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‘American Gods’: Neil Gaiman and Bryan Fuller on Fixing The Story’s Most Important Female Character

The latest episode put the spotlight on the "unlikable" Laura Moon, an installment that Gaiman considers to be his favorite of the series. 

American Gods Season 1 2017

© 2017 Starz Entertainment, LLC

[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “American Gods” Episode 4, “Git Gone,” follow.]

Even Neil Gaiman knew, right from the beginning, that if “American Gods” was going to become a TV show, it needed to deal with the character of Laura Moon (played by Emily Browning). “I was telling [co-showrunner Bryan Fuller] that one was one of the things that I felt we had to do, in that first meeting back in 2014,” the iconic author told IndieWire.

And Fuller agreed with this sentiment, reflecting on his initial meeting with Gaiman. “One of the first things we talked about was the need to not necessarily defend Laura Moon, but allow the audience a better understanding of her,” Fuller said.

Why is that? Well, here’s one of the first things we learn about Laura: While her husband Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) was in jail for a crime she asked him to commit, she was killed while performing road-head on Shadow’s best friend Robbie (Dane Cook), with whom she’d been having an affair.

It’s the sort of reveal that doesn’t necessarily endear audiences to a character, and as a result it’s easy to understand why Laura might not be a favorite of viewers — especially those familiar with the original book. “I was seeing things through Shadow’s eyes,” Gaimain explained. “She plays this incredibly important part in the book, but you don’t get to see her an awful lot because you only see her when Shadow sees her. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

READ MORE: ‘American Gods’: Neil Gaiman’s Guide to The Show’s Incredible Cast

But Fuller and co-showrunner Michael Green felt that Laura was a central character to the story, as important as Shadow and Wednesday (Ian McShane). “That was something that was very important for Michael and I,” Fuller said, “because the glimpses that we had of her in the book were really tantalizing, and we wanted to understand who was on the other side of that page.”

They set themselves the challenge of delving into the character’s psychology with “Git Gone,” the fourth episode of the season. We first encounter Laura as a nihilistic blackjack dealer who inhales bug spray fumes to get high — meeting and marrying Shadow isn’t quite enough to fix what’s broken inside her, and when she finally confronts that, asking Shadow to help her rob the casino she works at, the result is Shadow’s incarceration.

American Gods Season 1 2017

“In relationships we very much try to be what our partners want, as opposed to what our partners tell us they want,” Whittle said. “So Shadow thought he was giving her what she wanted by giving up a life of crime and making love to her and treating her like the princess he saw her as. When in truth she liked the criminal, she liked the edge, and unfortunately he didn’t see it soon enough.”

It’s a nuanced character portrait that Fuller referred to as “our second pilot,” providing an alternate point-of-view on the series’ events to date. “Git Gone” explains not only how Laura came to be undead, but who exactly it was that rescued Shadow from Tech Boy’s goons in the pilot.

“We were just curious to contextualize [Laura] and find out why she might have done what she did,” Fuller said. “In the book we know that she betrays her husband and dies doing it, and there’s a clear judgement we feel about people who do that. But there’s more to that story. You can meet someone and not necessarily forgive them, but understand where behaviors come from and also we were curious to meet that person and just know her.”

In addition, there was the fact of casting Browning, who began acting around the age of 10 with eventual breakout roles in “Ghost Ship” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” followed by the lead role of Baby Doll in Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch.”

“It’s hard not to give a greater understanding of that character when you have an actress like Emily Browning playing her,” Fuller said. “Emily taught us so much about the character and about her view of the world and this world… She told us, ‘I don’t want to be the heart and soul. I want to be the spleen.'”

American Gods Season 1 2017

When Fuller and Green offered Browning the part, they did so by sending her the script for “Git Gone,” rather than the first three episodes. “It was actually the first episode that I read when I was offered the part,” she said, “which makes sense because I think if they’d sent episodes one, two, and three, I’d be like, ‘Wow, this show sounds great, but this character is really boring.’

READ MORE: Orlando Jones: The Trickster God of ‘American Gods’ on Worshipping Pop Culture, His Conflicted Take on Bill Cosby, and Why Mulder and Scully Should Bang

“I read that episode and had no fucking clue what was going on, but I didn’t care because I thought she was amazing,” Browning added. “I’d never read a character like that before, where she was allowed to be kind of hateable but also relatable.”

And it was completely different from the “strong female protagonist” trope which, Browning says, “is a term that I’m really sick of hearing, because I think people completely misinterpret what it means. They think it means a tough girl with a heart of gold, but she’s still kind of innocent and she’s only ever been in love with one man, you know? I’ve read so many of those characters and of course it’s getting so much better now, especially on television — but I just really loved that Laura is morally and ethically very muddy… I’m so used to being told ‘we have to make sure this character is likable’ and I never heard that from Bryan and Michael.”

American Gods Season 1 2017

“American Gods”

© 2017 Starz Entertainment, LLC

Despite being excited to play a character like this, in waiting for Episode 4 to premiere, Browning admitted to some anxiety. While she’s not publicly on Twitter, she has created an “invisible” account so she can monitor conversation about the show — which is an aberration for her.

“Usually when something is out in the world I just let it be,” Browning said, “but for some reason with this show I need to know what people are saying and what people think. And at the end of Episode 3 so many people [on Twitter] were like ‘oh no, not Laura, she’s the worst, this ho, get her out of here.’ And I suddenly got really nervous. This whole time, I’ve been going on about how it’s great she doesn’t have to be likable, it’s fantastic. But I still want people to enjoy watching her and I think that’s why Episode 4 is really necessary.”

Hopefully for Browning, “Git Gone” will strike a chord with viewers — at the very least, both Whittle and Gaiman loved it. “People say ‘which is your favorite episode?’ and I say ‘probably Episode 4,'” Gaiman said. “The joy of Episode 4, for me, is that it’s absolutely part of the ‘American Gods’ world and there’s almost not a single line that I wrote in the book in there. It’s just, you pull back and go ‘while this stuff was happening over here, this stuff is happening over here.'”

We’re halfway through the first season, and plenty is happening elsewhere. But the story of Laura Moon now feels like it’s finally begun.

“American Gods” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Starz. 

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