Creating American Gods hasn’t been an easy process. Between HBO passing on the OG pilot script (written by Gaiman), unifying a sprawling cast, and the insane amount of work it takes to create a magical surrealist America, even Neil Gaiman’s cult following couldn’t guarantee a hit. In fact, when Gaiman approached Bryan Fuller to showrun the ambitious project, Fuller, a fan of Gaiman said, “I have no idea how I would make this into a TV series, but I love it and if we did it right, it would be amazing.”
One of the things they did get right? Expanding the show beyond Shadow’s journey. Laura Moon’s bulk-up is a standout, and for good reason. “She’s one of the most important people in the book. She’s just not in it very much because the book is from Shadow’s point of view. We can never know more than Shadow knows,” said Gaiman. “I occasionally toyed with the idea of writing American Gods that would have been Laura’s story.”
“Now we get that chance. American Gods is a TV show with lots of people and our camera no longer needs to be on Shadow all the time. Some of my favorite scenes are scenes that could not have existed in the book,” Gaiman continued. Creating something new is the driving force behind the Gaiman & Fuller collaboration, Gaiman especially delighted in seeing what Fuller brought to the fold.
For this reason, the show often veers left of the novel, which is a meandering, introspective, singular journey that Fuller and co-showrunner Michael Green blew up into universe-expanding, ensemble-driven, televisual epic. “One reason I love those scenes is I didn’t write them, and couldn’t have written it in the novel!” said Gaiman. And though there were long conversations between Fuller, Green, and Gaiman, Gaiman was constantly surprised.
Take, for example, the creation of the god Vulcan by three merely mortal men. “The Vulcan thing was weird,” admitted Gaiman. “He came about because I went to Birmingham, Alabama where they have an enormous Vulcan statue. I heard stories about how people used to fall into the steel works, but they wouldn’t close down the steelworks to put in the safety railings because it was actually cheaper for them to send the obligatory $50,000 for each death to people’s families than it was for them to close down the steel works for three days, have everything cool off enough, and then install the safety railings. That would have been millions. People just carried on dying, and I thought, ‘That’s a sacrifice.’”
Gaiman told Fuller and Green about the visit in an early story meeting but didn’t think about it again till they met to discuss how a potential Season 2 would look. “I was just talking to the guys about how if I write episodes in American Gods Season 2 [because Gaiman had his name attached to the script that HBO passed on, he couldn’t write any episodes of Season 1] Vulcan will probably get in there and they were like, ‘Oh, and Episode 7 is going to be the Vulcan one. All that stuff you were saying, we loved that, we put it in’.”
Gaiman was thrilled by how organically a vacation anecdote evolved into one of the only prosperous and truly powerful American Gods — one that he had never imagined putting in the novel. He’s looking forward to leveling up Season 2 with more original ideas, some of them from when he first started writing the novel over two decade ago.
“The other night Bryan, Michael, and I had dinner. I said, ‘Now, look, there are things that I never got to write because I only had limited room and some of them were even plotted — one of them was going to be a 1940s Coming to America sequence,” said Gaiman. Fuller and Green, as expected, jumped all over the chance to tackle those unpublished ideas.
“There’s enough stuff left over [from plotting the novel], that you’ll probably see some of it in Season 2,” Gaiman continued.
When asked whether he’s worried about straying too far from the source material for his og fans, Gaiman demurred, “Watching somebody who has been emotionally traumatized slowly come back to life is something that I think you can do really well in prose and will be really dull in TV; Shadow walking around being strong and silent would be really dull.”
For Gaiman, despite the changes from book to show, the spirit of the novel still shines through. And if he’s being perfectly honest, the only hard line he cared to draw in the sand was over the characters’ race. “I said to the production company, ‘Just so you know, the racial makeup of the characters is inviolate. Shadow is mixed race because America is a mixture of races and he is our hero, and also there are plot reasons and that’s what we are going to do’.”
Once that was secured, Gaiman, like the rest of us, waited to see what Fuller and company did with American Gods.
“American Gods isn’t perfect. We’re figuring it out as we go along. Most first seasons have weird little rough edges and we have as many rough edges as anybody, but there’s stuff on the screen that nobody’s done before and I’m so proud of that.”
American Gods airs on Starz, Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern.