Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, see a leprechaun fighting an ex-convict in a crocodile-themed dive bar.
People of America, welcome to American Gods — the hotly-anticipated television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s instant-classic 2001 adult contemporary fantasy novel, which will give your DVR a new dose of deity when it premieres on Starz in 2017. And guess what? Your prayers for a sneak peek to tide you over until then have been answered.
EW has your exclusive first look at Shadow (Ricky Whittle), Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) in a scene that’ll be instantly familiar to fans of Gaiman’s novel: Jack’s Crocodile Bar, one of the book’s earliest settings, where Shadow first proves his might and mettle to the mysterious Wednesday in a fist-fight with the pugnacious, drunk leprechaun.
“It was one of the sets that we were the most excited about and an opportunity to do a tonal landgrab for what we are and what the style of the show will be,” says exec producer Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies), who re-teams with Heroes producer Michael Green to adapt the novel. “[Jack’s] is a kind of hillbilly chic aesthetic for Shadow’s entrée into the world of the gods.”
If seeing primary protagonist duo Shadow and Wednesday together in the flesh is giving you strange sensations, you’re not alone. Fuller says McShane’s Wednesday, who always exercised a morbid comic bite in the novel, is just as darkly funny here. “I think the comedy and charm and ease of Wednesday’s appeal is very well-suited for Ian McShane,” he says. “He has a vibrancy as Wednesday that could have gone so many different ways in other actors’ hands, but has such a specificity and reality, despite the situation at hand.”
Shadow, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of Wednesday — he’s stoic, kind, and, well, mortal. “There’s where Ricky has been such a boon,” says Green. “His experience of [the world of the gods] is very genuine and grounded, and we want to watch him be introduced to and beaten up by this new reality.”
American Gods, in a nutshell, proposes a world where gods are real and we’re all just pawns in their great chess game for humanity’s attention. At the center of the novel’s conflict is Whittle’s ex-convict Shadow, who’s released from prison and immediately gets caught up in a war of worship between the nation’s two bands of titans: The old gods, whose power in America has been slowly dying alongside the waning generation of immigrant believers who brought them to the country in the first place (e.g. Schreiber’s Sweeney, who struggles to figure out why he lost his charm), and the new gods, a fast-growing set of modern myths born on our own home turf (e.g. Gillian Anderson’s Media, a goddess whose screen-hungry power you’ll feed the second you turn on your TV next year).
“Neil created this wonderfully stuffed toy box filled with all sorts of cultural points of view on how American operates as a system, and that was so fascinating and mythological in and of itself,” says Fuller. “It’s really much more of an immigration story than it is a god story.” Green adds, “One of the biggest challenges was stripping the idea of gods as X-Men or giant empowered creatures who stomp on cities and throw the oceans. We wanted them to be people with problems. It’s not about lightning bolts — it’s about the question of day-to-day survival.”
For more exclusive intel on American Gods, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly.