NEW YORK — It's been more than 15 years since Neil Gaiman published one of his most celebrated works, American Gods, a sprawling novel rife with symbolism about the American immigrant experience. The book had been considered for a television adaptation for years and first landed in the lap of HBO in 2011 — not a bad fit, either, considering what they've achieved with Game of Thrones. Issues with the script, however, led the network to give up on a potential series.
Fast forward to 2017, and American Gods is finally coming to the small screen on Starz, with an eight-episode first season and Gaiman's stamp of approval. Yet the most surprising aspect of the American Gods series might be how politically relevant it's become in 2017, something showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green couldn't have anticipated when they signed on in 2014.
"We went into it ... we wanted to talk about the things that were of interest to us, and an earthquake shifted the ground under our feet in the time," Green explained at a Monday press event in New York. "I mean, we were done filming in October." November, of course, is when Donald Trump was elected president on the coattails of his anti-immigration rhetoric.
"I don't think anyone anticipated just how much the country would change, and we'll go on record saying not for the better," Green added. "But the book offered opportunities to talk about subjects and issues that were important to us, and it was a prescient novel in that way. These things have always been important in America, they're always been hot-button things in America, and the times have made the book even more relevant."
Fuller explained that the American Gods team screened the season finale — which includes the "Coming to America" scenes for Bilquis, the goddess of love — the day after the election. The novel's "Coming to America" sections are short stories that explain how certain Old Gods emigrated to America. In the four episodes provided to the press so far, these short stories are typically used as cold opens. To Fuller's dismay, the hardships Bilquis endured at the hands of men in the show's flashbacks were especially pertinent after Trump's election win.
"Essentially, there's no shortage of the horrible lengths that men will go to to take down a woman of power, and fuck, that was depressing to see the next day, that November day," Fuller said. "It wasn't anything that we thought we were commenting on in terms of where the country was headed politically as much as it was a relevant social issue that we're painfully aware of."
The ongoing conflict in American Gods — both the novel and the show — is the brewing war between the Old Gods and the New Gods, with the latter representing things like media and technology. In a less fantastical sense, it's the idea of preserving the cultural traditions of home versus assimilating to a new country. That struggle is more or less ingrained in every American experience, and it's still at the center of the ongoing debate around immigration.
It's an important dialogue American Gods can help sustain.
"We're trying to hint at something and go, 'What if this country is built on immigration?'" Ian McShane, who plays the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, said. "Look at us around this table, look, we're a perfect example of America, right? And what I mean is, I'm an immigrant, I've lived on and off here for 40 years. [Costar Ricky Whittle]'s lived here for a few years now. And America's a great country. You just happen to be going through a particularly weird time, but a lot of places do, they'll recover from it. I hope sooner than later."
American Gods premieres at 9 p.m. Eastern on April 30 on Starz.
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