In the Starz series American Gods, adapted from the best-selling novel written by Neil Gaiman, the battle between the Old Gods, or the traditional gods of mythological roots from around the world, and the New Gods, who reflect society’s modern devotions (i.e. money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs), has heated up in a way that’s forced Shadow (Ricky Whittle) to figure out what he really believes in. And while Mr. World (Crispin Glover) plots revenge, Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) attempts to get the Old Gods on board for all-out war.
During this interview with Collider, co-stars Ian McShane and Orlando Jones (who plays Mr. Nancy) talked about how much they’re already looking forward to Season 3, which has already been picked up by Starz, how you can get something new out of the book, every time you read it, how much deeper they’ve gotten to explore some of the characters, getting to meet more of the Gods, the fun that they all have together, that each of the characters gets their own very distinct look, that you have to check your ego before you walk onto the set, the experience they had filming at the House on the Rock, and how it’s the character interactions that really make the show special.
Collider: After a two-year break since Season 1, was it a relief to just get this out there again?
IAN McSHANE: We’re just looking forward to Season 3.
ORLANDO JONES: Exactly!
McSHANE: In the beginning, when they asked me about doing this show, I said, “Let me read the book. It’s not my kind of genre, but I read it and really thought it was great because stepping outside of your comfort zone is always good for you. And then, there’s the blueprint that you’ve got from Neil Gaiman’s novel, along with all of the great additions of the show. They’ve brought Laura into it more, which is great. Her proximity to Sweeney wasn’t in the book, and that’s one of the great additions.
JONES: And it’s incredible how they’ve brought Bilquis and Nancy into it more.
McSHANE: In Season 2, you get to know the Gods and you get to know more about who they are. It’s not just about Shadow’s journey and the backstory of Shadow, and the backstory of Laura, and now Sweeney, but you also get to see Shadow be more proactive.
JONES: Shadow suddenly has this idea about belief, and it comes to him so quickly. And then, as the rest of the series goes on, he comes to understand that that’s not at all what it is. He has to find himself, through this series. It’s amazing.
McSHANE: I just read it again, and I got it this time. My first time reading it was for practical reasons. Then, the second time you read it, you look for where it relates to where we are with the scripts. The third time, I got very moved, by the end. At the end of Season 2, we set up a couple of things for Shadow to find out, but he can’t react to them until Season 3. You don’t want to answer questions at the end, you want to give the audience watching something, so that they want to come back. I always got pissed off with Twin Peaks and Carnivàle, which I loved watching, but was always like, “Can I have something please? Can you give me a crumb?”
JONES: Can a fangirl get a taste? I’m thirsty!
McSHANE: But Wednesday says, “Okay, I’ll show you.” And then, the wife turns up. It’s a very funny situation, knowing what we know about him and Laura. That sets up my relationship with Laura, which doesn’t really exist in the book.
JONES: And starting Season 2, twenty minutes after Season 1 ended, was a really simple and clean way to keep fans in and not cheat. Normally people cheat and try to jump ahead, and we were like, “No, if you’ve been here, you know where we are and you fought to get to this point. You should now get to see House on the Rock, and the next thing after that.”
McSHANE: And we got to really meet some of the New Gods, which were neglected a bit in Season 1, like the wonderful Crispin Glover (as Mr. World).
JONES: In Season 2, you get to meet Mama-Ji, Sam Black Crow and Mr. Town, who you haven’t seen, at all. All of those iconic characters are suddenly coming to life, as well, and that’s exciting.
Orlando, as fantastic as your monologue was in Season 1, it’s nice to see you have scenes and dialogue throughout the season.
McSHANE: And we get to do some stuff together.
JONES: We have a really good time together. Just to see the rapport between Wednesday and Nancy, which you previously haven’t been able to see, is really fun. Now, their interests are aligned, so they’re up to something together. For me, all of that is just fun to play. It makes it a far more interesting series to be a part of. Season 2 is visually stunning, but it has also taken off, in a way where people are gonna be really surprised and excited by the show, visually. It also allows you to fall more in love with the characters.
And you get quite the wardrobe to do it all in.
JONES: Oh, hey!
McSHANE: Mine ain’t bad, either, especially Mr. Wednesday’s coat.
Everybody has their own very distinct look, which is great.
JONES: Yeah, everybody has their own. That’s the fun thing about this particular cast. The actors really fell in love with our characters, and we’re so excited about what’s to come. We’re all already talking about what the layout needs to be for Season 3. We are so into our characters that we never leave them. I want to see Shadow get it together. I don’t want to see him go back to prison. I want to see somebody come out of the prison system and break the norm of what we hear about happening all the time. I’m excited for that to be Shadow’s journey since Shadow is all about hope. It’s exciting to see a character on that trajectory, but we’re putting him through hell right now.
I love how not only can I tell how much you guys love being a part of this show, but you also clearly care about the other characters and their outcomes, and not just your own.
JONES: Oh, of course!
McSHANE: It’s not that kind of cast. It’s not that kind of show. There are no egos. Jesus Christ, you couldn’t act without an ego, but you should park it at the door so that you can get on with the other people. Everybody works a different way, but that’s okay. That’s healthy. When you’re excited by what you do, you come into work, every day, and have a good time acting. Otherwise, you’re lazy, and shouldn’t bother coming. Just turn around.
JONES: Yeah, if you show up, we expect your A-game. By the way, that’s a cast thing. It doesn’t matter if that’s Ian or me or Pablo [Schreiber]. We love what we do, and we love these characters, but we take it seriously because we want to bring them to life.
McSHANE: It may be a little hard on directors, but that’s their problem.
How is it to always having new voices come in to direct an episode?
McSHANE: With episodic TV, it’s difficult for directors to come in because actors get very protective of their characters.
McSHANE: And quite right, too. But sometimes you forget that the other person hasn’t been on the set before. They’ve just arrived, and they don’t know everybody, so you’ve gotta give them a break, just not too big of one.
JONES: When they come in, we help out as best we can. It’s a real supportive cast and crew, who understands that a show of this size is a team effort.
What was it like to have the experience of shooting at the House on the Rock?
McSHANE: That was great.
JONES: Amazing! You can’t describe it. That’s the thing.
McSHANE: We did a hell of a lot there, and it was just four days.
JONES: We also virtually captured it, in case we needed to do any re-shoots. It’s such a huge location.
McSHANE: It’s amazing! It’s ridiculous. It’s very weird.
JONES: It’s totally indescribable and massive. It blew me away. I thought that his description in the book was exaggerated, and then I got there. It’s just crazy!
McSHANE: It’s filled and jammed with stuff.
JONES: There’s nowhere that you can turn, where there isn’t something. There’s a life-sized blue whale fighting a life-sized squid, in one room.
McSHANE: And it’s surrounded by a naval museum.
JONES: It’s absolutely amazing! And it has the world’s largest carousel. It’s massive.
McSHANE: And we got to sit on it, even though you’re not normally allowed to.
JONES: They made all of the animals that we’re riding on it, and brought them in. It was incredible. We each got to be on our animal.
As an actor, how can you not just have a great time, doing a project like this?
JONES: It’s really difficult not to. Imagine hearing things like, “Oh, there’s all of this turmoil on the set,” while we’re doing what we’re doing, and we’re like, “What turmoil are they talking about? We’re killing ourselves to make this show because we’re in love with it, and they think there’s turmoil?! It’s fine. We’re super excited. There’s no turmoil.” It was really funny, from a creative point of view. So, it’s been lovely to have people see it and go, “Wow, it’s beautiful!”
McSHANE: And there were all of those lying reports about me screaming at the producers. I never screamed at the producers. Maybe a director or a cameraman, but not a producer. With Bryan [Fuller] and Michael [Green] leaving, it didn’t work out for the second year, for whatever reason.
JONES: That doesn’t make them not incredible and wonderful. Any show at this budget, whether it’s Westworld, Altered Carbon or Game of Thrones, is like making a really difficult art film, in a very compressed period of time, with a lot of visual effects and locations, with a cast of 11, and then eight or nine prominent guest stars. Name for me the show that has that many balls to juggle in the air. It’s difficult to do, but it’s a labor of love, and what comes out of it is that people really enjoy it because it still touches on all of those themes that made us love the show and the book, in the first place. It’s the character interactions that really make the show special.
McSHANE: It’s not a religious show, but it’s a show about belief and faith.
JONES: That’s a great way to put it.
McSHANE: It’s that constant question or, what the fuck is this all about?
JONES: Who am I? Why am I here?
McSHANE: That’s a little bit of what the show is trying to answer.
JONES: And Shadow is absolutely sleepwalking a bit, but that’s to be expected, for a man who just got out of prison and who’s being antagonized, every step of the way, by Nancy. He isn’t awake yet, but he’s paying attention. And when your wife is dead, it makes romance hard.
American Gods is available to watch on Starz, on-demand, and via the website and app.