American Gods: Gillian Anderson on becoming Marilyn Monroe and David Bowie
American Gods debuted not one but two brand new looks for everyone’s favorite second-screen experience: Media, the god of screens big and small, made two bold appearances in the series’ fifth episode.
First came Media’s take on David Bowie, a manifestation of Ziggy Stardust to confront the bratty Technical Boy about his wayward behavior against Shadow. Later, Media appeared once more as a bona fide Hollywood bombshell: Marilyn Monroe, who floated into the major meeting of the new gods and once again sent Shadow reeling. For Anderson, both characters were a blast.
“I didn’t know all that much about Marilyn as much as we all know what’s in the greater consciousness: the key pieces of her death and her struggle and her marriage and all that,” Anderson tells EW. “And actually, I was surprised at how easy I found it to immerse myself in that and how much fun it was. She was definitely the one I had the most fun doing, just because there’s an imminent joy to her. There is also with Judy [Garland], but there’s something so delightful and delicious about Marilyn that was a lot of fun to jump into. And there’s a mechanism that we used to get her floating — I was on this robotic contraption that had been built with fans in it so that my skirt was constantly moving, even though they were going to recreate and enhance some of that in CGI. So for the majority of that scene, it was me being driven around via remote control with fans blasting vertically up my dress.” Anderson laughs: “So, that was fun.”
While Marilyn tracks with what we’ve already seen of Media — her appearance as Lucy Ricardo sets the scene for a character based on Hollywood screen icons who have inspired god-sized worship — the appearance of Bowie is a testament to the expanded shape Media has taken in Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s series. In Neil Gaiman’s novel, Media’s manifestations (which included Diane from Cheers) are encoded as female, but Media only takes the shape of what she deems the best vehicle to convey her message. The character has less loyalty to gender in the Starz series, which raises an interesting question of what power looks like when it doesn’t have to be applied to one human body.
“The fact that she does manifest as male and female and however Bowie might identify himself… I mean, certainly, you say ‘worship,’ and Michael Jackson was worshiped as much as any female icon we’ve ever had,” says Anderson. “Actually, we discussed Michael Jackson at one point as a character I might do, and Prince. But to me, what was important for Media, male or female, was that we got to see that the women, the female gods, and the females in general are and can be as powerful as the male gods and the men [on the show]. That they are equal. I guess it makes sense that one of the most powerful gods in the story is embodied as female.”
The most interesting challenge of Media on the show, as Anderson has described it, is what parts of Media live between her manifestations. Co-showrunner Michael Green says, “Early on, it was an interesting conversation with Gillian because we talked a lot about her I Love Lucy performance and how much of it was going to be impression and how much of it is a new character — Media. And she really hit on this idea of how to hybridize the two. That she was using the impression only as a way to make part of her point. When she’s David Bowie, it’s done in a completely different way, and when she’s Marilyn, it’s almost mockingly. She really weaponizes her alterations and vocal quality to make herself as irresistible as possible to the person she is trying to sell. And she is always trying to sell.”
If the customer is Shadow, that means appearing (so far) as glamorous women of the ‘50s — but there’s lots of wiggle room for other manifestations that Media can use against him, says Green: “Every time he sees one of these people, she’s making him fear that he’s actually losing his mind.”