It's hard to imagine anyone other than Bryan Fuller and Michael Green adapting Neil Gaiman's trippy, road trip novel American Gods. Fortunately, we don't have to. The Hannibal showrunner and Logan writer have teamed up for one of the most anticipated dramas of the year, and Starz's American Gods does not disappoint.
The eight-episode first season follows the life of unassuming ex-con Shadow Moon (The 100's Ricky Whittle) who finds out that the life he thought he was returning home to no longer exists. With his wife dead and nothing left to lose, Shadow agrees to accompany a strange con man, who identifies himself only as Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), as they journey across the country on a mission that is far beyond what Shadow ever could have imagined.
TVGuide.com spoke with Fuller and Green about how they approached adapting Gaiman's surreal world to screen and what to expect of the first season.
American Gods is a fairly long book with a very expansive story. How much of the book does the first season cover and how did you approach deciding where to end the season?
Fuller: The first season fluctuated in terms of what we initially intended to do and where we eventually came to. I think our earlier conversations had things happening in Episode 5 that actually won't happen until Season 2 because, with the network's encouragement, we slowed the story down and dug into the characters as opposed to burning through the book. We wanted to make a meal of it. And there are so many fantastic characters in the show that we just kept on stopping narrative to explore character.
Green: Once we started to see the people we were lucky enough to cast in these roles, we wanted to spend more time with them and slow it down as opposed when we were writing in the abstract, we were eager for story. Now, we want to spend time with people we've grown to love.
Have you already figured out the timeline for future seasons?
Fuller: We have very, very loose ideas that we're keeping loose until we actually get a Season 2 order, because that hasn't happened yet.
Green: And to give a clear answer to the first part of your first question, the first season takes us to about 130, 150 pages in the book, the author's preferred, with some things skipped over and some things borrowed from ahead of there.
How did you approach American Gods so that it was inviting for both longtime fans of the book as well as new viewers?
Green: We really just tried to give the viewer a recreation of our experience of reading the book, whether it was someone who read the book and remembers it, who now sees the way we understood it, or someone who's never encountered it. For us, that meant entering into a world where you can believe magic exists, where the things you only dream about are very, very real and the slow unfolding of the truths under the world around you.
The introductions of some of the old gods, such as Anansi (Orlando Jones) and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish), are threaded throughout the episodes with little explanation as to who they are or how they are relevant. Are you worried that viewers who've not read the book may be confused or annoyed by these detours from Shadow and Wednesday's story?
Fuller: Uh... no? Really, our goal as fans of the book was to recreate the experience of reading the book and those departures were very much part of our experience. For us, looking at the world of the gods, if we kept in Shadow and Wednesday's point of view exclusively we wouldn't be taking full narrative advantage of the magic that was available to us. And that's one of the wonderful aspects of the coming to America stories of the novel, was that without explaining the rules expositionally, they showed you an example of how this world works and what the faith bargain is between those who worship and those who are worshiped. It just felt authentic, and we do not worry about being authentic.
Green: The book, like religion, embraces moments of confusion. Whenever you're approaching the numinous, you can't know everything about it. You can't know exactly where you are or what it is precisely you're experiencing. Otherwise it wouldn't be numinous.
When I spoke to Ricky Whittle last week, he revealed the season finale is something that isn't actually pulled from the book. How many changes like this can fans expect to see?
Green: Even in things that are very familiar from the book, it should be surprising to fans how we went about it, taking it from paragraph to screen. And there are expansions of the things that they do expect, just as there are illustrations of things between the things. So it should be surprising for people who know the book just the same.
Fuller: If we've done our job right, those sequences will feel like chapters that fell out of your copy when you shook it too hard.
Ian McShane is so perfect as Wednesday. How did his casting come about, because after seeing him as the character, I can't picture anyone else playing this role.
Fuller: We originally offered Ian the role of Czernobog (now played by Peter Stromare) and Michael got on the phone with him and that changed the direction.
Green: Yeah, he kindly complimented the script and said, "This is a fun character, really enjoyed reading it, but the problem with Czernobog is he leaves." Which was his way of saying, "This is a show I might want to stick around on. What about that Mr. Wednesday?" And at that time, we were trying to figure out our strategy on casting Mr. Wednesday and we discussed it and things fell into place very quickly after that. We loved him. I was fortunate enough to work with him before [on NBC's Kings] and always felt that we had more work we had to do together. And he was a big fan of Bryan.
Bryan, you love to cast actors you've previously worked with. Kristin Chenoweth was on Pushing Daisies. Jonathan Tucker and Gillian Anderson both appeared on Hannibal. Are there any other familiar faces fans should be looking for?
Fuller: Scott Thompson from Hannibal has a fantastic role on the show. Who else did we grab? Beth Grant, who was in Muffin Buffalo on Wonderfalls and played the same character on Pushing Daisies and the same character again on Mockingbird Lane. So those were a couple of the folks that we're excited about.
Green: Demore Barnes!
Fuller: And Demore Barnes, who is also a Hannibal alum. He played the guy who made human cellos in Hannibal and was so fantastic that we thought of him immediately when we were casting. So it's nice when you work with these actors and like them as human beings and just want to continue crafting a family experience for them and the crew.
American Gods premieres Sunday at 9/8c on Starz.