'American Gods' bosses answer burning questions from episode 2
This week on American Gods, a spider doomed a ship full of enslaved people, I Love Lucy seized control of a department store, and an old Russian executioner played the world’s highest-stakes game of checkers.
Episode 2 of the new Starz series finds Shadow and Wednesday making their first official pit stop in Chicago to try to recruit a Slavic strongman—the fierce god Czernobog, played by Peter Stormare—to their cause. Before their arrival, Shadow is propositioned yet again to abandon his employer in favor of joining the new gods, an offer extended by Gillian Anderson’s seductive goddess Media, who takes the form of Lucille Ball.
In this week’s exclusive postmortem, showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green go inside the spectacular introductions of the newest characters in the American Gods ensemble.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The episode’s title, “The Secret of Spoons,” is a lyric we hear in Czernobog’s song during checkers. What does it mean?
MICHAEL GREEN: We wanted to make that last scene where they play checkers as rich and cinematic as possible, and we had this idea that he might sing while doing it. We thought a lot about where they came from and what the type of music was—these sort of atonal, off-tempo folk songs—and the idea of immigrants and what you choose to bring with you in your small beliefs. A personal story: We were in the middle of writing this when I woke up one morning and was thinking about it while making coffee. I have this sugar bowl and spoon from my favorite aunt who passed away a few years ago, and before she died, I told her son, kind of jokingly but not, that if she ever passed away, I wanted to remember her by the sugar bowl and spoon. And sure enough, he sent it to me. It had been with her for decades and was given to her when she was a child, and when you went to her house, she made you coffee and would use these spoons. So, these things just sort of go down in history in a family. And then we showed [music supervisor] Brian Reitzell the lyrics that we were interested in and said, “Can you write us a song?” And he wrote us this tune that we had stuck in our head for weeks after. It was so charming and small, yet timeless, and regionally correct, and quite beautiful.
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Czernobog is a character who doesn’t have a lot of references in American pop culture. Peter Stormare said something interesting: Czernobog is the Slavic Thor? Is that true?
BRYAN FULLER: Well, he’s not necessarily Thor.
GREEN: He’s not in the same pantheon.
FULLER: He’s probably closer to Loki than Thor, because he’s a god of evil and darkness and bad things, and his brother is the god of light and good, so they’re in slightly different pantheons of religious specificity, but I will nod along and smile to whatever Peter Stormare has to say. He came onstage with such ownership of the character and intense likability as himself and as Czernobog that he quickly infected the entire crew with mirth. He stomped onto the stage chanting, “Czer-no-bog! Czer-no-bog! Czer-no-bog!” And he had a Hello Kitty backpack slung over one shoulder and was this strange hybridization of Czernobog and Peter Stormare that you can’t get enough of. If we get a season 2 order, we’re going to try to scoop him up for as much of it as we possibly can because he’s a goddamn delight.
GREEN: For someone so frightening, he really is a leavening agent. I was actually just looking at a video of him from the first time he was in full costume, stomping through our offices in Toronto. It was equally creepy and hilarious because he looks like a serial killer, but he’s got the heart of a Hello Kitty fan. And that was not his first Hello Kitty backpack.
Czernobog refers to his history with Wednesday, saying, “You brought that madness into my life once. Never again.” What do you know of that history?
FULLER: It was a moment where we both looked at each other and said, “We’ve got to unpack that in season 2.”
Is there a world where we could see his brother, Bielebog, released from the stars?
FULLER: We’ve discussed seeing the brother, and there have been interesting conversations about the Jekyll and Hyde relationship between the two brothers that we’re looking forward to exploring.
There’s a passiveness to Wednesday in this scene that I wonder about. If you compare it to Shadow’s fight with Mad Sweeney, that was a very overtly planned test of Shadow’s strength. Does Wednesday anticipate the same results of the Czernobog visit, or did it veer off course with the bet on Shadow’s life?
GREEN: Anticipate is probably the right word. I don’t think there’s any situation Wednesday brings himself and Shadow into that he didn’t anticipate and plan for a specific result. He knows full well how everyone is going to react to Shadow, and he counts on it, and he calculates it. Wednesday’s a planner, and his plans started a long time ago and reach many years into the future. I think Wednesday knew how each of the Zorya sisters would respond to having Shadow in their company, and exactly what Czernobog was going to invite Shadow to do after dinner, and so when we Wednesday holds his tongue, it’s because he doesn’t want to interrupt something he’s enjoying.
FULLER: Fear Wednesday’s silence.
So, moving to the opposite of Czernobog—Cloris Leachman—tell me about getting her on board. Was she an easy sell to pitch?
FULLER: She was a very easy sell to get involved. Cloris Leachman is very easy, let it be told. We were very lucky. We offered her the role and she said yes, and it was so delightful for us to see her putting on the Zorya wig and her overcoat and becoming that character. You could see Cloris become a young girl when looking at herself completely owned by a new persona. It was like looking into a wormhole and seeing 70 years ago, a young Cloris admiring her wardrobe from one of her very first roles. She was that enthusiastic and impressed by Suttirat Larlarb’s work with the costuming. It was, honestly, an incredible honor to work with her. For her to turn 90 on the set of American Gods and Michael and I bringing her her birthday cake which said “I’m f–king 90” on it, at her request, was a career highlight.
Mr. Nancy kicks off this episode, obviously straying from his introduction in the book in an incredible way. What was the genesis of this speech? And I hear Orlando Jones got a standing ovation on set?
FULLER: Yeah, he did. We were trying to create a tonal land grab that was not necessarily inflammatory but spoke with a brutal honesty about the black person’s experience in coming to America that perhaps two white men had no business doing but were nevertheless compelled to break it down as we saw it. And it was Orlando Jones that really gave it life. He was the electricity that brought that passion and clarity and complexity because his performance… he uses five different dialects while he’s speaking to the slaves on the ship, using Afrikaner accents, Creole accents, all of these different preachers, essentially, woven into one, which was an attribute of his growing up and going to five different churches every Sunday because his mother wanted him to have a well-rounded religious experience. So we were very fortunate to witness him applying everything he knew about preaching and shaping it per line of dialogue, sometimes even to a word, where he would shift into a different dialect to underline or highlight what he was saying so it had maximum impact for him as a storyteller. And that was incredibly impressive.
GREEN: The scope of fortunate casting we have in the episode bears mention. You look at the number of characters introduced in this episode, not the least of which being the man who played the slave who prays to Anansi, an actor named Conphidance whom we were very fortunate to find. We wanted somebody who had depth and pathos and could do all that, but also needed someone who could speak one of the native tongues that were appropriate for the regions that would worship Anansi. If it was hard to get Cloris Leachman, it was much harder to find someone who could pray to Anansi in his native tongue. And our casting directors, Margery Simkin and Orly Sitowitz, worked until they found someone and said, “You’re going to love him,” and sure enough, we saw his audition tape and were thrilled and grateful because without him, we wouldn’t have had the scene.
There’s something to be said for how Mr. Nancy, in this sequence, can seemingly predict the future. Where did that element of his godly power come from?
GREEN: I think we just hit on the idea of, how would a modern-day stand-up comedian preacher who was aware of how things go in the world… express it? How would he channel that rage?
FULLER: There was a sense of time-travel as well because we knew we wanted Anansi to be speaking colloquial English and dressed in a three-piece zoot suit, so there was the fun of embracing the anachronism of someone who looked like they stepped out of a bar in New Orleans in the ‘40s and seeing him in the belly of a slave ship.
GREEN: Our “Coming to Americas” always exist in their own tonal mythic space. So the ridiculous is welcome there. Because are stories being retold, or written down for us, it’s always through an author’s pen, so we felt we had license. And because this is the way Anansi would like to tell the story.
Gillian Anderson makes her debut this episode as Media, and I loved the idea of relocating her to this big-box wholesale store. Was there just too much stuff already going on in hotel rooms?
FULLER: It was really about, what are going to be the strangest spaces for somebody who has been confined for the last three years to experience? And the big-box warehouse shop is intimidating for those of us who have been in them before, much less somebody who hasn’t been anywhere for three years and steps into this massive chasm of consumerism. And that felt as rich an altar as Media could have. The filming of that sequence was very exciting for us. I think it was one of the first moments in filming where we were like, “Oh! We nailed this part.” [Laughs.] The other stuff was questionable and a source of much worry, but the Lucy scene was something that we knew we had pulled off because we looked at that fantastic recreation of Lucy’s living room, and Gillian stepped into it in full costume as Lucy Ricardo. It was one of the first indicators, a month or two into production, where we felt a little bit of relief at having nailed something from the book? Because everything else, we were still speculating as to whether we were going to pull it off. And the crew was so thrilled to have Gillian on stage. It was like a well-loved cousin coming to visit, because it was the Hannibal crew.
We’ve now seen two new gods, Technical Boy and Media, who have threatened to reprogram reality. I’m wondering if you can explain your interpretation of what that actually means. In a perfect world, if the new gods got what they wanted, what would that look like?
FULLER: Well, we’re witnessing a reprogramming of reality happening right now where truth is no longer currency that people are trading in, and facts are meaningless, and feelings have replaced substantial truths in a way that I feel like there is an assault on reality right now, happening in America politically, that is probably not too far disconnected from the reprogramming of reality that the new gods are threatening. Because what they are attempting to do is control the game in a way that is not beholden to anybody else’s opinions but their own.
When Bilquis visits herself in a museum, is that a common thing, or was that the first time?
GREEN: I imagine that in one of her darker days, living on the streets in Hollywood before she found a new way to live in the world, she probably popped into the museum to use the restroom and was asked to leave, but before she left, she probably saw familiar objects that she wanted to go see again. So I don’t know. In my imagination, it’s not her first visit. It is a very sad thing to see your former glory behind glass in a museum as an ancient dead thing that no longer has life, that is barely a memory, that is only substantiated in dusty books that no one reads anymore. That’s heartbreaking. And we owe it to Yetide Badaki who’s able to walk through those halls with so much dignity and pain that, in an absolutely dialogue-less scene, you understand completely what’s going through her heart.
We see Wednesday’s meeting with the Jinn, just as it ends. How did that meeting go?
FULLER: Mr. Wednesday successfully recruited a god! Or a demigod, rather.
And finally, last week you said that Shadow’s meeting with Technical Boy was the moment he’s lifted off his feet and the kite string cuts. Where do we find him now in relation to his acceptance of all the crazy going on around him?
GREEN: He is struggling with accepting that reality isn’t what he thought it was, and when people are confronted with truths that are different from what they felt emotionally, they sometimes react poorly, and one of those reactions is, “Well, if I was wrong, and if the world isn’t what I need it to be, then f— it. Take me out. I don’t want to play that game.” And that expression, that struggle, is one of the early steps he has to take to get to an acceptance of the new reality and the larger world. It’s not a good reaction on his part, and it’s one that Media tries to exploit: the part of him—not a good part—that would rather get off the carousel then find out that it flies.
For more American Gods this week, read our interviews with Peter Stormare about Czernobog, Gillian Anderson about Media, dive into the recap, or watch EW’s postmortem show featuring Orlando Jones and this week’s guests, Ricky Whittle and Cloris Leachman.