lot of work on in post that changed, there are so many visual effects on this show, it’s a really heavy visual effects show that we couldn’t possibly know what everything was going to look like at all times, but there was a lot of instances where we could see what the shot would look like down the road as we were shooting it.”
The scene he’s talking about is the final scene in “A Murder of Gods” in which Mad Sweeney and Laura stop along the side of the road so that Salim may pray.
Originally set to play Czernobog, a twist of fate landed Ian McShane in the role of Mr. Wednesday. But for McShane, American Gods wasn’t just about adopting a new role but also working with Neil Gaiman, after Coraline, and showrunner Michael Green again.
The two collaborated on the short-lived but deeply loved NBC show Kings, which also starred Susanna Thompson and Sebastian Stan. McShane didn’t hesitate in condemning the network for it, saying, “I’ve worked with [Michael] before on a rather good show, but one of those shows that the networks say, ‘Oh we want to do a cable show,’ and then they don’t know what to do with it. You know, NBC Kings.” As a fierce fan of the poorly handled series, just hearing McShane give a shout out to the show made me happy.
3. The New Technical Boy
The world has changed a lot since 2001. When American Gods the novel came out technology had a different look and feel. Technical Boy looked different and was personified differently. Today, while many subjects of Neil Gaiman’s novel are still painfully relevant, Technical Boy has changed. Bruce Langley, who plays Technical Boy, noted this:
“A lot of people drew that he has changed a lot from his original iteration fifteen years ago, and that’s because our relationship with technology and, indeed, our perception of technology has changed so much over that time. So initially, [there were] connotations with The Matrix; it was the basement dweller. Now we’ve got Silicon Valley, we’ve got Space X, we’ve got these new frontiers. So, it was the new, and the ephemeral, and also the more addictive nature of the internet, the transient nature of that. Instant gratification.”
This new face of technology and the constantly changing and updating face of technology also inspired the new technical boy, as Langley points out:
“Everything is consistently changing, part of the reason why his costume and his hair, his entire look, changes every time you see him is because it’s constantly changing. It’s updating. It’s a new notification. It’s the next new thing, it’s dopamine, dopamine, dopamine.”
2. Oh God, The Bees!
Becoming Easter, for Kristin Chenoweth, was all about figuring out how to embody the Goddess of Spring in a new and innovative way. In “Come To Jesus” we watch Easter juggle being the hostess to a party of Jesuses, negotiate with the new gods, and scheme with the old ones. Chenoweth, who played Easter to picture perfection, talked about not only playing the role but embracing the bumps in the road:
“For me, to become Easter, I had to know what I was going to be wearing. And when I saw the shoes, there were three choices. And there was a pair with butterflies on the heel and I went, ‘Those are them.’ And then I saw the Easter bonnet, which is its own character. And the dress was a pain in my butt, but I’m so glad I wore it, because it’s so flouncy, floral, it’s Spring! And Spring had arrived on my body. And so, the only bummer part about it was Bryan Fuller had me work with horses, pigs, dogs, cows, and now bees.
For some reason, I don’t know what it was, but those bees, they just love me. And I said, ‘Let’s kill them. I just want to kill them.’ And he was like, ‘Kristen, no.’ But of course, there’s a scene where I’m with Gillian Anderson as Media and the bees kept attacking the bonnet, literally, and I [thought], ‘I’m sure they’re not going to use this take right?’ Skip to [when] I watch the episode, and it’s in. And I said, ‘No! Bryan, no!’ And he goes, ‘It’s Easter. It’s the imperfection. She’s fighting her own damn bees.’ I went, ‘You sold me. I’m in.’ I was just glad I didn’t get stung, that would have sucked.”
1. First Neverwhere, Then Book 2
I’ve freaked out over Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere here before, the 2013 BBC Radio 4 adaptation blew me away and I desperately need more. Thankfully, I won’t have to wait long despite Gaiman’s engagement on American Gods. With the season finale ending with the house on the rock, Gaiman suggests, “The way I’ve been talking to Bryan and Michael about it, probably the end of season five is when I’d need to have a new novel out by.” He’s got his eye fixed on a different project at the moment, and that’s the sequel to Neverwhere.
Gaiman cites his work with refugees as the inspiration for the sequel, saying that Neverwhere was a vehicle for him to say political things about homelessness, about being dispossessed, about being cast out, and about not having a home. He added:
“It seems to me like it’s an incredibly good tool for me to go back to right now in a world in which there are more people physically dispossessed now than there have been since the end of World War II. You are seeing a hardening of political hearts and an unwillingness to help politically, which is not doing anybody any good. So, that’s where my head is at right now. And when that’s done, I will probably write a very silly, funny children’s book to clear my palate. And then maybe at that point, dive into American Gods 2.”
Well, I guess we’ll be on the look out after that children’s book surfaces, and we’ll keep an eye out on our televisions for when season two surfaces as well!