Even readers of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods received a shock on Sunday when the new Starz adaptation dug into the surprising story of Laura Moon. In the first episode, she was painted as the deceitful and dead-too-soon wife of hero Shadow. But in Episode Four, “Git Gone,” showrunners Michael Green and Bryan Fuller brought new depth to a character who didn’t get much exploration in Gaiman’s acclaimed fantasy novel.
Speaking with CBR, Fuller and Green revealed they were passionate about not only expanding the role of Laura in the television adaption, but also recontextualizing a character too often written off as a tawdry stereotype.
Fuller noted that because the novel focuses primarily on Shadow’s story, “You’re seeing Laura through Shadow’s eyes. And because he’s recently become aware that she’s having an affair, she’s kind of reduced to the ‘cheating wife’ from a limited perspective.”
“Neil [Gaiman] himself has said that he was frustrated by not being able to dig deeper into that character so that she wasn’t just the cheating wife,” Fuller said of the author, who’s involved in the series’ development. “And for us, we talked a lot about infidelity and the things that were happening in Laura’s life that would give the audience a chance to empathize with her instead of judge her.”
In “Git Gone,” Laura (played by Emily Browning) is given a backstory that folds in loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts. Much to her dismay, not even Shadow’s love and willingness to go legit for her can vanquish her issues. By revealing Laura’s inner life, the show upends the love story presented through Shadow’s limited perspective, creating a richer tapestry than even Gaiman’s book allowed.
“The depiction of her in the book was — by its limited nature — didn’t give you the opportunity to understand her choices,” Fuller explained. “So that was vital for Michael and I. We loved the character in the book. She was so fun. But she was very focused. She was this hard nugget that we needed to break up and spread out so we understood more of her role in this novel and her perspective as a woman who didn’t know how to live life until she died.”
For Green, this dark irony is key to Laura’s appeal. “We talked a lot about that,” he said. “How she was going to live her death in opposition to her life. And how she was going to view her marriage, after ‘to death do us part.'”
“We also talked about the different perspectives: her perspective of their marriage versus Shadow’s perspective of their marriage,” Green said of the placement of the story in the first season arc. “We deliberately met her and sustained a view of her through Shadow’s perspective only so that you only got his male husband view and memory of what she was to him versus what she actually was and his apprehension of her. The version of her that he kept in the forefront of his mind in prison was idealized and gossamer, with soft focus well-lit edges. That wasn’t her. When people watch their relationship, they may wonder if he every really saw her.”
“I think that point is very well performed by Ricky [Whittle] in Episode Four,” Fuller concurred. “Because [Shadow’s] got stars in his eyes for her. And you see the way he looks at her, he’s looking at an idealized version. But the audience is seeing who Laura really is, and seeing her pain and her disconnection and her frustration. And Shadow can only see the romance.”
By establishing this contrast, Fuller and Green were able to more fully explore the conflict of faith at the center of “American Gods.” As Green put it, “In a book about belief and faith, [their marriage] is a form of worship. [Shadow is] someone who doesn’t have much, but he makes a religion of his love of her, because it provides focus. It provides a way forward. As with people who are born again, suddenly he can find a new way to live his life. He gives up a criminal life and goes straight because he has a new ethic to live for, and it’s to be worthy of her.”
But nothing in American Gods can be so simple. Fuller drove that point home, adding, “And Laura tells him that God is dead and never existed.”
American Gods airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Starz.