Interview originally appeared on Deadline
“Season 2 goes even deeper, even more deeply, even more painfully into the heart of America right now, what it means to be American right now,” reveals Neil Gaiman of the upcoming new cycle of American Gods. “It gets to look back into the 1930s, back at the rise of fascism briefly in America,” the author and Good Omensshowrunner adds of the Starz drama, set to return next year.
The past couple of years have seen a new career of sorts for the acclaimed scribe as American Gods came to life on the small screen first with Bryan Fuller and Michael Green as showrunners and then the hiring of Jesse Alexander for Season 2. And the Good Omens limited series found a home on Amazon. Amidst rumors of disruption, delay and big changes on the Starz show and a mad dash to complete the Michael Sheen and David Tennant led series (based on Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s satirical 1990 end-of-the-world novel), the now double dipping executive producer will be appearing at New York Comic Con with cast, new footage and more from both shows – including this new AG S2 poster just made available at the Starz show’s booth on the convention floor.
Having just inked a new overall deal with Amazon Studios, Gaiman recently took some time from Good Omens’ post-production in the UK and before jetting to the Big Apple to chat with me about what’s been going on, showrunner BS, unwritten sequels, and what fans can expect at NYCC. The Sandman writer also pulled back the curtain a bit on American Gods Season 2 and the making of Good Omens, how he didn’t want the latter to be like Lord of the Rings, and whether there will be more of either.
DEADLINE: This weekend is going to be the first real look we’ve had at American Gods Season 2, do you worry about the expectations?
GAIMAN: You know, what I love is nobody has seen anything from Season 2 ofAmerican Gods, so when I see stuff online with people going “oh Season 2 is in trouble” or “Season 2 isn’t happening” or “Season 2 is doomed,” It’s like I’ve seen the stuff. It looks great to me, which is a lovely kind of place to be. So, we’re going to get to see some of that. We’re going to get to have some of our actors on the stage telling their stories, just strutting their stuff, being amazing because they are such a fantastic mob.
DEADLINE: Sounds like as the author of the novel which the show is based on, you’re happy with the results…
GAIMAN: The joy for me of Season 2 of American Gods is the shape of things may be familiar to people who’ve read the novel, but what happens is going to be a continual surprise to them.
GAIMAN: I think it’s beautiful, I do. American Gods is one of those strange kind of entities in a lot of ways.
DEADLINE: How so?
GAIMAN: Because it has proved itself higher minded and more determined to be what it wanted to be than I think any single individual, given the creation of any single individual. So, to me, it is very strange and unusual and totally surprising because American Gods is a very peculiar kind of beast and it has its own purpose.
DEADLINE: OK, so after the long break between seasons, the change in showrunners, cast exiting, new cast members getting on board, what is American Gods going to be in 2019?
GAIMAN: So, with American Gods it is, well you know, teaming with ideas. It is very dark. It is brutal. It is beautiful. Season 2 goes even deeper, even more deeply, even more painfully into the heart of America right now, what it means to be American right now. It gets to look back into the 1930s back at the rise of fascism briefly in America.
We also go deeper into our characters, so you get to find out what Shadow (Ricky Whittle) was like as a kid. You get to go much more deeply into Shadow’s relationship with Laura (Emily Browning), into Laura’s relationship with Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), into Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) relationship with everyone. You get to spend more time in the company of the new gods. In that sense, Good Omens is absolutely nothing like American Gods.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
GAIMAN: Good Omens is filled with ideas too and it has beings who aren’t human and it’s also timely, but the tone is different. Good Omens is funny and loving, and I hope kind of gentle where American Gods is brutal and dark, and unflinchingly honest, or possibly the other way around.
DEADLINE: Speaking of the other way round, the way you characterize American Gods Season 2, at least behind the scenes, sounds very different than some reports of in-fighting, cast additions, vast re-shoots and more such chaos. Clearly, it’s been a long process getting the show back on the air, but what’s the contradiction here?
GAIMAN: It kind of has been bullshit. You know, if there has been tensions and if there has been grumpiness and such I’ve missed it, because I’ve been making Good Omens, so I’m probably not the best person to comment. With American Gods, what I get to do is I get to see the episodes as they get put up. I get to give notes. I get to watch them.
DEADLINE: That’s a bit of a dodge, we know they are still working on the Season 2 finale and that Jesse Alexander is leaving as showrunner, so have there been issues?
GAIMAN: Look, the process of writing and getting stuff written, and getting a TV show made with a lot of writers is always a process. If you have a writer’s room sometimes the script is not going to work with one writer and it’s going to move to another writer, things like that, and I’m very aware that stuff like that has happened. Otherwise, as far as I can tell it’s, at least in terms of what ends up in my email and occasional phone calls, it’s all happening fairly amicably. Those are the kind of conversations that I have so if there is grumpiness I’m kind of missing it all, which is fine because I’m over here in post-production with my own set of headaches each morning.
DEADLINE: Grumpiness aside, do those headaches include putting a third season of American Gods in gear and a second round of Good Omens?
GAIMAN: (laughs) I will say, I definitely don’t plan more Good Omens. My obligation that I promised to Terry is done. As for Season 3 of American Gods, I would love a Season 3 of American Gods. However, all I’m trying to do right now is get Good Omens delivered even as I have to stop and go to Comic Con and do a big event and stuff, otherwise I just need to keep being a mole in a post-production mold moving from VFX house to sound, to AVR sessions, and so on, and so forth just to get this thing done. But when I get to stick my head out again of my hole, which will probably be in February, I will think of it.
DEADLINE: Think of more American Gods?
GAIMAN: Yes, I mean we planned this thing so the plot goes four, five, or six seasons So, it always followed the shape of the book, but it doesn’t ever need to follow the incidents of the the book, if you see what I mean? I can’t wait to get to Lakeside and I just feel very, very sorry for any actors in Season 3 because if we get there it’s going to be very cold, but for right now I think everybody’s concerned with just wrapping up the finale to Season 2 right now.
DEADLINE: With the departure of Bryan and Michael after Season 1 and Jesse joining for Season 2, you were in this unique position with American Gods of being the author of the book and taking on a bigger role as what was portrayed initially as a co-showrunner for Season 2. So how has the actual process of adaptation been for you?
GAIMAN: Well, first off, I know that some Starz’s executives I think slightly over enthusiastically said Neil is co-showrunning this. In fact, no I really wasn’t. I couldn’t, I was over here showrunning Good Omens, which was a seven days a week, 14, 15, sometimes 20 hours a day process, so being in two places at once is a miracle that even I cannot do.
What I did was, in many ways a lot more fun, which is I got to sit down with Jesse for several days at the beginning of the thing and just talk through it. I also got, I had a little break from Good Omens right at the beginning, which was very lucky because I got to go up to Toronto while they were putting together the first assemblages. I got to work on some rewrites of early scripts and then I got to basically talk a lot to Jesse. Towards the end, after around the time of my last trip into Toronto, I got to get much more deeply into 206, 207 and then 208 but not really as a show runner. It was more sort of the spirit of the show I guess. You know, I’m entrusted with the responsibility of making sure American Gods, whatever else it becomes and whatever else it does on the way, stays American Gods, so that’s always, for me, at the forefront.
DEADLINE: With that, and with some time having passed, were you satisfied with Season 1 and now Season 2?
GAIMAN: I loved a lot of things about Season 1 but, you know, there are always things that you look at and you wish there’d been more time. You wish things could’ve gone another way. You know the original plan for Season 1, for example, Bryan and Michael’s plan was that it was going to take us to the House on the Rock and we had a season ending that would have been riding the carousel at the House on the Rock. Unfortunately, because of budget overruns and them having to go and do reshoots on things we wound up doing eight episodes rather than nine, so that ending didn’t happen.
I was on a long drive across America and Michael Green called me up and said we’re going to have to end with 108. He asked, how does 108, the Easter episode, become our season finale? We talked about it and we came up with the idea of the Odin revelation and a whole bunch of stuff that we did in it, but it’s that kind of thing where you go okay, well if we’d known going in to Season 1 that, that was where we were going to end it we would’ve done things differently.
GAIMAN: We would have shaped it differently, but for me one of the most interesting things about making television it’s probably true of any other medium too, but particularly for TV is you’re always running forward.
DEADLINE: What have you learned otherwise in that education of this new career of sorts?
GAIMAN: I think I would be a lot harder to bullshit now by other showrunners.
DEADLINE: That’s the price of an education right there. What else?
GAIMAN: (laughs) It’s not just showrunners, it’s line producers, everyone. I’m pretty sure I was not put on this earth to argue budgets with the BBC, but you know it’s that point where you’re sort of going okay, well our VFX budget for this episode is X and we have, you know, in terms of shot count and so forth our current estimate is three times X. What are we going to do to get it down to X and how do we do that? So, you say, okay, well we can do this and we can do that, and we can do this and nobody’s ever going to notice that but this is the point that you realize you start just sort of learning and understanding how much of the process of making television is always you will never have enough time. It’s always a process of moving forward and making art, and the wonderful thing really is that the people watching don’t know, don’t really care how the sausage gets made.
DEADLINE: What about the sausage of your other show, the one where you really were the showrunner, Good Omens, how was the making of that for you besides arguing with the BBC about budgets?
GAIMAN: Well, American Gods, the TV series, has already become its own thing and I love that. With Good Omens, on the one hand, I have a huge obligation to the millions upon millions, upon millions of people who love Good Omensand who live inside Good Omens and who care about Good Omens and for whom Good Omens in some cases even literally saved their lives. So, I have a huge obligation to them, and you know I have a huge obligation to Terry Pratchett.
DEADLINE: How so?
GAIMAN: Because I made the show and I wrote the show and I show ran it because Terry made me promise that I would make a show that he would have loved and then he died so I was kind of stuck. Which can be great.
DEADLINE: In what way?
GAIMAN: Everybody knew that David Tennant and Michael Sheen were good. Nobody knew how amazing they were going to be when you put them on stage, on a sound stage, in those roles together. They have amazing chemistry and we couldn’t have predicted that. So, there’s that and you’re actually making the thing you’re making and now you’re having to make decisions based on the fact that this is six episodes of television.
DEADLINE: And what were those decisions?
GAIMAN: There are ideas that I took from the sequel to Good Omens that Terry and I talked about but never wrote, which is where our angels come from.
GAIMAN: Yes, there were things that Terry and I had talked about and planned but we’d never actually got to use so I got to steal from that. I got to reshape some of the plot just a little so that the plot keeps kicking until the last minute of episode six. Because if we’d just done the book then the plot would have ended halfway through episode six and we would have spent the rest of episode six saying goodbye to people and it would have been like the third part of Lord of the Rings, only even worse.
So, I reconfigured it, because it’s television, because I can.