Author Neil Gaiman paints a vivid scene when he writes in beloved fantasy novel American Gods that the half-demon Bilquis swallows men with her vagina or that new god Media manifests as Lucy Ricardo.
Showrunners Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Logan) are bringing those moments to the screen in the American Gods TV adaptation for Starz, the bold cable network that went full frontal with Spartacus and dumps more blood on Bruce Campbell each week in Ash vs. Evil Dead than three Evil Dead movies combined.
In American Gods, Ricky Whittle plays Shadow Moon, an ex-convict hired as a bodyguard by Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) and subsequently embroiled in a battle between the old gods and the new. The gods all came to America centuries ago, but Wednesday sees a threat in new gods like credit cards, technology, and the media.
Fuller and Green spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about how they would realize some of the book’s more outrageous scenes. Fuller also kept hope alive for more Hannibal and shared some parting thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery.
Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: The book has time before it reveals the gods to Shadow. Are you able to get to the introduction of the gods in the pilot?
Fuller: There was an instinct for us to get some taste of magic into this show sooner rather than later. What we found, the further that we dug into the book, is that the more we pushed off the blatantly supernatural elements that Shadow would perceive, the more time that we had for him to feel like his perception of reality was slipping through his fingers.
RT: But in which episode do you get to the House on the Rocks scene where the gods appear to him?
Fuller: Season 2.
RT: Not until then?
Green: We’ve always taken the approach that everything that there is to love in the book will eventually be in the show. Not always in order and not always as quickly as the impatient might want.
RT: Can you do the sexual Bilquis visual effects on Starz?
Fuller: Well, it hasn’t aired yet, so we hope so, because we shot it that way.
RT: How do you go to visual effects artists with that request?
Fuller: I think you have to back up: How do you go to an actor for that? Finding an actor who could give that scene a dignity and a power that eclipsed the sort of baser sexual elements of it and made it the elegant piece that it was in the novel. I don’t think we would have pulled it off if it weren’t Yetide Badaki. That scene was Yetide’s audition scene, and it’s the strangest audition that I’ve ever sat in.
Green: We had some roles where literally hundreds of people were seen, like Shadow. This character, Bilquis, was more of a self-selecting, and smaller, group of people who were not only comfortable with that type of material, but knew the material wasn’t salacious but was rather a demonstration of power and ancient grace. Every single person we saw deserves some kind of compliment for putting themselves out there and bringing a measure of grace and dignity to it.
RT: The book has very specific song cues like “Iko Iko,” two Beatles songs and Patsy Cline. Are you able to use the songs Gaiman specified?
Green: We have a list from the book the music supervisor keeps and wants to parcel out. I don’t think it’s too big a spoiler to say that “Iko Iko” appears in the pilot in exactly the scene where it’s specified in the book. You couldn’t imagine beginning that scene without it.
Fuller: Brian Reitzell, our composer and music supervisor, has a wide vocabulary with music and musical styles. He picked up lyrics that are referenced without citing a specific song. He hunted them down, found the original song and then did a brand new version of that song. Only people who are hardcore fans of the book will be like, “Oh my God, they realized that those lyrics that were quoted were from a specific song!”
RT: How do you handle the Lucy Ricardo likeness?
Fuller: We don’t use it in any advertising.
Fuller: Yes. She was dressed as Lucy and looked like Lucy and the set looked like their living room. She even said the last line that she says in the scene with a wink. It all kind of went down in a way that we felt on stage that a puzzle piece was snapping into place.
RT: Given that you both make TV, do you disagree that TV is an evil god?
Fuller: Well, it depends on how you define evil. I think we’ve got some new parameters in how evil is defined these days, in this particular political climate. It is a lesser evil certainly than the evil swirling about the world today.
RT: Scripted TV is OK then.
Green: It’s all in how you use it. Media is the medium.
Fuller: Scripted TV is a lesser. Reality TV is the black tar of Satan.
RT: If credit cards and internet were threats to the gods 15 years ago, are social media and reality-TV presidents even newer god-like things you can explore in 2017?
Green: The new gods have worshipers that don’t always know that they’re worshiping. They give them time and attention and resources and money and love, but they don’t feel that they’re on their knees worshiping. The old gods really liked to be worshiped deliberately. There’s something really insidious about some of the demagogues of today who really engender a sort of worship in their followers that may not realize is religious in fervor. It sometimes supplants the religion they think they’re worshiping.
RT: Why did you cast a skinnier guy like Bruce Langley as Technical Boy, the internet god, given his description in the book?
Fuller: It felt like there was an evolution of the technical savvy individual that was portrayed in the novel, which was written 15 years ago. The book sort of describes the quintessential overweight hacker that Donald Trump was shielding the Russians with. Now technology is much more socialized than it was 15 years ago. We see the integration of technology and all these other industries, particularly fashion. So we felt like it’d be an interesting evolution of the character if he was as fashion forward as he was tech savvy.
Green: Which means that you’re constantly chasing something new and reinventing yourself. Technology and being tech savvy now has a swagger that it didn’t have 15 years ago.
RT: We’re getting closer to August 2017, when you can think about the rights to Silence of the Lambs. Would you ever consider continuing Hannibal with different original stories should Silence of the Lambs not work out?
Fuller: Oh yeah. There is a fourth season that had nothing to do with Silence of the Lambs. The most creatively satisfying experience I’ve had thus far working with actors were with Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy on Hannibal. Both of those actors were so insightful with their characters and so helpful to me and helping me understand those characters. I would love to continue writing for those two gentlemen forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever. And ever.
RT: Have you ever had a show that more people want to come back this much — like even more than Pushing Daisies?
Fuller: It seems that everything I’ve ever done has been canceled. Michael and I are both in that boat. We’re both kind of victims of the cancellation gods. I think when a show is canceled, you still have a lingering expression of story for that show that’s never satisfied. Do you still feel pangs of Kings stories kicking around in your belly, Michael?
Green: Oh, of course. When you develop voices, you can imagine them talking at each other, loving and hating each other for years and you don’t get those years. It’s sort of like the stars who are gone too soon. You wanted to see them evolve and you didn’t get the chance. People get angrier and you feel the same way. I want more Hannibal almost more than I want more Kings.
RT: Can Star Trek: Discovery still be the show you described last summer even though you left to focus on American Gods?
Fuller: I am not involved in the production or the post of it so I can only say I hope so.
RT: No one’s guessed the historic Star Trek event you said it’s about yet, have they?
Fuller: I think it has come out though, but I shouldn’t say just in case it hasn’t. I don’t want to be the asshole who’s no longer working on the show giving spoilers.
American Gods will premiere at the SXSW Film Festival on Saturday, March 11 at 11 a.m., then debut April 30 on Starz