The Starz panel for its 2017 show American Gods featured a handful of surprises, including the first live-action trailer, a very important guest, and a new cast announcement. Two actors in Easter bunny suits were on hand to give a special welcome to the newest member of the already star-studded cast: Kristen Chenoweth, who will be taking on the important role of the goddess Easter on the series.
To celebrate and talk about the new series, panel host Yvette Nicole Brown chatted all things mythological with series creators Bryan Fuller and Matthew Green, director David Slade, stars Ricky Whittle, Bruce Langely, Ian McShane, Pablo Schreiber, Kirsten Chenoweth, and Yetide Badaki, and author Neil Gaiman. Gaiman had not been previously scheduled to appear and the ballroom went bonkers when he strolled out, fans clutching their American Gods paperbacks to their chests like another, most widely-regarded religious text.
Gaiman started the panel with a little story about American Gods and its roots in San Diego Comic-Con.
“I’d been coming to (SDCC) for a very long time and I think my first was 1989, but in 1999 I came by train and on the train to San Diego, which was a three-day train journey from Chicago, I wrote the first chapter for American Gods. So it all sort of started for me on the way to San Diego. It’s glorious that round two is happening here today.”
Despite the number of fans in the ballroom that had ties to the book, Fuller and Gaiman were quick to reassure everyone that reading the book first isn’t necessary to enjoy the Starz show.
“We’ll take care of you if you haven’t (read the books)”, Fuller said. “However you come to this, you’re in good hands.”
“We tried to build it in a way where if you’ve read the book you’re definitely ahead of the people who haven’t, but we have surprises for you too. We have things that will leave you puzzled. We get to spend a lot more time with a lot more characters on the TV, which is wonderful,” Gaiman elaborated.
Why American Gods?
There are a number of characters with big personalities and elaborate storylines, and each of the actors was able to elaborate on their favorite moments, biggest draws to the series, and what they get out of doing a show as unique as American Gods.
Whittle, who portrays lead character Shadow moon, hammed it up with co-star Schrieber, who plays an angry and unusually tall leprechaun. The two joked and cuddled when asked what drew them to the series.
“They promised me candy and cuddles,” Schrieber, known best for his role as “Pornstache” on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, said. Whittle snuggled against him and then answered Brown’s question about what made them want to be a part of the series more seriously.
“It’s things like that. You look at the caliber of actors, this team, Starz, Freemantle media came up with this incredible family and team and fantastic departments,” he said. “Emily Browning who couldn’t be with us today, Jonathan Tucker, Gillian Anderson. Literally, we could be here for hours listing off the incredible talent that we have. Every role means something and they’ve cast incredible talent for each part.”
For Badaki, the story had a more personal resonance.
“It’s great getting to work with all of these wonderful people who work on projects that I love, but it’s also an immigration story. Facebook reminded me that I became a citizen three years ago and my friend said, ‘three years from American citizen to American God!”
Schrieber, for his part, was just excited to get a chance to dig around in Gaiman’s world.
“My mind exploded with all of the characters and situations that Neil sets up. Fantasy’s not my normal genre but to get to play in something that’s so new to me as an artist and as an audience member is just so fascinating,” he said. “I’m a big guy, so it’s hard not to play big characters, but I’m into human behavior at it’s most outrageous and try to make it incredibly believable at the same time. TO get to do that with Pornstache and to get to do that with Mad Sweeney feels like a gift from the gods. These guys are my gods.”
Making it Relevant
Brown took a moment to turn the discussion away from the ideas of gods warring with one another for believers and toward more current events and the relevance fandom and hero worship have in society.
“What makes Comic Con so amazing is that we all like stuff so much. Be it your favorite character that you’re cosplaying or whatever. Everybody worships something. In some cases, it’s the older gods but in some cases its the new gods like entertainment and media,” she began.
“Love is being lost amongst us because as technology grows and grows we lose this,” she said as she went face to face with Fuller and smiled. “We’re missing that. So as we’re talking about faith and inspiration and what God is for each of us, we don’t want to miss the main tenant of every religion, which is love.”
Fuller agreed full-heartedly and commented on the problems inherent in modern technology.
“We lose empathy online because we don’t see faces. We post things and they proliferate and spread hate and I think we can all do better.”
“It’s okay to believe in whatever it takes to get you through the day. If you believe in something that gets you through a whole day of pain, who am I to take that away from you?” Whittle pondered to generous applause. “(The show) touches on a lot of sensitive subjects but there is humor there. It’s fantastic. I know that it’s based on the book, so all you hardcore Neil Gaiman fans are going to absolutely love this but you also have to embrace the incredible minds to my far right that are bringing it to the screen. This is gonna be soooo good.”
The cast and creators continued to talk about the lack of love in society and the current problems plaguing America before turning to the positives with regards to casting and Gaiman’s insistence that the characters be cast according to their ethnicities from the book. Gaiman was pleasantly surprised when the creators (along with Freemantle and Starz) told him they wanted absolutely no whitewashing and that the characters would be cast true to their book counterparts.
“It feels so much more important that we’re doing that now than even when a year ago we were first beginning to put this into play,” Gaiman said.
The panel then fielded questions from the audience. Gaiman was asked if there was a god of Atheism in his world, and he laughed and said Technical Boy and some of the other gods are surely atheist, but that there is a god of atheism in the real world in the form of Pokemon Go.
“Last night when we were driving into the hotel I passed a grass verge in the middle of the road
and there were 200 people all standing there and I thought it was a religious thing and I realized they were all holding their screens and looking for Pokemon and I thought ‘they are worshiping’.”
Fuller confirmed that if schedules line up, he would love to have some of Gillian Anderson’s former co-stars on Hannibal show up on American Gods. (That’s right, Murder Husbands and mythology!)
Gaiman wanted book fans to know that if there was anything in the book they really loved, it’s probably going to make it to the small screen.
“If you’re wondering if Gillian Anderson will ask Shadow if he wants to see Lucille’s (makes gesture towards his chest), you absolutely will,” he said to a ballroom of laughter.
The show really looks like it’s coming together with a phenomenal cast, incredible talent behind the scenes, and Gaiman on board and heavily involved. Hopefully we’ll be able to see a gag reel and talk about season 2 of American Gods at SDCC this time next year.