One of the most eagerly anticipated adaptations of 2017 is Starz’s “American Gods,” and executive producers and showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green said issues of representation and inclusion were on their minds not just during the casting process but during the writing of the show, which is now in production in Toronto.
The lead of “American Gods” is Ricky Whittle, who is black, and there was “never any question” that the character’s race would be otherwise, Fuller noted during a panel at the summer Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills.
“It just felt like in order to be true to the book, you had to cast the character who was written, who is not white,” Fuller said. That’s not to say the process was easy; Fuller said that by Whittle’s count, the actor auditioned for the role 16 times before booking it.
“When you have so much that is about people’s cultures coming in, you need to be culturally literate in all respects,” Green added. “You’re dealing with ancient mythologies and gods. Those come from places and look a certain way. That just set the tenor of the whole thing.”
The producers said they frequently consult Neil Gaiman, who wrote the book the series is based on, as they adapt and cast his story for TV.
“The fun thing is, we’re not colorblind casting, we’re actually very consciously aware of color in the cast and ethnic specificity, because the book is so culturally specific,” Fuller said. “There have been times where a character has been described as having very dark skin, and we’ve made a suggestion to Neil, and he’s like, ‘Oh, that actor is black. The character needs to be Indian. Even though it’s written that they have very dark skin, the character is absolutely Indian and it needs to be an Indian actor.’ That’s been kind of a great relief, because it’s a map that we just stick to.”
As they began elaborating on the vision of Gaiman’s novel, they’ve paid special attention to the roles for women.
“In the novel, it’s very much a sausage party. It’s about two guys on a road trip,” Fuller said. “We have such fantastic female characters in the piece, we wanted to expand that.”
Speaking of casting, Fuller briefly addressed the casting of comic and actor Dane Cook, who joins fellow cast members Whittle, Kristen Chenoweth, Ian McShane, Gillian Anderson, Yetide Badaki and Bruce Langley, among others.
They needed an actor who could play “a really entertaining dick,” Fuller said.
“When his name came up, it was really hard to see [the role] in a different way,” Green said.
“He’s really very savvy as an artist and understands the perception of his brand, and how to subvert it with the show,” Fuller added.
Religion can be a divisive element in the culture, but “American Gods,” according to the producers, largely sidesteps that, spending almost no time on the biggest religions in the world.
“Largely it’s about forgotten myths and forgotten cultures,” Green said. “It manages to discuss religion in an inclusive way that invites all,” including agnostics.
“We were both raised with religion,” said Fuller, who was raised in the Catholic faith (Green was raised Jewish).
“We have an affection and respect for religion and it’s hard not to recognize the inspiration that religion gives people,” Fuller said. “We want to continue to reinforce the positive aspects of it.”
On a different note, Fuller called upon California politicians to come up with tax incentives that would keep more TV and film productions in the state. “American Gods” is filmed in Toronto, which has “stellar” crews, he noted, even as he acknowledged the production is in the city due to Canadian tax breaks.
“Until California gets competitive, and I really, sincerely hope it does … we’re going to be hemorrhaging productions to places that offer better tax incentives.” Fuller said. “I really hope the state of California steps up.”