How Starz’ American Gods Updates and Honors Neil Gaiman’s 2001 Book
It’s been sixteen years since acclaimed author Neil Gaiman released American Gods, an epic novel about the battle for America’s attention, and a whole lot of things have changed since then.
Myspace was two years away from launching. Facebook was three years away. iPhones were first released in 2007, which is also the same year Netflix started streaming. The things we care about on a daily and hourly basis are completely different now than they were in 2001, which means that when Bryan Fuller and Michael Green set out to turn Gaiman’s book into a TV show, set in present day with present day concerns, there was a bit of updating to do, at least on the surface of this tale of the fight between the old gods and the new.
The first and most obvious update comes in the form of Technical Boy, one of the new gods who presides over our obsession with technology, who has made the jump from basement-dweller to “rock star coder.”
“His representation in the book is someone of the era of The Matrix,” executive producer Bryan Fuller tells E! News. “The fetishization of that film and its filmmaking were part and parcel of who the Technical Boy is as a representative of media and culture, technology and culture. For us in adapting him to a world that is fifteen years wiser or dumber depending on your perspective, there are certain aspects that had to change to make him more relevant now than he was then, because he was kind of modeled after the guy who sits in his parents’ basement, and ours is a little bit more aggressive, a little bit more punk-savvy.”
“Now, we’ve got so many other cultural connotations with technology. We’ve got SpaceX, we’ve got Silicon Valley, we’ve got Facebook, app creation, nanotech, biotech, all of these amazing technologies,” says star Bruce Langley, who plays the teen tech whiz. “Technology’s cool now, technology’s different, and it updates just like that, and at surface level, there’s all these other things. It’s addictive, there’s that as well. He’s updated with the times because technology has updated with the times. It’s had to, and it’s only going to change more in the next 30 years which is even more exciting for us as a species.”
And it’s not only technology that’s grown in the past sixteen years. There’s also a much larger demand for equality in storytelling, and the book primarily tells the story of men—Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) gets out of prison and meets a guy who calls himself Wednesday (Ian McShane). They run into more men. They fight those men. The female characters in the book have stories that happen off screen, so their appearances are limited. That will not be as much the case in the TV series, particularly in the case of Shadow’s dead/undead wife, Laura Moon (Emily Browning) and the goddess Bilquis (Yetide Badaki).
“You meet Bilquis in the most indelible fashion possible in the novel, and she falls out of the book and has just a brief couple lines later on, and it was very exciting to imagine what comes next and where is she in two, three seasons,” executive producer Michael Green tells us. “Laura Moon captured our imagination very early on. She has three, four, great great scenes in the book, and there’s an adventure to be had, and Neil was as interested as we were in finding out where they were off screen.”
We’ll also be seeing a lot more of the “Coming to America” side-stories from the novel, which show how some of the older gods from other cultures have integrated themselves into America.
These expanded characters, Green and Fuller say, appear in a combination of brand new stories and “stories between the stories” from the novel itself, all with input from Gaiman.
“A lot of it was us sort of being inspired by what he had written and imagining the between the lines story of the between the pages story, and coming to him and saying this is how we were thinking about fleshing it out, and him saying ‘that sounds fantastic, I would have done it if I were writing a longer book.'”
Many scenes will be verbatim from the book, and others about which Fuller says “we took the baton and ran.”
Gaiman says he was initially “absolutely” worried about the book’s trip to the small screen, describing it has handing his book “over to a couple of mad men!” But Gaiman doesn’t regret a thing.
“Somehow it’s all worked and it’s beautiful,” he tells us, calling the show “glorious, mad, funny, scary.”
As for the thing that hasn’t changed from the book, Gaiman says he was most adamant that the diverse racial make up of the characters stay as written.
“That was my one place where i said, ‘OK guys, this is non-negotiable,'” he tells us. “I had the conversation with Starz, and I had it with Bryan and Michael. What I love is that there was never any pushback. Everybody was all ‘of course that’s how it’s going to be.’ I was like, OK, you do understand we are casting people the racial make up of the book is the racial makeup of the TV show, we’re not whitewashing, we’re not changing, we’re keeping it going like that, and they’re like, yep, we get it.”
What results is a show that not only stays true to Gaiman’s book, but also feels new, relevant, and cool as hell.
American Gods premieres Sunday, April 30 at 9 p.m. on Starz.