Neil Gaiman interview: 'There'll probably be five seasons of American Gods based on the first book'

The author discusses the TV adaptation of his epic novel and what to expect from future seasons

Jack Webb
Tuesday 01 August 2017 15:06
Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle in 'American Gods'
Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle in 'American Gods'

English author Neil Gaiman is no stranger to having his works adapted into successful films (see: Coraline and Stardust) but it's perhaps his beloved sprawling novel American Gods which has proved the most impressive.

Arguably his most famous work, the Hugo Award-winning novel has been adapted into a TV series, the acclaimed first season of which recently concluded on the STARZ network in the US and Amazon Prime in the UK (it's now available to own on DVD and Blu-ray).

Under the guidance of showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, American Gods steers viewers through Gaiman's fantastical world, following protagonist Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) who - following an encounter with the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) - is launched headfirst into an eternal battle between the Old Gods vying for power over the New Gods of America.

We sat down with the man behind American Gods about the trials of getting the project underway and which plot lines he's looking forward to seeing adapted most in the confirmed second season, as well as updating fans on that long-mooted sequel.

Were you worried about how something as grand as American Gods would translate onto the screen?

My book was weird and big and I would get phone calls from terribly nice and terribly famous directors, people I’d heard of, who would tell me that they picked up American Gods in an airport and they loved it and they thought it should be a movie. When it happened I kept expecting somebody to get the call from STARZ just to say "Yeah, it’s okay we’ve actually discovered that when we all said we wanted to do it and we signed all those contracts and stuff, we were all on mushrooms! But we’re all a lot better now and so if it’s okay with you, we’ll go and make normal television instead." But they've really made a show to be proud of.

In terms of the characters, how do you feel about the job that’s been done bringing them to life?

It was always the hardest thing to do. Ricky got the part of Shadow by getting better which was really fascinating for me. He was always somewhere in the top 10 but in the very first round, he was somewhere fairly low on there. Then when the next audition tapes came in, I started realising that a lot of these people who were more famous than Ricky weren’t changing. With Wednesday, we had a few ideas. We went out to maybe two or three actors and got some very puzzled, "What the f*ck is this?" responses. Then we sent Ian McShane the script and asked if he'd like to be Czernobog [Peter Stormare's character]?" And he read the script and said, "You can get a better Czernobog than me, but what about Wednesday? I was born to play this part." I love the fact that in the 80’s he was Lovejoy, in the 90’s he was Al Swearengen (Deadwood), and now it’s 2017, he's Wednesday.

Ian McShane as Mr. Wendesday (left) and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon (right) Starz/American Gods 

How does it feel to see the first season finally wrap up and to be received so well?

It’s kind of a weird mixture of feeling like we’ve dodged some kind of bullet and just joy. I love how well we’ve been received. I love that the show feels like it found its audience. I got a thing in my newsfeed this morning saying American Gods is the most popular Amazon download in the UK.

Are you looking to add any more story arcs that perhaps didn't make it into the book?

I was talking to Bryan and Michael about stories that were lost and one of them was set in World War II - a Japanese internment camp in America - which I researched and plotted and then... well, my book was already too long. But talking with them about the idea of "Can we do this?" and I very much hope that it could happen somewhere in season two or season three.

So what can you tell us in terms of stories that'll feature in season two?

We are going to reach The House on the Rock which is very strange. Lots of people believe that I made up, but I didn’t - it really exists and it’s half-way between a roadside attraction and a monument to surrealism. We’re going to be shooting there. W're planning several episodes set in there and then there’s a lot of playing around in season two with things that are in the book. We’re still sending Shadow to Cairo, Illinois to work with Jacquel (Chris Obi) and Ibis (Demore Barnes). The most recent news on Cairo is that the government has decided all the public housing that is unfit for habitation, they wont be spending money on it or on building new housing so it's really the death knell for the town anyway. So we take that into account.

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What most impressed you about the first season?

I love the Laura (Emily Browning) episode and I think I love it most because I’d always wished that I could’ve done something like that in the novel and couldn't [because of] the way the novel was built. So I just loved Emily's performance and the way they constructed it. I love all the moments that aren't in the books - these things that Bryan and Michael did. I look at them and go, "You guys are mad and this is wonderful!"

How close is the adaptation visually to what you saw in your own head when writing it?

The answer is not much and people always look disappointed when I say this. I have to say if I write a scene where two people are having a picnic in a field, whatever you shoot will not look like the thing in my head, because you will never find that field and you will never find the tree they're under.

Henry Selick's Coraline is, I think, the best of the films that have been made of my stuff and one of the reasons for that is it’s a Henry Selick film and every frame of it is beautiful and magic - it’s not my book. I love it just as much as if it was. But if people ask if it was my vision, I’d say, "No, it really is Henry's and it’s wonderful." That's how I feel about American Gods.

In terms of the future of the show, will it continue after the end of the book? I’ve heard rumours of an American Gods sequel...

The fact we are liberated from the inside of Shadow’s head means in season two we’re going to meet more of the old Gods and more of the new Gods. We’re going to watch some of the problems the new Gods have and the problems the old Gods have. We also, I hope, are going to encounter old friends. So with that, we've probably got around five seasons from the first novel and probably by the time that’s ready, there will be another American Gods novel done.

Ian McShane as Mr. Wendesday (left) and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon (right)

Who do you think is winning the struggle between the old Gods and the new?

The Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) is absolutely way out ahead; he’s got all the money and attention. The tragedy with the new gods is they’re always being replaced and once upon a time there was the telegraph and the train completely dominated and then one day, it didn’t. The nature of media completely changes.

American Gods is out now on digital platforms and on Steelbook, Blu-ray and DVD

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