American Gods: Ian McShane on Wednesday's dilemma as Shadow learns his true parentage in finale
It’s not easy trying to wage a war — just ask Wednesday, a.k.a. Grimnir, a.k.a. All-Father, a.k.a. Odin, the Norse god desperately trying to rustle up strife and mistrust amongst the Old God and the New Gods for an epic battle in American Gods.
Sunday’s season finale of American Gods saw Shadow left to fend for himself when Wednesday does a disappearing act in the wake of Mad Sweeney’s death, as the New Gods use their tech-savvy resources to conjure a manhunt targeting Shadow and Wednesday tied to the bank robberies they had committed back in season 1. As Shadow deals with impending danger, Wednesday lays low in a diner, rather ambivalent about the mess that his right-hand man is in.
“The season starts with the death of Zorya Vechernyaya (the Slavic goddess of the Evening Star), which is an awful jolt to Wednesday,” says Ian McShane, who plays the wily Norse god. “With the death of Sweeney, it leaves him no choice but to go away and recalibrate … he’s not licking his wounds but saying “I’m getting out of here, I’m going to go away, recalibrate, re-figure out what I have to do. Shadow will always be there and he’ll be fine.’”
Just as season 1 ended with Shadow finally learning Wednesday’s true identity as the powerful Odin, season 2 ends with two key revelations for Shadow — that Wednesday had engineered his wife Laura’s death, and more importantly, that Wednesday is his father. As the police dragnet closes in on Ibis and Jacquel’s Funeral Parlor in Cairo, Illinois, where Shadow has been hiding out, he becomes trapped in the roots of the World Tree growing in the house and somehow manifests a power to erase the manhunt.
Having miraculously escaped the house, Shadow finds himself on a bus to Lakeside and with a new identity, Mike Ainsel, setting up the premise for season 3, as Wednesday stays hidden and figures out his new plan. “Nothing is as it seems — Wednesday is playing three-dimensional chess, where one door closes and another door opens, it’s complicated,” McShane teases.
McShane spoke to EW about Wednesday’s trickery, the complications with the production of the second season and what people can expect to see in the third season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, the discoveries that Shadow has in this episode are things that he comes to later in the book. How does that change his journey going forward?
IAN MCSHANE: We are doing the book but we’re also making a television show so we have to ask some big, important questions for next year and giving the audience that knowledge — does Shadow believe that Wednesday is his father? Wednesday might deny that and say “where did you hear that?” or “of course I am, didn’t you already know?” or however he might react. Wednesday’s irrepressible but he’ll face anything straight on. The worse thing is how Shadow might react about [Wednesday’s involvement in his wife’s death] but Wednesday might deny that and say Sweeney was lying. I think all the rich stuff is still to come in the town of Lakeside.
Shadow’s got a new name, a new location, and a new life, but of course, when he goes to Lakeside, how he fits in and what’s going to happen to his life, you know that Wednesday’s going to come back to him so that’s what Neil is figuring out right now.
This is where we see Shadow and Wednesday diverge a bit at the start of the new season, as so far they’ve mostly been together. How will their dynamic change now that they’re apart?
It’s the line I have in the last episode which is deliberate, which is that Wednesday should be out of there. In the last episode, he’s setting Shadow up to be on his own and Shadow’s realized that when he kills Sweeney and Laura comes back, it’s not the Laura he wants anymore and she knows that, Wednesday’s gone and Shadow takes charge of the situation in the house. Wednesday’s setting Shadow up to be on his own and then Wednesday’s going to take a back seat knowing his boy is going to be just fine because he knows he’s going to come back to him in one way or another.
What would you like to do with the character of Wednesday in season 3 as he goes on a separate journey to Shadow?
He’s not going to be separate, he’ll come back to Shadow because he needs him to fulfill what he has to do, because in the books, he has to fulfill Wednesday’s death, which is a fake death but Shadow will sit vigil for him and it’ll be a big coming together of the gods and then Shadow will avenge him. Wednesday will play on that at the same time as driving Shadow crazy, which is what he does, while Shadow will more and more become his own man. Instead of asking all the time “Who am I?,” Shadow does believe now, he’s been given two pieces of information about his wife and Wednesday but he’s still working for Wednesday, and he’ll be much more proactive in season 3 than he has been so far because he’s away from Wednesday and he has more time to do things on his own in Lakeside until Wednesday comes back and then he finds out more about himself and who he is.
This is the difficult thing of knowing what to use from the book, what to leave out and how to spring out from the book into other areas. Like Bilquist, it’s about knowing when to bring the characters in, we’ve got a lot of Old Gods that people like, such as Czernobog, I hope we see more of him next season as he avenges Zorya’s death but there’s only so much you can do in a show.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of adapting the book to TV?
It’s a very difficult project, it’s been around for a long time, it was at HBO for a long time … and when Bryan Fuller and Michael Green came in when it was over at Fremantle, they found a way of cracking the code perhaps, but then again I think the first season got too far away from where the book was. It’s a fine line, it’ll always be a difficult show and thank God because you don’t want to work on a show that’s the same every week with a twist. American Gods tries to tackle some big subjects, it tries to tackle some important ones, it doesn’t always succeed but at least it’s innovative and the characters are fascinating. I think we brought more to the characters this year, you got to know the other gods more like Bilquist and Nancy and the Jinn, and the only believer, Omar. And then the New Gods, I think we were getting away from them and I think we got back to them, with Crispin (Glover)’s Mr. World, Technical Boy, who’s going to change his persona again, and New Media. So it’s constantly evolving and it’s part of the charm of the show, and it’s also a global show. A lot of people were upset online when the showrunners were relieved of their duties in season 1 and season 2 went through a difficult patch – it’s not an easy show and will continue to be a difficult show but hopefully it keeps evolving and changing and getting richer.
Neil and the cast have spoken about the challenges of season 2 behind the scenes — Pablo Schreiber described it as “every man for themselves” and that he and Emily Browning (Laura Moon) had formed a “defacto team” …
No no, I don’t think that’s true at all, Pablo’s got his own feelings about that. I was very involved as an executive producer on it. Actors look at it from their own points of view and I understand, he was protecting his character and protecting that was very good and I think we succeeded, his character and Emily’s having their own strand, coming together and at the end, having the back story of why he hates Wednesday because he owes him, that’s why — they all owe him in some way or the other, that’s the hex on the morgue. I think it’s always going to be a tricky show. The first season, I loved some of it like the stuff that Fuller and Michael found, I think it got too out there. Did we really need two standalone stories in the first season because they were the backstory of [Laura] and Shadow and the backstory of Essie McGowan in Ireland? They were good but then we had to come back with something big, which was Wednesday announcing himself as Odin.
It was a shame to lose Bryan and Michael but whatever their vision was, it wasn’t coinciding with that of the ideas of the people who put up the money for the show and their idea of where they wanted the show to go, so Jesse [Alexander] was brought in and I think did a sterling job for the few episodes but was helping it together because if you were expecting a show – and this is in no way denigrating Jesse – but bringing in a top showrunner of a show in its second season, which had been highly praised in its first season, I think top-class showrunners would have been like, “Uh oh, I’m not going in there, I’ll wait for the third season.” It was too close, so I think Jesse did a sterling job but when we found out in the last few episodes where we were going to go from there, it didn’t gel with the ideas that Neil and the production team wanted to go with the show, so I think we found a logical way to end it and then they’ve hired Chic Eglee … going from Lakeside and plotting the next two years of the show, trying to figure out where the book ends and where to go from there, but retaining that spirit of going outside of the show which Michael and Bryan first brought to it. In some ways we’re lucky, there are some storylines that Bryan and Michael left behind which we used in season 2 because they had been bought and paid for, so it’s not like they were forgotten completely.
It’s interesting that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought the Norse mythology of Thor, Odin, and Asgard in a different form. When you’re on a show like this and playing a version of Odin drawn from the canon of Norse mythology, what do you consider the image of Odin is in today’s world, especially with the superheroes out there?
We tried to make that point of saying this isn’t that universe, it’s not Marvel comics where everybody has extraordinary powers, or like Harry Potter which is magic, it’s not that either. I would quote the example that after Wednesday says to Shadow, “do you believe?” in episode one and then says “I am Odin” and goes through that whole thing, I think he has to lie down in the car for the rest of the day, he’s exhausted, he has to produce all that energy once in a while. The marvelous thing about what Neil Gaiman created is that these are all new characters; Mama-ji is the goddess Kali but she’s running diners all across America, Czernobog works in a factory with his sister in Chicago. They came across and they know they’re gods but they’re just getting by in life and they’ve forgotten about themselves.
What do you really embrace about playing Wednesday?
Everything! He’s a great character to play because there are no rules on him, he’s irrepressible, funny, has a good time, duplicitous, it’s a terrific part and I’m glad I get another season of playing him. Episode 6 this season, I thought did a really nice job of bringing the combination of Wednesday and Shadow on the run and Wednesday’s talking about his son, which is a reference to Shadow but also it showed Wednesday’s ruthlessness that he regrets nothing, even though his son [Thor] committed suicide, Wednesday still thinks his son made a mistake. So Wednesday, I like that side of him, that he’s ruthless, not sentimental at all.