During the premiere screening of “American Gods” at SXSW, the audience was largely wrapped in stunned silence. But given the enthusiasm paid to the cast and creators in a post-show panel discussion, the new Starz series is off to a good start.
“It’s definitely a different show than we set out to make because the political climate in America shat its pants,” Fuller said to open the Q&A. “We are now telling immigration stories in a climate that vilifies immigrants.”
The cast on hand well-represented the series’ onscreen diversity. In addition to Fuller and co-showrunner Michael Green, Betty Gilpin, Jonathan Tucker, Yetide Badaki, Orlando Jones, Bruce Langley, Crispin Glover, Pablo Schreiber, Emily Browning, Ian McShane, and Ricky Whittle were all on hand to discuss the premiere.
“One of the things that was exciting for us in casting the show was that so much of the book is based in other cultures and other ethnicities,” Fuller said. “It gave us the opportunity not to be color-blind but to be very color-focused.”
Fuller went on to say that Neil Gaiman, the book’s author and credited contributor on the series, wouldn’t let them cast actors whose ethnicity didn’t match up with the characters he created.
“It was great working with Neil because he was adamant every character cast had to match the ethnicity of the book,” Fuller said.
Gaiman opened the screening with a video message to the fans, giving his unbridled enthusiasm and approval to Fuller and Green’s adaptation of his work.
“I’m delighted by it,” Gaiman said. “I’m impressed.”
Whittle, the lead of the show, is an English actor who said the material was “easy to relate to, as an immigrant myself.”
“It’s an immigration story,” said the actor playing Shadow Moon, an ex-con hired for a mysterious job by Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday. “In Shadow, he’s this kind of broken empty vessel when we first meet him. He’s a shadow of his former self. He has to get his mojo back, and he’s awoken by Mr. Wednesday.”
The series follows Shadow Moon who, after being released from prison, becomes an enforcer for a man calling himself Mr. Wednesday. But not all is as it seems. Though the premiere episode doesn’t get too deep into the mythical elements at play, we know there is a battle between gods happening here. It’s the strength of people’s belief that give the gods strength, but these days people are worshipping new gods: technology, celebrity, and media, among other things. And the old gods aren’t too happy.
“The first task of adapting was to make the show we wanted to see as an audience member,” Fuller said. “We were both big fans of the book, so we wanted to put on screen what we saw in our heads when we read it.”
While much of the book’s source material is well-preserved by the series, Fuller and co-showrunner Michael Green have made a few adjustments, including expanding the roles of female characters from the book.
Fuller said they were “very excited” to build upon the women of the book, noting how the relationship between Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday turned into “a bit of a sausage party.” Laura (Moon’s wife), Bilquis (a god unveiled in an intense sex scene that garnered applause from the cast), and Audrey (the wife of Moon’s best friend) are just a few female characters seeing more screentime in the show.
Browning, who plays Laura, noted how her character’s complexity was hard to define.
“It’s really hard for me to say I’m playing a character who worships my husband — that’s like my nightmare,” she said, before explaining that Laura worships love and comes to serve as Shadow’s “slightly awful guardian angel.”
“Nothing is as it seems ever in this show,” McShane said. “It’s reveal, reveal, reveal, reveal, and still enjoyable as you’re watching it. […] When I read the book, I thought it was the perfect blueprint for a TV show.”
And, echoing the thoughts of fans, who burst into applause at the statement, McShane added: “I just had a fucking good time.”
“American Gods” premieres Sunday, April 30 at 9 p.m. on Starz.
IndieWire will be reporting live from Austin throughout the 2017 SXSW Festival. Keep checking in for updates, and take a look at all our reviews, interviews, and panel coverage here.