Neil Gaiman Talks ‘American Gods’, Changes from the Book, and Telling an Immigrant Story

When Neil Gaiman creates it’s easy to get lost. He’s a master storyteller, a weaver of dreams, with an uncanny ability of bringing to life the strange and wonderful things that live in his mind. American Gods is one of those strange and wonderful things.

We got a chance to speak with Neil Gaiman about finally bringing American Gods to life, how his characters and world have expanded and deviated in comparison to the book, and how he feels about telling an immigration story that was relatively non-contentious, fundamentally simple, and self evident when he wrote it.

An adaptation of American Gods has been a long time coming. For years there have been proposals to make it into a movie and countless people who just didn’t understand nor appreciate the weird and wonderful world that Neil created. Then Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies) came around. He told Neil something that the author would never forget and that helped sell him.

“I don’t know how you do it but I love it.”

The more they talked the more Neil realized that this wasn’t some random person, producer, or executive who didn’t understand Neil’s baby, because yes, this is his baby. Bryan was a fan. It was encouraging to Neil that Bryan had read the book, geeked out over it, and even had a copy that he wanted Neil to sign but got embarrassed about it and didn’t. (Neil surprised him with a signed copy.)

The relationship between Neil Gaiman and both executive producers of the show, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, didn’t end when Neil signed that dotted line giving them the go ahead. Oh no, it only grew from there. After all, this is Neil’s baby and who better to ask advice from than the creator.

Neil wrote narration for Bryan and Michael, got calls while on the road when they were stuck, and advised them when it came to character do’s and don’t’s when they went off on their own writing path. Because remember, this isn’t a straight up adaptation. If it were, you might as well follow Ian McShane’s advice from our previous interview with him and “just read the fucking book then.” This is an adaptation that expands on the original material with great success.

“For me a lot of the joy of doing the TV show is the stuff I would have loved to have put in.”

The show has afforded him time to expand on Laura, Shadow Moon’s wife, who has a dedicated episode full of backstory that will either make you hate her or love her even more. Even Mad Sweeney is an opportunity to explore what he could’ve done with the character if he could write till the end of time, or however long Starz keeps this beauty on air, about the tall and feisty Leprechaun.

When character photos came out everyone was on board with the vision they had created and were open to seeing it adapted for TV…until they got to Technical Boy. The sleek and polished Technical Boy of this show wasn’t like the pimply, plump boy in a trench coat that kidnapped Shadow in the book and everyone couldn’t help but react with, “What the fuck have they done to Technical Boy?”

Gaiman explained this deviation from the original source by saying that, “The nature of things has changed and sometimes we’ve reflected that in the show.” Over 18 years have passed since the original book came out and, like his name, he’s a Technical Boy. He evolves and keeps going, picking up new clothes and styles as he grows more powerful via our worship to technology.

“What I like about our Technical Boy is that he’s the same character, he’s still as desperate and awkward and has that horrible teenage something to prove quality that the original Technical Boy had, but this is in a world in where apps are ubiquitous, in which everyone is holding their phone, in which the nature of our relationship with technology has changed in the last 20 years.”

Expansions and deviations aside, there was one scene Neil never thought would make it to TV, the Jinn and Salim love scene. He was proud when he wrote it despite being a “straight white boy writing a gay-Muslim-genie sex scene.” And he’s proud of what Bryan and Michael did to bring it to life.

“It’s magical, it’s magic. Bryan and Michael went for it and they got there.”

Keeping all of this in mind, Neil knew that this wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea from the moment he wrote American Gods. Not everyone would love a positive immigrant story with a lead that was a person of color and vignettes that challenged people’s beliefs and preconceived notions of the world.

“In England we call it Marmite. You either love it or you really don’t.”

American Gods is Neil Gaiman’s Marmite. He loves the world he’s created and wasn’t really bothered if people loved it or found it boring when it first came out. If you did, great. If you didn’t, oh well, it’s obviously not for you and that’s okay because it works for some. He still holds the same belief when it comes to the show and isn’t bothered when the word “boycott” gets thrown at American Gods.

“Even when we were shooting it, and the comments coming in were like, “We will boycott this mad left wing show.” And I’d go, “You’re technically not boycotting it. What you’re doing is the old fashioned thing of not watching it. So there’s a difference. Sounds less impressive.”

American Gods is a positive immigration story, that is not color blind, in fact it’s a very color aware and racially aware show, that doesn’t shy away from the simple idea that this country was made great by the immigrants that settled here and made it there home.

“I love the fact that there are people so fragile out there that the idea of a show that’s positive about immigration makes them throw the boycott word around and I love the fact that Starz doesn’t give a fuck.”

Bringing American Gods to life has also brought up a lot of questions about a second season order, a book sequel, and a spin-off with Orlando Jones Anansi. According to Gaiman, they’ve talked about all of this.

“Before we started I had to do a J.K. Rowling kind of thing.”

Gaiman shared with Bryan and Michael what lines of dialogue or sequences, that might seem insignificant at the time, are actually key to grappling season 1 to season 2 or more accurately book 1 to book 2. They also talked about the future of these characters and how he would have to move up American Gods 2 on his gigantic list of things he wants to write if the show gets picked up again.

He’s lived with these characters and this world for over 18 years. It’ll be a piece of cake for him. Or more accurately, Marmite.

American Gods premieres Sunday, April 30th at 9/8c on Starz.

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