Emily Browning and Yetide Badaki Talk ‘American Gods’ and Women on TV

Laura Moon and the God Bilquis are fighting for their survival in Neil Gaiman’s adaptation of American Gods. Everyday is a struggle that answers some questions and poses new ones as they try to make it through life. They struggle with love, with intimacy, with depression, and at times are barely holding on. They are women just like you and me and American Gods isn’t afraid to show that.

We got a chance to speak with Emily Browning, who plays the recently departed Laura Moon, and Yetide Badaki, who plays the God of Love, about their roles on American Gods. They talked about their characters journeys, what defines them and separates them from the rest, and playing women on a show that doesn’t care to fit them in a easily defined and confining box.

Both women have roles that have been greatly expanded in comparison to their book counterparts. We knew who both women were in Neil Gaiman’s story but we didn’t know so much about what drove them to keep fighting and how they became Laura Moon, recently deceased wife of Shadow, and Bilquis, the Old God of Love, in the first place.

Let’s start off with Laura.

Laura Moon is an integral part of the story. She’s not the heart of the show, to Browning’s delight, she’s the spleen. She plays an important part, is connected to the lead of the show, but only exists in relation to Shadow. The TV adaptation spends a great amount of time expanding on her story.

“Laura’s a difficult character. She’s very abrasive, crass, and does some very morally questionable things.” – Emily Browning

Episode 4 is dedicated to telling the story of Laura Moon. It will give you a glimpse at the kind of woman she was before she met Shadow, when she was married to him, and after he was sent to jail. We’ll see her struggle, the extremes she goes to feel, and how like us, she doesn’t know what she wants from life.

“She’s kind of numb before she meets Shadow, and when she first meets him he’s a criminal and he seems really dangerous and exciting to her and that I think that she’s drawn to. She wants to feel something.”

According to Browning, her journey will either touch your heart and make you love the flawed and complicated brilliance that is Laura Moon, a woman struggling with depression: or her journey will make you hate her even more for the risks she takes in order to feel something. Either way, Laura’s complicated, real, and portrays a three dimensional woman, something network’s, shows, and movies are afraid to touch with a ten foot poll sometimes.

Bilquis, the Old God of Love, is something of a parallel to Laura Moon. Like Laura she is struggling to survive, is flawed, and goes to extremes to feel. The difference is that Bilquis is a God who knows who she is and is trying to survive in a world that doesn’t remember her.

“She knew who she was, she knows who she is, it’s everybody else that’s forgotten.” – Yetide Badaki

Playing a God of Love led Yetide down a strange and wonderful road where she questioned what love and intimacy truly were, because no one knew how to prepare her for the role and TV’s portrayal of Gods of love were old archetypes. She had to ask herself what sensuality and intimacy meant and face something she had shied away from in order to understand what Bilquis was searching for in sex and the connection she builds with it to others.

“In sex I was just seeing an individual looking for connection again. The idea of this Goddess of Love being almost anaemic in this present day because the intimacy is not pursued as much or it’s almost something that people are afraid of. Or even afraid of talking about.”

Being open about sex is a vulnerability that Bilquis thrives in and lives off. Unfortunately she lives in a world where love, sensuality, and intimacy are sacred or people are afraid to talk about. Her journey will therefore be comprised of trying to find a way to survive with the scraps that she’s given. Mr. Wednesday, the God recruiting Old Gods to knock down the New ones a peg or two, might just be the answer she’s looking for.

Something that both women found liberating about the show, and that they hope will be a conversation starter, was the lack of fucks Fuller and Green gave about painting the picture of a perfectly poised and beautiful woman. Don’t get them wrong, there are women like that. But those women always take some down time, can’t be perfect all the time, and some are like fuck it in general and don’t care how they look. There is diversity and American Gods is all about that.

Laura is an unapologetic real woman and Browning loves it. She gets to play someone who’s rude, who’s not always put together, and sometimes literally falling apart. (Seriously…girl’s falling apart by the end of this show.) It came to a point where it was summer, she had a tank top on, and she didn’t feel like shaving. Other shows would want you to keep that tame and under wraps because “girls on TV” don’t have underarm hair. Fuller didn’t care and told her that he loved it and was cool with her not shaving.

“That was so freeing for me. To play a character who was gross.” – Emily Browning

Badaki echoed Browning’s statement and felt like they had created a safe space for women that felt like equal opportunity. Her Bilquis was worn down, barely holding on, and you could see it in her. Just because she’s a God of love doesn’t mean she’s this picture perfect representation of what you’d perceive a God of love to look like or have seen portrayed on other shows.

“Her life force is love. It’s how she survives,” Badaki explained and right now Bilquis is getting by on empty calories. She’s malnourished and you can see it in her tired eyes, lanky hair, and defeated disposition.

Browning and Badaki work in an environment where they themselves don’t feel objectified and are proud that their characters aren’t objectified either. Fuller, Green, Gaiman, and Starz have created a world where two completely different stories can be told about women without holding back on what it means to be a woman while, at the same time tossing out the old and worn stereotypes that plague women on screen.

These women feel different from what we’ve seen before because, spoiler alert, women are people too. We don’t fit into a perfect little box despite shows and movies trying to assure you that we do. And if you still think we fit into that perfect little box after reading this interview, American Gods is ready to smash that idea to little bits in the form of Laura Moon and the God Bilquis.

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

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