Orlando Jones had held his tongue for months about being let go from “American Gods,” and how his departure was handled by producer Fremantle and the Starz network. But, in an interview with Variety, Jones said he finally decided to stand up for himself and set the record straight on why he won’t be seen in Season 3 — and how he feels he was disrespected by not getting the full truth for months, time that he could have spent working on other projects.
“I assumed at some point, somebody would say that I wasn’t going to be in season three,” he said. “And I imagined that someone would reach out or, there would be some sort of press release out to respond to that in some meaningful way.”
But there wasn’t, and so Jones said he decided to come clean about his experience after a clip of him as Mr. Nancy (aka Anansi, the Trickster God) from Season 2 of “American Gods” began to go viral. In the monologue, from episode 4, Jones’ character declares that “slavery is a cult,” among other things.
“I was getting hundreds of messages from fans on each one of those [social media] platforms,” he said. “‘We can’t wait for Season 3,’ ‘We love Mr. Nancy,’ ‘I use this in my class,’ ‘This really touched my soul,’ I mean, beautiful stuff. And to be honest with you, I cried. I just sat and cried because I knew that I wasn’t going to be there.”
On Saturday, Jones posted a video on Twitter explaining what he described as his “firing,” and blaming new showrunner Charles “Chic” Eglee for the move, without mentioning Eglee by name.
With the end of the year approaching, Jones said he had given up on Fremantle announcing that Mr. Nancy wasn’t going to return — and worse, feared that he would wind up with angry fans wondering why he wasn’t in Season 3.
“This is insane, so the person who they’re going to hate is me,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in a scenario where somebody paid their hard earned dollars for Season 3 of ‘American Gods’ just to find out I wasn’t going to be there. This is just wrong.”
“And at some point I gotta say something,” he said. “So I just repeated what they had said. All I can say is what I was told. And all what I was told was, ‘angry gets s— done’ is the wrong message for black America, and that the new showrunner [Chic Eglee] writes from a black male perspective.”
Jones said that he took on writing duties in Season 2, and was asked by Neil Gaiman to write a character bible for Mr. Nancy. Jones wound up as a consulting producer in Season 2, writing for other characters as well, particularly characters of color, including Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), Salim (Omid Abtahi), Jinn (Mousa Kraish) and Sam Black Crow (Devery Jacobs).
“When I showed up to work in Season 2, they hadn’t written at all for Mr. Nancy,” he said. “I ended up finding myself in the writing chair for all of the disenfranchised characters.”
That’s why Jones fully expected to return for Season 3, and he says Fremantle and Starz were in touch with his manager about renegotiating his deal as both a star and producer on “American Gods.”
“Suddenly they went radio silent in August for about three or four weeks,” he said. “I was doing some marketing work with Starz for ‘American Gods’ on the show. So there was no reason for me to assume that I wouldn’t be doing what they had all told me I would be doing, which is writing, producing and performing on the show.”
But then on September 10, Jones said he got a call from Starz telling him that the show was going in a different creative direction.
In a statement, Fremantle said, “Jones’ option was not picked up because Mr. Nancy, among other characters, is not featured in the portion of the book we are focusing on within season three.” But Jones disputes that characterization, noting that he was “fired” — and that he never received notice that he was being released, preventing him from taking other job offers.
“I know I’m not going to be on ‘American Gods’ and you’re trying to play like it’s some option thing that you’re not picking up, but you fired me, I get it,” he said. “But you also took me out of all this other work that I could do… To now say what they’re saying, which is, ‘Oh, we didn’t pick up his option,’ is laughable. Because if that’s the case, why couldn’t you have told me that months ago? Why did you take me out of work? Why did you hurt my family? Why did you not talk to me at all [and] never deign to have a conversation with me? And, and then not even tell the fans?”
“I don’t understand. I didn’t do anything. I did my job; I did nothing else, and I didn’t bully my way into the writing room. You asked me,” he said.
Jones noted that even in September, he was still being called upon to appear with “American Gods” star Ricky Whittle at Salt Lake City Comic-Con. “I said to them, I haven’t had a conversation with anybody so I don’t know anything about creative, but they announced that ‘American Gods’ panel with me and Ricky.”
Jones’ exit is just the latest turnover with “American Gods,” which has been the subject of near constant turmoil behind the scenes — starting with the firing of original creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green (who developed Gaiman’s book into the series) after Season 1. Jesse Alexander took over as showrunner at the start of Season 2, but then he too was sidelined, and the show continued without one. For Season 3, Eglee was named showrunner — but Jones said Eglee never spoke to him about the decision to cut Mr. Nancy from the show.
“He told everybody that he wrote from the black male perspective, told everybody that he thought [Nancy] was bad for black America,” Jones said.
Jones pointed out that a number of the show’s characters of color, including Salim and Jinn, are gone, and that Fuller and Green’s desire to write major parts for “American Gods'” characters of color has been lost.
On Twitter, Kraish confirmed that he had also been told he wasn’t returning as Jinn. “I can confirm that I wasn’t asked to come back this season,” he wrote. “It has been an honor to play the Jinn and live in his fiery eyed skin. This character has introduced me to so much and I was proud to represent not just the Middle Eastern community in such a positive role you don’t normally see television but also the LGBTQ community that supported this character of color that you don’t see on television.”
Fuller and Green introduced Mr. Nancy in Season 1 with a memorable scene featuring Jones’ character on a slave ship — and he lauds the two writers for the scene. Even with Fuller and Green gone, “I came to Season 2 with the expectation that that is what would happen, somebody else would write these characters,” Jones said. “I did not come to Season 2 with the expectation that that job to write my own character was going to fall in my hands, nor did I expect Neil to ask me to do it, nor did I expect them to be angry with me about it.”
“To now pretend that this is just about some creative direction is really insulting,” he said. “My hope is that nobody finds himself in a scenario where they go into a show, and this is what they deal with: a 19-month hiatus taking you out of work, and then to be fired summarily at the last minute.”
Jones said he talked on Saturday with Gabrielle Union, who coincidentally is currently also calling out Fremantle, as one of the producers of “America’s Got Talent.” Union was let go from that show, which she says came after she raised concerns about its toxic culture.
“This is exactly what Gabrielle is describing,” he said. “I’m literally trying to save you from yourself, because you’ve got these characters here, and you don’t want to do anything for them, but then you want to say that you care about the LGBTQ+ community… so help me understand how, what my role is here. How am I your enemy? And that’s how Gabrielle felt.”
“We said it to each other, almost at the same time, that this isn’t about money,” he added. “It’s about the people who are going to come behind us, who are going to find themselves in this same position.”
Jones said he kept quiet after being let go on September 10 because he didn’t want to jump to conclusions. “Maybe they’ll step up and do the right thing,” he said. “Maybe they’ll actually be the people that you pray that they are, but no such luck.”
“Now you are a pariah, for what?” he said. “That’s, for me, what’s most perplexing, most hurtful about it. It’s like, what did I do to you people? It’s not my first time having a bad thing happen. But this is purely different because it does seem extremely personal and extremely pointed.”
Jones said he now is also speaking out as a lesson for other actors who might find themselves in the same situation. “And I certainly don’t want my daughters to think that the way that you deal in situations like this is to swallow your pride and duck… But if you’re going to do it, try and take the high road as best you can.”
“I wish these people acted more responsibly. I wish they acted more respectfully. And it would have been nice to get a proper ‘thank you’ and would have been nice to be paid,” he said. “You know, my children aren’t in cages. I’m not in Aleppo. I still see myself as very privileged and, and I’m super grateful. But nobody else needs to go through this. Not for doing your work, for doing your job, to get screwed over like this.”
(Updated to include Mousa Kraish’s confirmation that he, too, has been told he’s not returning as another character of color, Jinn.)