From showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, and adapted from the best-selling book by Neil Gaiman, the Starz series American Gods weaves a provocative tale of faith and belief, or our lack thereof, unlike anything that’s ever been on TV before. When Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is released from prison following the death of his wife (Emily Browning), he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), with whom he makes a deal that will change the course of his entire life. As he finds himself in the center of a world that he struggles to make sense of, a war between the Old Gods and the New Gods starts to bubble over in ways that are both horrific and mind-blowing, and that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of.
With Season 1 having just finished airing on Starz, actress Yetide Badaki got on the phone with Collider to talk about being a self-proclaimed geek, how her fears about adapting this book were immediately allayed when she read the script, taking on a role like Bilquis, getting out of her own way and finding her own inner strength and empowerment, what an ideal world looks like for the Goddess of Love, how excited she is for what’s to come in Season 2, the love fest between this cast and the creative team, and how a story like this makes you evaluate where your own worship falls. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: First of all, congrats on the second season! I’m so excited that we’ll get to see more of this story and these characters.
YETIDE BADAKI: Thank you! We all have been celebrating not only the idea that we get a second season, but that we get to spend time with everyone again. It’s amazing!
This show has been magnificently beautiful and thought-provoking in such exciting ways, and your character, especially, has been a stand-out among a series of fascinating characters.
BADAKI: I’m actually looking at it going, “I’m so intrigued with every single character,” which I’ve never had before, watching a show. I’m like, “Oh, what’s happening with Mr. World? What’s going on with Media?”
What have you most enjoyed about playing this character and exploring who she is, especially over so many different time periods?
BADAKI: Right, there are all these eras. I found it really fascinating to dive into the idea of female agency through the ages, and to see what an individual may experience, having come from more ancient ties to femininity, power and creation to the present day. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, jumping off from the incredible work of Neil Gaiman, very specifically took this character through these pivotal times for women and for agency, and for attitudes towards intimacy and sexuality. Being the big geek that I am, and loving research anyway, and being a woman and being an immigrant, and then getting to explore all of these themes, has just been beyond a dream come true.
What would you consider the biggest challenge of this role to be?
BADAKI: I would say the biggest challenge was getting over myself. A large part of it was that I self-identify as a geek and never really saw myself as that type of individual, as someone who had fully embraced all sides of herself. I, myself, had certain preconceptions about sexuality and intimacy, and growing up very conservative, there was a lot of internal battle over owning my sexuality. Yes, there are all kinds of different obstacles in jumping into such a role, but I realized that, in many ways, the largest challenges was myself. That also then led to one of the most gratifying parts of getting to play this character and fully falling in love with Bilquis. I have fallen in love with her because I think she has so much to teach myself and so much to offer. There were all these things that I was finding and discovering, along the way, that were just mind-blowing, for me, personally. So, I was the greatest challenge.
When I first read this book, I remember being so sad that I’d never get to see this book adapted because that just seemed impossible. So, when American Gods came your way, as someone who’d already read the book, what were your biggest fears or concerns about the TV adaptation?
BADAKI: As a big fan, I completely identify with that fear of, “Oh, but it’s such great work! How is it going to be translated onto the screen?” I have to say, those fears were immediately allayed once I saw the audition invitation sheet with the group that was involved, being a big fan of Bryan Fuller and being a big fan of Michael Green. And then, I saw on there that there was also “executive producer Neil Gaiman.” Beyond that, I saw the audition scene and went, “Ah, they’re gonna jump right in there!” Seeing how beautifully they had woven that, my fears were immediately allayed. You couldn’t ask for a more amazing creative team. And then, getting to go in and meet everyone, and seeing all of the different announcements of each new person that joined. The first person I really talked to on the team was Suttirat Larlarb, the costume designer, and I got to hear about all of the themes that she was weaving into these amazing costumes. And then, I met [the people behind] hair, make-up, set design and cinematography. With anything, it takes a village, and this was an incredible creative village. So, any fears I had of this amazing work not being able to be translated to screen were immediately allayed.
How did you wrap your head around playing a goddess? Did you want to just completely lean into that, or did you want to entirely put that out of your head?
BADAKI: That’s where I, myself, was my own greatest challenge. At first, you kind of want to run. However, it was so gratifying to dive into the deep, cool depths. There was layer upon layer of ancient stories of power and the creation myth, and it was so interesting. I think there was a fear of it because there was so much there. I remember that, at one of the first dinners that we had with Starz and David Slade, who directed the first three episodes, his wife and I had a quick chat in the bathroom, where all great discussions occur, and she turned to me and was like, “Girl, if you’re gonna do it, do it!” It was a simple thing that sounds like a short bit of advice, but it was everything. It was like, “If you’re gonna lean into this, lean all the way in. There’s no hedging on it.” Hedging on it would only not do service to this amazing story, to this amazing character, and to this amazing team. So, at first, I wanted to run, and then I dove in and I was so glad that I did.