Orlando Jones and I weren’t at a church, but we were still presented with the opportunity to worship.
The “American Gods” star and I were wandering around a mixed-media exhibit by the fascinating artist Derrick Adams, and we had just come across a tucked away nook containing a (per the exhibit description) “participatory space where visitors can reenact emotional states typically associated with television viewing, such as self-reflection and the experience of nothingness.”
There were headphones hanging from hooks on the wall, and six yoga mats with headrests laid out before an altar, lit by a variety of nightlights. The vibe could only be described as church-like.
We put on the headphones, Jones first, and laid down on the mats, listening to a mix of tribal music and digital tones. I tried to relax into the moment, but I was all too aware of my recorder lying beside me, still running.
It was an experience that lasted only a few minutes (per my recorder) but still resonates as a surreal memory. At the time, I said it out loud: “This is very on the nose.”
“Angry gets shit done.”
“American Gods,” Starz’s latest intensely adult and highly imaginative drama, is all about the concept of worship — how we used to celebrate the gods of old, and how the New Gods in our lives, such as Media and Technology, have earned a new level of power. The Bryan Fuller and Michael Green-produced series, based on the cult favorite novel by Neil Gaiman, features Jones as Mr. Nancy, better known as the spider God Anansi.
We first see Mr. Nancy in episode 2 of the series, in a sequence that depicts how the spider god found himself upon American soil, thanks to the worship of one man aboard a slave ship. It’s a jaw-dropping performance and an incredibly tough scene, as seen in the video below:
“When I first read it, I was like ‘Oh wow, are they going to let us do this?'” Jones said. Then, he became concerned that it would be “one of those scenes where people can easily think it’s for the audience, but it’s for the people on the slave ship.”
Added Jones, “That scene’s a trap. How do you approach that scene in a way where it engages the people who have to hear it?”
The answer might be indefinable, except for one factor: Be Orlando Jones. “His first time on set, he was in a slave hold with 30-40 black actors who were in the scene,” Fuller said. “And after his first take, all of those actors gave him a standing ovation — which has never happened before, in my experience in television.”
In the moment, as an actor, he might have struggled with that scene. But here’s the thing about Orlando Jones: when he decides to engage with you, he’s irresistible.