Adapted from the best-selling novel written by Neil Gaiman, the Starz series American Gods is back for Season 2 and 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), is really heating up. And while Mr. World (Crispin Glover) plots revenge, Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Wednesday (Ian McShane) attempt to get the Old Gods on board for all-out war.
While at the Starz portion of the TCA Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with co-stars Ricky Whittle and Pablo Schreiber (who plays disgruntled leprechaun Mad Sweeney) to talk about using the book as a blueprint, new character interactions in Season 2, the Mad Sweeney-Laura (Emily Browning) dynamic, being such an unlucky leprechaun, how deeply Shadow believes in the world that he’s found himself in, shooting at the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, what they appreciate most about their characters, and how they hope the wait won’t be as long for a possible Season 3 (the Season 1 finale aired in 2017).
Collider: Now that we know who all of these characters are, I love getting to see so much more of the relationships and characters interactions in Season 2.
RICKY WHITTLE: Yeah. My favorite part of this season is probably the growth of those relationships, and seeing those dynamics change and evolve, for the better and for the worse. That’s one of the best parts of the season. Now we’ve got your attention, and we’ve set the world and the players, so you can invest in those relationships because they mean more. We can move that storyline along, a lot faster.
Pablo, why do you think Mad Sweeney keeps ending up stuck with people he just really can’t stand and doesn’t want to be with?
PABLO SCHREIBER: I think that’s a life issue. At a certain point, if you hate everybody, you might want to take a good look at yourself. He’s got some soul searching to do. We’ll see how that goes.
And Laura is a difficult person to deal with.
SCHREIBER: She’s a tough nut, absolutely. The beauty in their relationship and in getting to watch them together is that they’re two hideous people. In interactions with good, decent people, they just look like assholes, but when it’s two assholes beating the shit out of each other, you’re like, “Awesome! Great! Let’s watch that some more.” You don’t really care if they hurt each other. And then, in a funny way, it comes full circle and you do care, which is the beauty of the relationship.
Now that you’ve had some time to get attached to these characters, are you anxious to find out about Season 3?
WHITTLE: We just need a paycheck. I don’t wanna go two years without working. No. Neil [Gaiman] wrote an incredible page-turner. When I read his book, I read it a couple times because it’s got so much content. The source material is fantastic, and we have this great opportunity to tell this story, but we’re able to deviate off the book, now and then, and invest in characters like Sweeney, who’s only in the book twice. Now, we have the incredible Pablo Schreiber, so we let him tell those stories, and we get to see where Sweeney came from and invest in his backstory. You’ll see Tech Boy, Bilquis and Mr. Nancy. It’s great fun to play with these incredibly talented actors, so I just wanna get back to it. We’ve been wrapped since October (2018), and I just wanna get back on set and play with these incredible people who’ve become family. It’s a lot of fun. As tense and dark and crazy as Season 2 is, and probably more so than Season 1, we have a lot of fun together, and I miss that camaraderie.
Along with great storytelling and actors that are really fun to watch together, there are just so many things to explore in this show, and so many things that are relevant now.
SCHREIBER: Hopefully, we laid out the universe in Season 1 and made the characters compelling enough that people wanna come back and find out what happens to them. Now, in Season 2, we really get to send them off on their own journeys and watch them in interaction with each other, which is really the fun part. That being said, there’s a blueprint. There’s a novel that was written, and we’re making the novel. While there are some changes, we’re still shooting the novel. It’s not like it’s a mystery where all these characters are heading. You can read the book and find out. There’s an endgame for Sweeney, and there’s an end result for Shadow. When you read the book, you know what that is, and it’s just a matter of how long it takes for us to get there.
Ricky, is it fun to have Shadow be more aware this season and have more of a sense of what’s actually happening?
WHITTLE: Well, he just believes. He still doesn’t understand, but he’s definitely more pro-active this season. He’s asking a lot more questions. He’s asking the right questions now. Although Mr. Nancy likes to point out the fact he’s still asking the wrong questions, but that’s intel that the Gods all have, that Shadow is seeking. Knowledge is power, on this show, and everyone is very reluctant to give that up. That causes a huge frustration for Shadow, who goes in search of answers. When Wednesday and various people don’t give him those answers, he will go and find them out for himself, which is fun for me to play, as an actor. I started Season 1 completely empty. I wanted to completely empty him, and make him void of emotion and agency. He lost everything, and I wanted to start there. And so, I pushed him forward this season, adding those layers. That’s what I wanna do, moving forward, and just keep adding those layers and growing this character. Because of the novel, I know where everything is going, so it’s fun for me, as an actor, to add those layers and colors, and to build towards that.
How is Shadow feeling about being a part of this world that he had no idea existed?
WHITTLE: It’s fascinating. You watch the first season through Shadow’s eyes, so you’re feeling everything Shadow feels. People say that Season 1 was confusing because it was too complex, but it was confusing by design. You were meant to learn alongside Shadow. When you get to the finale, you understand more with Shadow. And Season 2 is the same. We try to show you very little at once. We trust in our viewers to be able to not be spoon-fed, and to enjoy the task of figuring it out, alongside Shadow. I feel that Season 2 finishes with another great, epic finale, where you’re racing with Shadow to figure things out. I hope and feel that it’s gonna leave you with a huge want for more episodes to come, and for Season 3 to come a lot faster than Season 2 did, and it will. It’s not gonna be two years until Season 3 is out. We’re already moving pieces in the right direction for that, so we’ll be back a lot sooner.
What was it like to be able to shoot at the House on the Rock and to have an experience like that?
WHITTLE: Pablo didn’t get to go. He’s still upset and angry about that.
SCHREIBER: I’m a little bitter. Not gonna hide it.
WHITTLE: He shot all of his stuff in Toronto, and will constantly be bitter and twisted about it. But he also didn’t have to worry about walking everywhere uphill. No matter what direction you chose, or what room you went to, it was all uphill. It was so bizarre. The place is so magical and crazy. Neil Gaiman toned it down in the book because he didn’t think people would believe it, and people still thought it was crazy. I can now testify that he is correct. You will see in the show that the House on the Rock is an insane establishment. This house is unbelievable. It still doesn’t do this place justice. It’s one of those things where, when you take a photo of something beautiful in real life and then you look at the picture, you go, “That just doesn’t do it justice.” You’ll see a beautiful sunset or moon and you’ll take a photo, and it looks terrible in the camera. It looks beautiful on our show. Your mind will be blown. It’s stunning, bright, very visual, and very stimulating, and it still doesn’t do this place justice. That’s how crazy this place is. It’s a real place in Wisconsin, and I recommend anyone passing through Wisconsin to go check it out. It’s fantastic. It’s bizarre. You walk around thinking, “This is a set. This can’t be real. Someone made this for some weird, crazy horror movie.” But it’s a real place, and millions of people walk through those doors, every year, just to take in these sights. I don’t wanna spoil it for anyone, but just pay attention to the show and know that it’s just a fraction of the crazy that is in that house. We didn’t even get to see it all. The place is massively huge. (Director) Chris Byrne did some incredible wide shots and drone shots to capture the size of the place. It’s stunning. It sweeps across the countryside, in the middle of nowhere. It’s like when you drive to Vegas through desert, and then, all of a sudden, these lights pop up in the middle of nowhere. With the House on the Rock, you’re driving through green countryside, and then here’s this place that you’re just not prepared for.
What do you most enjoy about getting to play these characters? What do you appreciate about who they are?
SCHREIBER: It’s hard to put it into words because a character is something that you try on for size. On the page, it can be one thing, but it was really appealing, on the page. The concept of a leprechaun who’s lost his luck and who’s gonna be chasing his lucky coin, and having all of this banter with the dead wife, who are two assholes ripping each other apart, when you read that on the page, you’re like, “Okay, that’s cool. I can get with that.” And so, there’s that surface part of it that was appealing. But then, it’s all performance. Acting is alchemy and chemistry. You try it out and see what happens. Just the process of living in this guy’s skin and getting to go through the circumstances that they’ve laid out for me has been a fuckin’ joy. The openness of being able to use it across different timelines, in our backstory episode for him in Episode 7, it goes from B.C. 1200, all the way up to the present, so we get to see this character interact across thousands and thousands of years of history. That’s just really fuckin’ fun.