The highly anticipated television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods could not be more timely in the current political climate, but creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green didn’t initially intend for it to be that way, they explained Saturday to a packed panel audience at the series’ SXSW festival premiere in Austin.
“It’s definitely a different show than we set out to make because the political climate in America shat its pants, and we are now telling immigrant stories in a climate that now vilifies immigrants,” said Fuller.
Fuller (also a co-creator with Alex Kurtzman of Star Trek: Discovery, set to premiere on CBS All Access later this year) and Green (formerly of Heroes, where he and Fuller met, and who penned the screenplay for Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express) were joined at the premiere and panel discussion by several members of the cast, including Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber, Crispin Glover, Yetide Badaki, Bruce Langley, Orlando Jones, Jonathan Tucker and Betty Gilpin.
The fantasy drama follows Shadow Moon (Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (McShane) in a magical world where a battle is brewing between the old Gods and such new Gods as technology and media. Faith, devotion and belief systems are recurring themes, as is immigration, which largely dominated the discussion after the well-received episode.
Fuller, who calls the series an immigration story, explained what it’s like to deal with such an incendiary topic: “We as Americans are under a radical political climate that tends to lean cruel as opposed to compassionate. So we are excited to tell compassionate immigration stories, not only as a statement, but as part of the ongoing narrative of the series.”
Green agreed, saying, “Somehow in the mania of this last disappointing year, immigration suddenly became something that people look at with derision. Something other than the best thing of America.”
Fuller and Green both described themselves as big fans of the Gaiman novel, and stressed that they wanted to “make a show that the fans will be pleased with,” with Green adding, “Anytime there’s something loved, people always remember it in a way that’s going to be different [from what an adaptation creates], but if we do our jobs well enough, we get to change the way people remember their readings.”
While the source material has not been significantly changed, the showrunners explained that they wanted to “expand the chapters between chapters” and tell the stories that weren’t told. They said it’s not so much changing the book as “rearranging of some of the events.”
However, one tweak made in adapting the book for the screen was the prominence of its female characters. “We’re very excited to expand on several of the female characters,” Fuller said. “The book tends to be a sausage party.”
The premiere, which included the first full episode of the series, teased the future appearance of several more female stars, including Kristin Chenoweth (as Easter), Cloris Leachman and Gillian Anderson.
American Gods premieres Sunday, April 30, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Starz. SXSW runs through March 19.