Awards Daily TV shines the Emmy® Spotlight on American Gods co-star Pablo Schreiber as a prime candidate for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
Starz’s American Gods burst onto the small screen with all kinds of anticipation ahead of it. Based on the popular Neil Gaiman novel, the series immediately resonated with audiences. The strong connection to current political hot topics (re: immigration) helped give American Gods additional exposure over competing new series. Plus, it didn’t hurt that show runner extraordinaire Bryan Fuller, partnering with Michael Green, spearheaded the project. They tackled Gaiman’s novel with intelligence, reverence, and the right amount of levity. Fuller and Green took care to craft a great television series that adapted the novel in creative ways.
Yet, with all of that power behind the camera, the talent in front of the camera sells the material like gangbusters. In my eyes, Pablo Schreiber stands at the front of a luridly talented ensemble that includes the great Ian McShane and Gillian Anderson. Schreiber breathes playful life into the character of Mad Sweeney, a leprechaun with shady motives beyond his fistfuls of gold. In fact, Schreiber so fully inhabits this role that it becomes difficult to imagine the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series race without him.
Hear that, Television Academy? You don’t want Mad Sweeney coming down on ya.
Tex Avery At His Very Best
Starting with the pilot episode, Pablo Schreiber’s Mad Sweeney pops from the ensemble cast in interesting ways. His performance feels inspired by a roster of Tex Avery cartoon characters. That is, perhaps, the highest compliment I could pay Schreiber. He radiates this intense mad glee as he goads Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) into fisticuffs. At a reported 6 feet 5 inches tall, Schreiber towers over most of the cast, and he uses this physicality to his credit. With an near-insane Sonny Corleone-esqe vibe and a gleam in his eye, Schreiber cobbles together the aura of a leprechaun without resorting to cliches.
I mean, barely any cliches. There are no Lucky Charms here, but he does ask for missing gold coins a lot throughout the series.
What’s great about the fight scene and Schreiber’s performance are how he brings Mad Sweeney to life as the action escalates. He plays lower, more reserved notes at the start. By the time bodies fly across the room, Schreiber crescendos into a full-on mad man. Blood pouring from his mouth and nose, his Mad Sweeney relishes the fight, relishes the pain, or perhaps relishes the contact. A later fight scene with Shadow Moon’s deceased wife Laura (Emily Browning) illustrates the full-on comedy Schreiber brings to the role. These are the Tex Avery scenes at their grandest with bulging eyes and exaggerated features comically illustrating his pain. Yet, in a proper usage of makeup, his internal pain references visually through elaborate facial scarring. He’s not someone you’d want to cross, but the interior registers as soft and sad.
Playing the Softer Notes
It’s not until later, in this Sunday’s “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney,” do we see Schreiber play quieter, more sensitive notes. The episode flashes back and tells a poignant story from Sweeney’s past. It provides an important opportunity to contrast the bloodthirsty man with his sensitive interior. A quiet, angsty, self-loathing desperation exists within Schreiber’s Mad Sweeney. His unsettled air feels only satiated by the potentially timeless presence of Laura Moon (Browning in dual roles here). The episode helps create a fully fleshed vision of Mad Sweeney, far beyond what registered in the great novel.
Pablo Schreiber’s Mad Sweeney perfects the art of supportive acting. His performance is rarely the focus of the scene, but you can’t take your eyes off him. He lurks in the sides, still as the dead, but you’d swear he was dancing an Irish jig. His Mad Sweeney always watches, eyes darting to every piece of the action and fists at the ready. A coiled snake ready to strike. As a result, the performance emerges as a complex mixture of physical and interior performance art.
Plus, I’d give him an Emmy every time he makes “dead wife” sound like the greatest insult of all.
American Gods may be too recent, too violent, too out there for the Television Academy. They’re likely to embrace the visuals, the costumes, the excellent main titles, or the special effects ahead of anything else. Yet, one of the truest special effects of the series remains Pablo Schreiber’s near-transformative performance as the leprechaun Mad Sweeney. Pay attention, Emmy voters. This is top-notch all-inclusive acting here.
Who knew Pornstache had it in him?
American Gods airs Sundays on Starz at 9pm ET. Be sure to catch the great Pablo Schreiber in “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” on June 11.