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Ian McShane Tackles Mr. Wednesday in Starz’s ‘American Gods’

Awards Daily TV talks to the Emmy®-nominated Ian McShane about his new role as Mr. Wednesday on Starz’s acclaimed American Gods.

Ian McShane stars as Mr. Wednesday in Starz’s television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s cult novel American Gods. The role registers perfectly for McShane, an often larger-than-life figure who plays a larger-than-life character. Yet, given all the eccentricities in the series, McShane registers as the cool, calm, and collected center of co-creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s hallucinogenic series. According to McShane, that’s a deliberate choice to help ease viewers into this other-worldly world.

Ian McShane received a Golden Globe award and a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for his performance in HBO’s Deadwood. Will American Gods return McShane to the Emmy conversation? We’ll find out when Emmy nominations are announced on July 13.

Meanwhile, I talked to Ian McShane about making American Gods, about its more controversial elements, and about his favorite moments from the series.

You have a broad career in television and film. With American Gods, have you ever seen or worked on something quite like this?

No. As someone said the other day, “How does it feel being a part of ‘What the fuck television?’ WTF TV?” In a world that’s becoming a WTF world, it seems regular. I’m very pleased to see, when I first saw the very first episode, I thought a lot of shows talk about being difference or pushing the envelope. I thought Bryan Fuller and Michael Green on the basis of Neil Gaiman’s extraordinary blueprint of a novel created a hybrid between television and film. No, I haven’t seen anything like it, and it’s very nice to be part of something that is very different from anything else that’s put on the air.

Given how out there a lot of this material is, how do you ground yourself in the material as an actor and find the performance?

Oh, that’s the easier part of being an actor. If you play a god in a show like this, then you play him more normal and as a regular human being with all a human’s faults. That makes him come across more normal when he eventually reveals exactly who he is, which my character does eventually reveal himself. It’s the first of many reveals.

Tell me about working with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green.

Well, I worked with Michael Green before on an NBC show called Kings. The kind of stuff that Bryan Fuller and Michael Green work on belongs on cable where you can explore the language, profane or not, and sexuality. For example, the scenes with Bilquis or the scenes with the Jinn and the Muslim man, everybody’s so fearful. They’re thinking, “Oh my God, the sky’s going to fall if we have a homosexual love scene on television!” That scene was tender and beautiful. Nobody died over it. I don’t think there were mass defections from the Muslim faith. Nobody got their knickers in a twist, as we say in England.

Bryan’s known for his visual style which compliments the material beautifully. Michael’s known for his baroque sensibilities. Together, they expanded and, in a way, made better the universe that Gaiman created in the book. I’ll tell you what it is. Mr. Wednesday is a great part in any context. It’s written funny and charming and out there. Yet, when that’s encompassed in a show which is as good as this one turned out to be, one feels even better about it. American Gods is the whole package.

You mentioned “baroque” content. Are you drawn to that as a performer?

No, I actually haven’t been. I’ve done a lot of stuff. I did my own series in London called Lovejoy, which was an acclaimed series. It was very much a network kind of show about an antique dealer. Then, I did Deadwood, which was a neo-Western. To then get involvement in something like this feels very gratifying. It’s something completely different. It wasn’t something I would immediately gravitate toward, but once you’re part of it, it feels very exciting.

I will never forget your performance in American Horror Story: Asylum as that very, very bad Santa.

[Laughs] Ryan Murphy created something insane there. That show benefitted from having its tongue firmly in its cheek. Baroque horror, which I’d never done. American Gods, if you will, is baroque futuristic. It’s kind of nice to be able to fight Jessica Lange on screen for about 10 minutes. I don’t think many people get the opportunity to do that.

What’s your favorite moment from Season 1?

My favorite moment, personally, is the moment when Mr. Wednesday meets Shadow (Ricky Whittle) on the plane. It’s the first scene we ever shot, and it sort of cemented my relationship with Ricky who I think is terrific in the most difficult part. He has to react to everything. Shadow Moon is not the normal protagonist. You see everything through his eyes. I think our relationship was cemented that day. It was our first day of filming, and after that day, Ricky and I established a rapport that influenced our relationship through the rest of the show. It made it easier when we had scenes together because we already had that base together. The first few episodes comes off like a buddy movie in a sense. That’s the sort of grounding in the show. You’re wondering why this guy is sticking with Mr. Wednesday.

American Gods, starring Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle, wraps Season 1 Sunday night on Starz.

Ian McShane
(Photo: Starz)