NYCC ’17: The Sexy American Gods Panel With Ricky Whittle, Yetide Badaki, And Pablo Schreiber

by Hannah Means Shannon

In the American Gods panel, Ricky Whittle, Yetide Badaki, and Pablo Schreiber, took the stage to dish about the Starz series, and entertain the audience with their audience-acknowledged “sexiness”.

The panelists said candy, sugar, and Red Bull were fueling their convention experience.

When talking about the immigrant experience endemic to the show, the conversation quickly turned to politics, and Whittle said that “we’re keeping stuff in conversation that needs to happen”. He said they are talking about racism, homophobia, and gun control. “How bout we start making stuff happen?”, he asked.

Asked about the hiring process, Pablo Schreiber said he was asked to audition, but didn’t, and after working with another actor, they later contacted him. He didn’t know anything about Neil Gaiman, other than his work on Coraline, so this has been an education for him. He saw the pilot script and it was “crazy” and he didn’t know “what the fuck was going on”. He asked to read five scripts, then flew to New York, at his own request, for a “hair and makeup test” to try to come up with a “look” for the character.

They put a wig on him, but it was a “used” wig that didn’t fit. It looked bad. He asked for the “sides of the wig to be cut out” and that worked. It seemed like “him”. So he agreed.

Badaki said getting the audition was the hard part.  She said she’s been a fan of Gaiman’s work for 15 years, and it was an “emotional audition” with her in “tears” by the end of it. She was brought in twice, and then was told, “You’re going to go and shoot American Gods”. She broke some china doing dishes when they told her, she said.

Whittle got his part by “working” his “ass off”. It was an “insane” audition process, he said. He was allowed to audition because he knew he was leaving his previous role, The 100.  He started up on Vancouver by auditioning on tape. He actually hadn’t heard of Neil Gaiman or American Gods. He now knows very well the “rock star” status of Gaiman. He did 16 different auditions, many of them by Skype.

The showrunners liked what they saw, but they felt he was actually “too close to Shadow Moon in the book”. They wanted to “lift him off the page a bit more” in terms of his general indifference to crazy events. Over 5 months, they “molded” Shadow Moon. He’s looking forward to where they are taking Shadow Moon in Season 2.

The first scene Schreiber shot was in the Crocodile Bar, he said. There were issues, and they found out later the showrunners hated the set. The whole time, they knew they were going to “reshoot it”. He wishes they had told the actors! It was also the last thing they shot, since they re-did it, after having shot the entire season. This was a great “opportunity” since they’d been in character for 5 months, and that made it more “lived in”. He actually “split” his “head open” on Ricky’s head, too, who has a very “hard head”.

Whittle said it was a tough first scene—it took 9 hours in the first Crocodile Bar shoot. In the second one, Schreiber cut his head open, went to the hospital, then got it “glued shut” and came back to shoot, like a pro. Schreiber interjected to say that he just was determined to “get it done”. Whittle also cut his wrist open on “fake glass” in that scene. The next morning he felt he could barely move, and had to sit in a bath with bath salts for three hours from the fight scenes. When his phone battery died after 3 hours, that was the only thing that got him out of the bath, he said.

Bataki’s first scene shooting was meeting the “gentleman caller”. It was a “Fraturday”, a day that started on a Friday and ended on a Saturday. It was a long, technical day. It involved “trap doors” for her, which the audience laughed hysterically in response to. It was when she realized the show was such an “event”, and it was “truly something special”.

Asked about their favorite Brian Fuller story, Badaki said in the first group dinner they had, she felt like a geek who wouldn’t fit it. Fuller kept mentioning Doctor Who, Star Trek, and other shows, and then she felt like she was “home”.

Asked how she made the character sexy but avoided the creepy or exploitative possibilities of that, Badaki said the original work inspired her. Guys tend to approach her saying, “I love the character, but I’m scared of you”, now. The audience applauses at that. She thinks that should be true for “all women”. She felt that as long as it was “owned” by the female character, it wasn’t “owned by the male gaze”. She said she wasn’t sure she was sexy, and the audience shouted, “Yes, you are!”. She assured that she wasn’t “fishing” by saying so. It was about her journey, as a woman, she said, in the role, and being able to “own my own sensuality”. As she explored that, she “found Bilquis”.

Whittle was asked about working with Ian McShane and he said they are both from Manchester, and support Manchester United. He hates how “good” McShane is, though. It’s an “education” to work opposite him, including watching his “nuances and choices”. Following that “chemistry” between the characters, asking why Shadow Moon continues to “follow” Wednesday, is a big part of the story.

Schreiber was asked about shooting the Essie MacGowan episode, a flashback episode, and he said that originally the same actress, Emily Browning, was not originally going to play that role. But when he heard it seemed perfect. It means that Mad Sweeny is reminded by Emily of Essie and makes things more emotional between them. It was “wonderful”. He said all the cast are going to have opportunities for “standalone thing” like that.

Badaki said working with Orlando Jones was “wonderful”, but in playing the “down on her luck” Bilquis, the crew wouldn’t let her onto the set since they thought she was a homeless person. Getting to do the “disco era” was amazing, and some of the same dancers from that scene returned to do the dancing at Easter’s house. It was a reminder that “we all come from some not so great places” but it’s all “hills and valleys” for her.

Asked about the hanging scene as a “sensitive subject”, Whittle said he “didn’t really think about it” until speaking to actress Emily Browning. Seeing him hanging from the tree “hit her” and upset her. It made him think about how powerful the visual was. These “racist bits” are important, he feels, to remind that it’s not gone. It’s “on the nose” to have his character hung by “faceless goons dressed in white” and at the time he wasn’t totally aware. He had more immediate issues, like trying to get to a restroom while wearing a wetsuit. Wearing a harness over a wet suit was difficult, to say the least. He has “never peed” himself as an “adult, but that was close”, he said.

Asked what the hardest word to do in the Irish accent, Schreiber said that the easiest one was “Fuck”, turning the tables.

Whittle was asked, and he said the hardest one was “Fuck”. He had never “sworn on TV until this show”. And in the bank robbing scene, he had to say “fuck” seven times as his entire lines for the scene. It was hard to come up with 7 different ways to say it to make it less “wooden”.

The panelists “stage shamed” Whittle for turning the panel into a “one man show”. He has a “short attention span”, he pleaded. When someone shouted “Be you!”, he walked into the audience and hugged her, to applause.

A number of the cast members are not from the United States, but it’s being told by a “number of outsiders”, which is important to the themes of the show, Pablo said.

Asked how he plays a role as an American man of color suffering racism when he’s “not from America”, Whittle gave an impassioned speech about  the fact that “racism is everywhere” and made a strong argument for his “personal experiences” adding to his roles.