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Gaiman, Fuller Talk ‘American Gods’

TV

Neil Gaiman, left, and Bryan Fuller spoke about “American Gods” at Bard College on April 15. Photo by Kayla Gangloff

Neil Gaiman is a storyteller. Through his soothing tone and carefully chosen words, the acclaimed author mesmerized a packed house at Bard College on April 15 as he discussed “American Gods” — an upcoming television show based on his 2001 novel of the same name — alongside executive producer and co-showrunner Bryan Fuller.

Before the duo answered questions from the audience, Gaiman — who has been a professor in the arts at Bard for three years — was “thrilled” to give the crowd the opportunity to watch the first episode of the show a full two weeks before its April 30 debut on the Starz network.

“Sorry about all the blood,” Gaiman said as the lights dimmed in the Sosnoff Theater and the opening titles rolled on a big screen.

He wasn’t kidding. The first few minutes involve an over-the-top Viking battle full of arrows, flying body parts and buckets of bright red blood.

Both the book and the show follow Shadow (played by a stoic Ricky Whittle), an ex-con who is released from prison to find his life in shambles. He is hired as the bodyguard of a charismatic con man named Mr. Wednesday (brought to life by the wonderful Ian McShane) and ends up on a cross-country journey that puts him in the middle of a battle between the Old Gods and the New Gods.

The great cast of characters immediately makes the first episode memorable. Pablo Schreiber of “Orange is the New Black” plays Mad Sweeney, a leprechaun who loves a good fight. Yetide Badaki is Bilquis, an ancient goddess of love who is involved in — how do I put this — a unique sex scene. 

Lakeville Journal Company Associate Editor Bruce Paddock is a fan of the book and says the show stays true to its story. 

“I’m just excited to get back into that world that I enjoyed so much,” he said after watching the series premiere.

The show enticed me to read the book, and I’m along for the ride in both media.

Q&A follows show

After screening the first episode, Fuller outlined his previous television credits: “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” “Dead Like Me,”  “Wonderfalls,” “Pushing Daisies” and “Hannibal” — the latter to a roar of applause.

Gaiman and Fuller then answered written questions from the audience. 

Gaiman outlined his inspiration for “American Gods.” He said it began in 1992 when he moved from England to small-town Midwest America. 

“I thought I understood America,” he said, noting that he watched American TV shows and movies. “I came out, and it was weird.”

He said that he tried to understand America by driving across it and was drawn to roadside attractions, including a “replica of an enormous block of cheese.”

He then went to Reykjavik, Iceland, walked into a tourist office and saw a diorama of the voyages of Leif Erikson.

“I wonder if they brought their gods with them,” he thought at the time. “I wonder if they left them behind when they went home.”

And thus, “American Gods” was born.

Fuller said the book was challenging to adapt for television, especially since it’s a road show full of different locations that represent America.

“The final episode has over 500 visual effects. ‘Titanic’ had 460,” he said.

Some minor things were changed from the novel to make it more contemporary, such as the job of Shadow’s wife. (She’s a small-town travel agent in the book, which is a hard sell in 2017.)

“The things that were dated were wallpaper rather than substance,” Gaiman said.

Also, Technical Boy (a New God of technology played by Bruce Langley) received a bit of an update.

We are “hemorrhaging personal information now,” Fuller said. Thanks to social media, Technical Boy knows all about us, but “the notion of him as a frustrated adolescent remained.”

If the thought of “American Gods” being a gory show is a concern for you, Gaiman said the first episode contains “98 percent of the blood in the first season.” It’s there to show that the series is willing to go to extremes. Fuller also referred to the blood as “really Old Testament.”

Gaiman said that Whittle auditioned for the role of Shadow 16 times. He got better with every audition.

The evening ended with an important question: How will the story of one novel stretch over multiple seasons?

Gaiman said the first season comprises eight episodes, and while some elements from later in the book have been moved earlier in the story, the season really focuses on the first quarter of the book.

The author said that by the time they’ve used up the book’s plot, he hopes to have written more stories set in this world.

 

“American Gods” debuts on Starz on Sunday, April 30, at 9 p.m. For details, go to www.starz.com.