Warning: This story contains slight spoilers for S1 from american gods
The first season of american gods exceeded whatever our expectations were for an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved novel. Starz apparently felt the same way, quickly renewing it for season two, telling attendees at the Television Critics Association press conference last month that they’d like to see the series go further than that.
“We’re on board as long as the show makes sense for Starz,” CEO Chris Albrecht said at his network’s event. “Neil Gaiman’s vision is the guiding light for all of us, and Bryan Fuller and Michael Green are the guiding lights of that.”
Home video options were announced this week for October (and streaming options are available now), reminding us that we had a few end-of-season Q&As with two of our favorite characters. Yetide Badaki (aka Bilquis) and Bruce Langley (aka Technical Boy) quickly captivated viewers with two terribly emphatic introductory scenes, and season one wrapped up with a major showcase episode for the two actors (in which their characters happened to become intertwined).
Before the finale aired, but after we had a chance to watch it, Badaki and Langley kindly reached out to Ars for interviews originally intended for a bonus episode of our Decrypted podcast. But since our audio productions had an unexpected summer break, we’re sharing these chats below as full Q&As.
Note: These interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.
Ars: You are a respected sci-fi/fantasy nerd in Hollywood and said in previous interviews that you read the book back when it came out. How did that influence your decision to join or approach your character?
Badaki: First off, just being such a fan of Neil Gaiman, the idea of me playing in that sandbox… if you told me 10, 15 years ago it wasn’t a seed of an idea at that point. But I was such a big fan of it. With all those ideas marinated 15 years before the audition, it took it to a whole other level that I don’t think I’ve brought to any other project. Actors usually don’t get that much time to come up with ideas and concepts.
So yes, it greatly influenced the audition and the acting process. I had mature ideas that I could play with, and that’s such a gift in acting.
Not only is the book a decade and a half old, your character is hundreds of thousands of years old. When you found out you would be playing Bilquis, were you still in a research rabbit hole?
Oh yeah, and for me that’s the juiciest part of any role – where you can research. With Bilquis, even if you have all these different texts from all these different cultures that refer to her, they don’t say much. Even with the book, you have two scenes to get to know her – so there’s a very wide universe to fill in. That can be a little scary, but it’s also very exciting to fill in those blanks.
As for the investigation, the fact that she was only referenced in reference to this man said a lot. Everything in between what is said sometimes screams louder than the actual words. What we usually know about the Queen of Sheba or Bilquis is from her encounter with King David and Solomon, and that says a lot about the character. It speaks to the idea of the feminine and agency through the years and centuries. Even in that story you see that she is going to meet Solomon, but she is an incredibly powerful woman who can tell him to wait and who comes with all these gifts, all this wealth that she brings. She also interrogates him with all these riddles, which speaks to great intelligence. It was nice to see where different traditions place her.
The show also approaches Bilquis that way – at first you’re not sure if she’s a new or old god, if she’s good or bad. It’s not until episode eight that she really gets washed out.
Exactly, it’s a perfect mirror. Even throughout history, the idea of the Queen of Sheba is still a bit spotty. So we can all go on that journey, who is Bilquis?
What was the reaction of the fans to you as Bilquis? Would people ask about the garish scenes from the beginning of the season or are they more interested in who this character is and what’s to come?
The fan base was quite adept and showed such intelligence and attention to detail. Fans understood the connection to Technical Boy early on and I had to work really hard not to give anything away. [For instance]fans noticed I was swiping in an early scene – they are For real fast.
Fans from all over the world loved the rendering, which was an incredible surprise. And many want to know more – why is she where she is? What is she about? They wanted to see the journey. I like to say even though we are dealing with a show called american gods, it’s very much about the human experience. And there’s such a need for real human connection in Bilquis, and a lot of people have responded to that. She sparked discussions about intimacy in today’s age of technology, which was refreshing and fascinating.
Some of those issues were already there when the novel first came out, but 15 years later, they’ve only intensified.
Absolutely, I have referred to a New York Times article that tells how this generation experiences intimacy differently from the last, and that also applies to sex. You’d think there would be more given all the different ways to access it, but because it’s not just the act, it’s about intimacy in the end, we have a much harder time connecting. It happened 15 years ago, but now it’s incredibly amplified. We are a bit more disconnected as we connect more through different devices.
Let’s talk about the finale – what do you think of the predicament Bilquis finds herself in when we finally get her backstory?
First of all, it’s a wonderful story. No one on the show comes out squeaky clean if you dig deep enough. Even our protagonist did some bad things in the beginning.
So I love that she’s so three-dimensional now. I think people can identify with the idea of survival and individuals who work very hard to survive. Second, anything you assume you know? [on the show] may eventually explode; Assumptions are constantly inflated during the show. You could see this interaction with Technical Boy and think one thing, but it could end in a completely different direction. Sometimes there are even wrong instructions within the wrong instructions. I like to joke that she’s the goddess of love and she just wants everyone to get along, but she’s also an old god. Old gods are old gods for a reason, and if you’ve been there for centuries or eons, time is a different experience for you. Different picks may seem a lot more temporary and part of a much bigger chess game – I think fans are looking forward to that idea being played with. If you have all the time in the world, how do you take your time?
Do you have a favorite character from the book and is that different from who you were drawn to on the show?
I enjoyed Laura Moon in the book, but on the show I’m fangirling like crazy. But looking at Cloris Leachman and Ian McShane, these were fascinating characters in the book, yes, but when they’re brought to life in a fascinating way, it’s really hard to pick a favorite. But in the book, I really enjoyed reading that bit about Mama-Ji; I found it fascinating, and I’m looking forward to seeing that play out. It’s still hard to pick a favorite, but like the fans, I’m looking forward to seeing the character Sam emerge.