Celebrated American Gods author Neil Gaiman talks to Awards Daily about bringing his classic novel to television via Starz.
The word “unfilmable” often feels like a challenge to filmmakers. Ulysses. Lolita. A Confederacy Of Dunces. Dune. Those titles, among many others, routinely pop up in conversations about supposedly unfilmable novels. Yet, creative minds still endeavor to achieve the impossible with varying degrees of success. Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel American Gods, which illustrates a war between the gods of old and new, frequently appeared in such conversations. Hollywood directors reached out to adapt the novel but failed to conceive of the appropriate narrative given its complexity and broad cast of characters. And then there are the experiences such as Stephen King’s struggles with Stanley Kubrick over The Shining.
Fortunately, Neil Gaiman experienced no such issues when approaching Bryan Fuller.
“I was very lucky. I flew up to Toronto where Bryan Fuller was doing Hannibal Season 2 at the time, and I said, ‘How would you do American Gods?’ ” Gaiman explained, “And Bryan was very much like, ‘Well, I don’t know, but I love it and if I did it I would do it with love and I would try and put the things that I love on screen.’ ”
A Heavenly Partnership
Fuller’s honesty and uncertainty about approaching the material actually reassured Gaiman. Fuller’s legendary “fandom,” as Gaiman puts it, proved he could deliver the goods. After brining on development partner Michael Green, Fuller produced a pilot draft that essentially got it right. With some exceptions…
“There was some stuff I loved in it. There was some stuff I didn’t like in it and managed to get the stuff I didn’t like taken out, which I was happy about,” Gaiman laughed. “They’re both incredibly smart guys, and they’re both very willing to be reasoned with. I liked the fact that, with some things I didn’t like, they would explain why they’d made those choices. A lot of the time, I’d be the one saying, ‘I don’t like this,’ and I would explain something, they’d agree, and it would go away. It’s really worked both ways.”
The finished product, which premiered April 30 on Starz!, proves the partnership worked. American Gods received immediate general acclaim. Critics praised the series’ ground-breaking visuals and chemistry between leads Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane. Critics also quickly highlighted the series’ immigration theme and praised American Gods as a politically savvy entertainment.
A Modern Resonance
American Gods begins with a Viking horde finding America. A slave ship later brings a shape-shifting god to America. Russian immigrants prove to have abilities far beyond the average human. As in the novel, these characters bring their personal experiences, history, and religion to American shores. The theming existed in the novel, yes. However, it never received a controversial reception until the Starz series aired under the Trump administration.
“The book is broken up by these stories of people coming to America. The idea of the book is that it’s an immigrants book. You come to this country and bring your culture. You bring your gods and your psychic baggage with you,” Gaiman explains. “Then, you let it go and become part of the melting pot, but you have things that are left behind. There was no political baggage associated with it in the book.”
When originally written, American Gods introduced the new gods of Media and Technology competing against the gods of the ages. As the series premieres, viewers can only wonder how 2017 would alter or strengthen the new gods. Of particular interest is Media who, in the American Gods universe, lords over President Trump’s current war with news agencies.
“New Media is doing incredibly well, but New Media is in an incredibly precarious place. Everything turns up with an expiration date,” Gaiman observes. “[Concerning Donald Trump] I think Media loves that. The joy of Donald Trump is that he’s good copy. Media doesn’t care about rights or wrongs. Media doesn’t care about human happiness. Media cares about eyes and attention, and as far as Media is concerned, Donald Trump is great copy. Hate him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.”
And given the immediate reaction, audiences and possibly members of the Television Academy can’t ignore American Gods.
American Gods airs Sundays at 9pm ET on Starz!