There was already a lot of information on American Gods out in the ether before Starz brought Neil Gaiman and the cast to New York Comic Con on Friday. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green departed as showrunners after season 1, apparently over creative differences. That already delayed the production, but a new report published in September cited additional hiccups involving shafted scripts, on-set tension, and the departure of the next showrunner, Jesse Alexander.
Sitting backstage before the show’s big Comic Con panel, meant as a first look for fans at what they’ve been working on, the cast addressed some of these issues.
“It was bullsh—,” Gaiman told EW of the reports. The author of the American Gods book and executive producer on the show wanted to make clear he wasn’t a “Machiavellian figure taking out showrunners.” He continued, “I was offered the showrunner job several times, and I can’t. It doesn’t work that way. I’m doing Good Omens. It’s a full-time thing. So for me, I wanted Bryan and Michael to succeed. I wanted Jesse to succeed and I think Jesse did an amazing job of taking a show that didn’t have a showrunner, suddenly and surprisingly, and didn’t have scripts and putting together a writers’ room, putting together a show. It was amazing.”
Gaiman did acknowledge problems with season 2’s development, but nothing too out of the ordinary. “Sometimes people write scripts and the scripts don’t always work,” he said. “And at that point, somebody else in the writers’ room takes a crack at it.”
Omid Abtahi said the reports weren’t “entirely inaccurate.” For Emily Browning, it was more like, “We hit a giant road bump and I think we’ve managed to correct course.” A few names come up in that regard: Orlando Jones and Chris Byrne.
Jones, playing Mr. Nancy, is more prominently involved with writing and producing American Gods in season 2. “He amazingly knows Laura really well,” Browning said of developing her character. “He’s the person I go to when I need help with where Laura’s going.”
Jones “never heard of a show that didn’t have something going on with it.” He didn’t seem concerned. What’s more important to him are the conversations American Gods is starting in terms of cultural and political topics, topics like “mass incarceration” and “human trafficking” that “no one [in dramatic television] is talking about, that it’s not on anyone’s radar.”
He adds, “So the fact we’re tackling all of those issues makes me feel like for all of the hoopla… [he physically shrugs].”
Byrne, meanwhile, worked with Fuller and Green for many years on Hannibal and he served as a 2nd unit director on American Gods season 1. With season 2, he moved to 1st unit, directing the first and eighth episodes. Abtahi, Browning, Jones, and Ricky Whittle all note how critical Byrne was in maintaining the look and atmosphere of the show going into these new episodes.
“If you had spoken to me a few months ago, I was feeling not very confident at all,” Brown said. “Always confident in the cast and in Chris Byrne, who didn’t come here [to NYCC] because, a) he’s working on the show as we speak, and, b) he just doesn’t want his face to be all over everything. He just wants to remain in the background. It needs to be in print that he’s the f—ing hero of this show. … He is American Gods to me. He doesn’t get enough praise and I want to shout his name from the rooftops because he saved us and he’s incredible.”
“The look of the show is exactly 100 percent the same, if not cooler,” Whittle added of Byrne’s work. “Some of the sh— they’re doing this season is amazing, unbelievable. That was never the issue.”
The cast also didn’t ignore Alexander’s work on the show. After Fuller and Green’s departure, he was “getting the show back on the road,” Gaiman said.
“Brian and Michael have set down an incredible foundation, I hope to work with them again in the future, I love those guys,” Whittle said. But, “if it wasn’t for Jesse,” he added, “we literally would not be on screen. He got it together when we were running out of time. He knocked out all the episodes and the story, and we’ve been blessed with another great season.”
In its report on the season 2 production, The Hollywood Reporter published details about apparent tension on set, notably a “shouting match” involving Ian McShane (now an actor and executive producer on American Gods) and Alexander. Whittle said there wasn’t any kind of uncomfortable behavior he noticed that hasn’t been in other productions. “Coming from a toxic environment [a reference to his time on The 100], I can say that American Gods is the happiest place I’ve been,” Whittle stressed.
To Gaiman, Alexander’s main contributions were keeping the characters of Shadow and Mr. Wednesday as the main focus of the story. “We have a huge show. It’s a huge budget, it’s an enormous cast, and you need scripts that service all of the cast,” he explained. “You need a vision of a certain amount of madness, you need to keep the plot going. It would be very easy with a cast of outstanding actors like this to lose Shadow, possibly to lose Wednesday, and we need to make them front and center. I think one of the things that Jesse did that I really liked so much was to get them front and center.”
There’s still a lot of love for Fuller and Green. Abtahi pointed to his time working with the pair on Heroes. “Personally, professionally, I get along with them really, really well,” he said. “It’s not always great to hear that kind of stuff, but they were very encouraging to us. They said, ‘You guys, the cast is the most important part of the show. You guys will be fine.'”
“Only speaking for myself,” Browning said. “I love Michael and Bryan with all of my heart and soul and them leaving was truly heartbreaking for me, but I’m hoping we can do them proud to some degree because I know they still love us.”