Neil Gaiman is the kind of author readers fall in love with, his prose both beautiful and sharp, his characters seemingly as real as can be despite often being mythical creatures, gods, and even things older than the gods themselves. He intertwines the magic and the mundane with charm and wit, all the while injecting bits of his dry British sense of humor. It’s no wonder then that Gaiman is currently a hot commodity on the screens both big and small – after several feature films based on his works, there are now television shows being developed based on two of his works. Lucifer returns on Fox in September, and American Gods is set to debut sometime next year. Gaiman’s comic book opus, Sandman, is slated to be a movie (or series of movies).
While Sandman‘s production is currently in the realm of speculation, American Gods is beginning to take shape, with the majority of the central characters cast and filming in progress. American Gods tells the story of the old gods and the new in their battle for supremacy. Trapped in the middle is an ex-con, Shadow Moon, who was released from prison only to discover his best friend and wife were both dead. The kicker? They were having an affair and died in a car accident together because one was “distracting” the other. The story starts with Shadow feeling pretty upset about life, willing to do just about anything to take his mind off of how miserable he is.
Enter Mr. Wednesday, leader of the Old Gods, ready to take Shadow under his wing in exchange for some help dealing with the new gods of the modern age: the Technical Boy, Media, and The Black Hats. As the ancient deities battle the new, Shadow gets pulled deeper into their war and unravels the identities of the gods and himself. This week, Entertainment Weekly gave an exclusive look into one of the show’s sets and a couple of characters, ramping up the hype for the show even more. So who’s who on American Gods? Let’s take a look. (No spoilers here, but links may contain them.)
Shadow Moon is the novel’s protagonist and the central character of the show. Born in Norway and raised in the Midwest, he’s sort of nondescript, a guy who does what he has to in order to get by and little more. He worked at a gym prior to his incarceration, and no one really expected much of him until he met and married Laura. Laura was everything to Shadow, the one thing that had elevated him above mediocrity. When Laura dies in flagrante delicto with his best friend, it snaps something inside of Shadow. He becomes willing to help the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, whom he meets on a plane. The relationship between Shadow and Mr. Wednesday drives much of the novel, as Mr. Wednesday hires Shadow to be a bodyguard and seeker of the Old Gods. There is something special about Shadow, though he fails to see it himself until it’s almost too late. Shadow will be portrayed on the small screen by Ricky Whittle of The 100.
Mr. Wednesday, in charge of gathering the old gods for their war against the new, is a cynical and rugged older man who convinces Shadow to join him. Mr. Wednesday (portrayed by Ian McShane of Deadwood and Game of Thrones) is described as having mismatched eyes, one of them being glass. It doesn’t take a mythology scholar to put together that he is the ancient Norse god Odin, the All-Father. He has two ravens that don’t particularly like Shadow’s dry wit helping him along the way. Mr. Wednesday is a deeply complex character that serves as Shadow’s guide and his foil.
Mad Sweeney is a leprechaun brought to the United States by a girl from Bantry Bay. He’s rather tall for a leprechaun, towering over the not-small Shadow, and he’s lost his Irish accent after being in the States for so long. Sweeney first encounters Shadow at Joe’s Crocodile Bar, where the two show one another some coin tricks. Shadow and Sweeney end up in a brawl, but it proves Shadow’s might to Mr. Wednesday, which sets things into motion. Sweeney gives Shadow one of his magic coins, which our hero later uses to accidentally raise the dead. Sweeney will be portrayed on the show by Pablo Schreiber, known best to Orange is the New Black fans as “Pornstache”.
Jonathan Tucker of Justified and Kingdom will bring Shadow’s former cell-mate, Low-Key Lyesmith, to life on Starz’ show. Low-Key, not too creative with names, is actually Loki, a Norse trickster god known for causing a great deal of trouble among the pantheon. Low-Key is described as having a scarred smile and short red hair. It is difficult to tell where Low-Key’s loyalties lie, as he is even more mysterious than Mr. Wednesday. This isn’t Marvel’s Loki, but something else entirely.
Bilquis is a goddess and the former Queen of Sheba who pretends to be a prostitute in order to seduce men and then devour them. Bilquis has one of the most insane sex scenes to exist in literature, and exec Bryan Fuller has revealed that the scene will remain intact on the show (thanks, premium cable!). Bilquis is one scary goddess and will be portrayed on television by Yetide Badaki.
Zorya Vechernyaya is one of three goddesses from Slavic mythology that make up the cycle of morning, afternoon, and evening. Vechernyaya is the evening star, and she and her sisters help Mr. Wednesday and Shadow on their quest to unite the Old Gods. The goddess, described as birdlike, with cold, thin hands, will be portrayed by the prolific comedian and actress, Cloris Leachman.
Czernobog lives with the Zorya sisters, as he is also from Slavic mythology and rather alone in the States He often speaks about his brother, Bielobog, who seems to be his polar opposite (and maybe also the other half of his personality). Czernobog is described as being an old, grayish man who wears a ratty bathrobe and smokes cigarettes with his hand cupped around it, which Shadow notes is “like a convict.. or a soldier”. Czernobog will be portrayed by Peter Stormare, famous for his roles in The Big Lebowski, The Lost World, and any other movie where they needed a vaguely Northern or Eastern European character with dry wit and a roguish charm.
Mr. Nancy is one of the old gods, a wily trickster god who lives in the swamps of Florida. Shadow first meets him at the House on the Rock, a strange tourist attraction built by Frank Lloyd Wright just north of Madison, Wisconsin. Mr. Nancy tells many stories about African myth, and he gains power by having stories told about him. Mr. Nancy is based on Anansi, a Ghanaian spider god. Described as an older black man with a pencil-thin mustache and a penchant for dramatic clothing, Mr. Nancy will be portrayed for Starz by Orlando Jones (MadTV, Evolution).
Media is the personification of television, or in her words: “ I’m the idiot box, I’m the TV, I’m the all-seeing eye and the world of the cathode ray. I’m the boob tube. I’m the little shrine the family gathers to adore.” She is cold and calculating and understands humanity in a way that many of the old gods cannot because of her direct ties with them through the shows she projects. She is capable of placing herself inside of any program, and talks to Shadow in the novels through an episode of I Love Lucy and later as a news broadcaster. Media will be brought to life on the small screen by Gillian Anderson, known for playing Agent Dana Scully on The X-Files. This is not Anderson’s first time working with show-runner Fuller – they previously collaborated on NBC’s Hannibal.
If Media is the personification of television, then Technical Boy is the god of the internet. He is one of the most powerful of the new gods, though he is described as being a short, fat man with bad acne. Technical Boy has been cast against that description, however, as he will be portrayed by the rather skinny Bruce Langley, a newcomer to the small screen.
Mr. World is the leader of the new gods, one of the Black Hats, inspired by America’s obsession with covert-operatives and men in black. Mr. World, the series’ ultimate villain, will be portrayed by Hollywood’s ultimate creepy guy, Crispin Glover (Willard, Charlie’s Angels).