Starz’ upcoming fantasy series American Gods will address that in a very real way. The show, debuting in April 2017, imagines the reality of gods who walk the earth because our faith throughout world history has manifested them. However, in contemporary America, these old gods have to fight for the attention of believers who are now putting their time, energy, and sacrifice into new gods who have risen out of our modern habits (e.g. the deities of the internet and television are exceptionally over-worshipped and exceedingly powerful these days).
In turn, old gods are having trouble finding footing in the new world — yet some are faring better than others.
EW has an exclusive first look at a new character who straddles both worlds in the series: Meet Vulcan, played by actor Corbin Bernsen (Psych, L.A. Law). He’s based on the Roman god of metalworking and volcanoes… so, essentially, the god of weaponry and fire, which translates into a modern character who has done fairly well for himself in a country where guns reign in the discourse.
“Vulcan’s the god of the volcano and the forge, and what is the modern-day extrapolation of what that god could do?” muses co-showrunner Bryan Fuller. “We started talking about America’s obsession with guns and gun control and, really, if you’re holding a gun in your hand, it’s a mini volcano, and perhaps, through this character, there’s a conversation to be had.”
Vulcan wasn’t written into Neil Gaiman’s original 2001 novel that serves as the inspiration for the series, but the character is an important new addition from Gaiman himself. The idea came back when the author was due to write an episode of the Starz series; though timing rendered that impossible for the first season, Fuller and co-showrunner Michael Green continued to weave Gaiman’s idea into the show’s fabric.
Green explains the genesis of the character: “He’s a brand-new addition who came from an experience Neil had. He was going through a small town in Alabama where he saw a statue of Vulcan. It was a steel town and, as he told the story, there was a factory that had a series of accidents where people were killed on the job and they kept happening because an actuarial had done the numbers and realized that it was cheaper to pay out the damages to the families of people who lost people, rather than to shut down the factory long enough to repair, and that occurred to him as modern a definition of sacrifice as there might be.”
Allow that tale to be your jump-off point to extrapolate what Vulcan’s role in the series will be — and whether his allegiance to Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) and the rest of the old gods will be as clear-cut.
“What’s interesting about a god like Vulcan who has bound himself to guns is it’s an evolution of what he was to what he could be, and that’s finding a new place in a world that didn’t have a place for old gods,” says Green. “That comes with a series of compromises but also a series of benefits for him. To say that maybe you can find a new place in this country, that it doesn’t always have to be so hard, makes him an interesting person as someone with a long history with Mr. Wednesday.”
In fact, that repartee with McShane’s mysterious godly grifter should also make for some combustible on-screen chemistry, as McShane and Bernsen apparently had a history as well and were “glad to be in a room together again,” says Green. That chemistry, Fuller teases, certainly finds its way into their relationship as ancient deities: “They’re both old, fiery gods and there’s something fun about these proper geezers getting together and causing trouble.”
For more on American Gods, The Leftovers, and other big 2017 shows, pick up Entertainment Weekly‘s First Look Issue, on stands Friday, or buy it here — and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
American Gods premieres on Starz in April 2017.