American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, is possibly the only successful fantasy series set in the United States. American Gods is being adapted for TV by Starz. Here’s what you need to know.
* Updated: July 25, 2016
American Gods is about a war that’s brewing between old and new gods. The traditional gods of biblical and mythological roots, from around the world, are steadily losing believers to an upstart pantheon of gods that reflect society’s modern love of money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs. Shadow Moon is an ex-con who becomes bodyguard and traveling partner to Mr. Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday appears to be a conman. But in reality, he’s one of the older gods. He’s on a cross-country mission to gather his forces in preparation to battle the new deities.
I read American Gods several years ago. The imagery is dark and disturbing. Sometimes, the characters are simply appalling. But the hero is engaging, the perfect everyman who finds himself reluctantly saving the day. Sort of. Despite having a large moral gray area, he soldiers on, doing the “right thing” when it’s required. Plus, Neil Gaiman’s use of the American landscape makes for lush and grand mental postcards.
American Gods Cast
Ricky Whittle will be playing Shadow Moon, the protagonist of American Gods. A native of Oldham, Greater Manchester England, Whittle’s credits include The 100, Austenland, Hollyoaks, Mistresses, NCIS and Holby City. Whittle is the son of former Royal Air Force serviceman Harry Whittle, and grew up travelling around the world. Whittle represented England and the United Kingdom at youth level in football and rugby.
In a press release, Author Neil Gaiman said, “I’m thrilled that Ricky has been cast as Shadow. His auditions were remarkable. The process of taking a world out of the pages of a book, and putting it onto the screen has begun. American Gods is, at its heart, a book about immigrants, and it seems perfectly appropriate that Shadow will, like so much else, be Coming to America. I’m delighted Ricky will get to embody Shadow. Now the fun starts.”
Ian McShane has been cast as Mr. Wednesday. Ian McShane is an acclaimed British actor who catapulted to American TV stardom by playing the ruthless frontier kingpin Al Swearengen on Deadwood. He was nominated for both Emmy and SAG Awards, and won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Drama and the Television Critics Award for Individual Performance. He also starred in Starz’ The Pillars of the Earth, for which he received a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Actor in a Mini Series. He is best known for his portrayal as Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and as Teddy Bass in Sexy Beast. He’s had numerous other television appearances, including a short turn on Game of Thrones.
Neil Gaiman said in a press release, “When you write a beloved character (beloved with, or despite, or because of all his faults) like Mr. Wednesday, you get to watch the internet trying to cast the role. I’ve seen a hundred names suggested, but few make me grin like Ian McShane does. I’ve already been lucky enough to have him in one film (he was bright blue in it, animated, and probably Polish). Now I count myself even luckier: he’s made the journey from Lovejoy to American Gods.”
Mr. Wednesday is a crafty and endlessly charismatic con man, full of perverse wisdom, curious magic, and grand plans. He hires ex-con Shadow Moon to be his bodyguard as he journeys across America, using his charms to recruit others like him as he prepares for the ultimate battle for power.
Emily Browning has been cast as Laura Moon, Shadow’s wife. A native of Australia, Browning starred as Violet Baudelaire in the 2004 film Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, adaptation of the popular children’s book series. She also appeared in Julia Leigh’s 2011 art-house film Sleeping Beauty. Additional film credits include God Help the Girl, Legend, Ghost Ship, Ned Kelly, The Uninvited, Stranded, Sucker Punch, Magic Magic, The Host, Summer in February, and Plush and Pompeii.
In a press release, Neil Gaiman said, “I’ve been fascinated by Emily Browning since A Series of Unfortunate Events. She has a challenge ahead of her: Laura is a tricky character, and the Laura on the screen is even trickier and more dangerous than the one on the page. She’s going to have a wonderful time bringing Laura to life.”
As Laura Moon, Browning plays Shadow Moon’s wife, who has been preparing for her husband’s pending prison release. Little does she know that she will go on an unexpected journey that leads her to an epiphany about her relationship and affords her a second chance to get things right.
Orlando Jones will play Mr. Nancy in American Gods. He was handpicked by Quincy Jones to join the sketch comedy franchise, MadTV. Following his tenure on the show he partnered with 7Up to write, produce and star in a series of iconic television commercials that are still recognized among the Top 100 most successful advertising campaigns of all time. He starred in Sleepy Hollow as Frank Irving.
Mr. Nancy is an old African trickster god more commonly known as Anansi. He’s also one of Mr. Wednesday’s oldest confidantes. Like Wednesday, Nancy is ready to bring this new America (and its new gods) to its knees, desperate to light a fire and watch the whole world burn.
Demore Barnes will play Mr. Ibis. Barnes appeared in White Lies, with Sarah Polley and Lynn Redgrave; Second String with Jon Voight; and Black Out with Jane Seymour. He portrayed super-secret military commando, Hector Williams, in David Mamet’s The Unit on CBS. The series was also nominated two consecutive years for an NAACP Award for Outstanding Drama Series 2007 and 2008. He is the Archangel Raphael in the CW Network hit, Supernatural. He also guest starred on Fox’s Fringe as Agent Hubert. In the last two years Barnes has been juggling series regular and recurring roles on Hemlock Grove for Netflix and 12 Monkeys for the Syfy network.
Mr. Ibis is the keeper of stories, past and present. He recounts them with great relish. His old fashioned sensibilities do not preclude a wry wit.
Gillian Anderson will play Media in American Gods. An Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award-winning actress, Gillian Anderson reprised her role as Dana Scully in the Fox cult-classic The X-Files, earlier this year. She also recently appeared in the television mini-series War and Peace. Additional television credits include Hannibal, the 2011 miniseries The Crimson Petal and the White, as well as the TV adaptation of William Boyd’s novel, Any Human Heart.
Media is the mouthpiece for the New Gods, functioning as their public face and sales representative. She takes the form of various iconic celebrities. She lives off the attention and worship that people give to screens-to their laptops, their TVs, to their iPhones in their hands while they watch their TVs. Ever the perky spokesperson, and always in control, she spins stories in whatever direction best suits her.
Kristin Chenoweth has been cast as Easter. Emmy and Tony Award winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth’s career spans film, television, voiceover and stage.In 2009, she received an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role in Pushing Daises. In 1999, she won a Tony Award for You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and she was also nominated for her original role of Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked in 2004. Chenoweth has been nominated for two Emmy Awards and for a People’s Choice Award for her role on Glee. She also starred in Disney’s Descendants. And she began pre-production on Lionsgate/Hasbro’s My Little Pony movie, set for a fall 2017 release.
Easter was once known as Ostara, goddess of sprin. Easter still embraces the jelly beans and chocolate bunnies associated with the holiday that bears her name, in an effort to stay relevant.
Cloris Leachman will play Zorya Vechernyaya. An eight-time Primetime Emmy Award-winner, Leachman’s career spans films, television dramas and comedies from the Golden Age to the primetime hits today. Leachman most recently starred in the DreamWorks animated film The Croods, and the Wedding Ringer, with Kevin Hart. She was the oldest competitor on the ABC hit series Dancing with the Stars. Additional TV and Film credits include Lassie, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Last Picture Show, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, The Muppet Movie and Spanglish.
Zorya Vechernyaya is the eldest of three sisters who watch over the constellations, guarding against horrors forgotten by modern man. Once accustomed to royal status, the sisters have learned to survive on far less in a country that has no memory of them.
Peter Stormare will play Czernobog. Swedish born actor/director Peter Stormare is best known for his breakout roles in Fargo and The Big Lebowski. Stormare has worked in over 150 films, most recently in John Wick: Chapter Two with Keanu Reeves. He made his television debut starring on the first season of the hit Fox TV drama series Prison Break. He has also guest-starred on Arrow and The Black List.
Czernobog is a Slavic god of darkness and evil. Czernobog is reluctant to join the coming war, wary of Wednesday’s motivations.
Chris Obi will play Anubis. Chris Obi is an English actor, most recently known for Snow White and the Huntsman. He also stars in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell. As well as being a successful TV and film actor, Obi has also graced the stages of many theatres across the UK playing a variety of roles and has also lent his voice to numerous radio plays.
Anubis is the commanding ancient Egyptian god of the dead, gently guiding mortals through the judgment of their souls.
Mousa Kraish will play The Jinn. Kraish is a Palestinian-American actor from Brooklyn, New York. He has appeared in Munich, Charlie Wilson’s War, and Fast and Furious. Television appearances include Homeland, Transparent, Parenthood and Arrested Development.
The Jinn is a mythical creature of the fire who understands a person’s deepest desires better than they do. He fears for his safety with the coming war, and considers fleeing America.
Sean Harris has been cast as Mad Sweeney. Sean Harris is an English actor who trained at the Drama Centre in London. His television credits include Showtime’s The Borgias and the Channel 4 miniseries Southcliffe, for which he won the British Academy of Television Award (BAFTA) for Best Actor in 2014. As a film actor, Harris is best known for his roles in Prometheus and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
Mad Sweeney is a down on his luck leprechaun, who is having a hard time understanding how he lost his charm and way. Always up for a good fight, Sweeney is never deprived while in the employment of Mr. Wednesday.
Yetide Badaki will play Bilquis. Nigerian born actress Badaki grew up in England and the United States, and has been working in the theater. She recently guest starred on the Showtime series Masters of Sex and appeared in the Sony Crackle series Sequestered. Additional credits include guest starring roles on the NBC series Aquarius, NCIS New Orleans and Criminal Minds.
Bilquis is an ancient goddess of love who craves the worship she inspired in eras long gone, and who is eager to find that same relevance in today’s world.
Bruce Langley has been cast as technical boy. Bruce Langley is a young actor who graduated with a First class Masters in Physical Actor Training and Performance in 2014 from the University of Kent. American Gods is his first television role.
Technical Boy is a New God who is purveyor of all things technology. Desperate to prove himself, and hungry for respect and power, he struggles to keep his impulsive behavior and petulance in check, making him dangerously unpredictable.
Production and Development
The pilot script will be written by a couple of powerhouse writers: Bryan Fuller, who worked on a few of my favorite (and short-lived) TV series, like Hannibal and Pushing Daisies; and Michael Green, who worked on The River and Heroes. They will executive produce along with Gaiman. FremantleMedia North America will produce the series.
In a press release, author Neil Gaiman said, “When you create something like American Gods, which attracts fans and obsessives and people who tattoo quotes from it on themselves or each other, and who all, tattooed or not, just care about it deeply, it’s really important to pick your team carefully: you don’t want to let the fans down, or the people who care and have been casting it online since the dawn of recorded history. What I love most about the team who I trust to take it out to the world, is that they are the same kind of fanatics that American Gods has attracted since the start.
“I haven’t actually checked Bryan Fuller or Michael Green for quote tattoos, but I would not be surprised if they have them. The people at Fremantle are the kinds of people who have copies of American Gods in the bottom of their backpacks after going around the world, and who press them on their friends. And the team at Starz have been quite certain that they wanted to give Shadow, Wednesday and Laura a home since they first heard that the book was out there. I can’t wait to see what they do to bring the story to the widest possible audience able to cope with it.”
The 2001 novel has been translated into over 30 languages and earned numerous accolades including Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Awards for Best Novel.
Fans can join the conversation with #AmericanGods. Read Neil Gaiman’s interview about American Gods at San Diego Comic Con.