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How Orlando Jones Influenced American Gods’ Shocking Opening Scene

by  in CBR Exclusives, TV News Comment
How Orlando Jones Influenced American Gods’ Shocking Opening Scene

Orlando Jones has long loved Neil Gaiman’s sci-fi/fantasy classic “American Gods.” So when the “Sleepy Hollow” star heard a daring adaptation would bring its road-trip tale of warring gods to television, he took to Twitter to publicly campaign for the role of the charming but unnerving Mr. Nancy/Anansi.

“American Gods” co-creators Michael Green and Bryan Fuller were quick to agree that Jones would be prefect for the part of the fascinating West African god. While fans have seen teases of Mr. Nancy in character posters and trailers, the series’ second episode “The Secret of Spoon” will finally unleash his fiery introduction, but for those who cannot wait, Starz has unveiled it online ahead of the episode’s airing.

Spoilers for episode two of “American Gods” below:

In “American Gods,” Green and Fuller have been employing Gaiman’s “Coming to America” chapters as cold-opens that establish the Old Gods, so far with much carnage and emotion. Episode one introduced a Viking god who only answered the prayers of his people once the blood of battle had been generously spilled on a cruel and sandy shore. In episode two, Mr. Nancy is introduced amid the 1697 crossing of a Dutch ship carrying a slew of shackled slaves, abducted from Africa.

In the stirring scene, one of these captured men prays to Anansi (Jones) for rescue. Mr. Nancy appears, adorned in a vibrantly colored plaid, bespoke suit, and a jaunty fedora. But instead of promising salvation, he warns his worshippers not only of the terrors that await them as slaves, but also of the horror and prejudice their ancestors will face. “Once upon a time, a man got fucked,” he proclaims with a sharp smile, “Now how’s that for a story? Because that’s the story of Black people in America!”

From there, Mr. Nancy’s story lights a fire of rage in these captive men’s heats, then climaxes with a call to action. He proclaims, “You are staring down the barrel of 300 years of subjugation, racist bullshit, and heart disease…there isn’t one goddamn reason you shouldn’t go up there right now and slit the throats of every last of these Dutch motherfuckers and set fire to this ship!”

Then he frees them from their chains, and so it goes. Flames lick the ship hungrily, then reach high into the dark sky, a giant blaze seen only by the indifferent moon and the uncaring ocean.

End of spoilers

Ahead of “American Gods” television debut, CBR sat down with showrunners/executive producers Fuller and Green to discuss the finer points of adapting such a dense and intense novel, which tackles so many complicated topics, including racial tension in the modern America. When asked what challenges they–as two white men–found in writing about race issues from diverse angles, Green pointed to Jones’ influence, specifically in the execution of this pivotal and shocking scene.

“There’s always the danger of getting something very wrong,” Green said. “So you come to it as thoughtfully as possible. And you go to people who can help you and steer you.”

“In the case of Mr. Nancy,” Green continued. “We always knew that we would be writing something that we would then have to talk to our actor about. And that was talking to Orlando Jones. When we got on the phone with him and talked about becoming Mr. Nancy, we were fans of his. He had tweeted about wanting the role, so he was already very inclined.”

“Just within the first 30 seconds of talking to him, we could just hear the voice,” Green recounted. “And knowing that we had an actor who was so talented, and so deep, and so thoughtful about religion and race in America, we could ask him, ‘Hey how are we doing here? We are doing something very dicey about The Middle Passage and revenge fantasy.”

“And yes, we’re reading the news and reacting to it,” Green explained. “But obviously our experience isn’t going to be the same. ‘How are we doing?’ So we’d talk about that, and he’d talk about the actual voices he wanted to use, because a lot of it was not just in the words chosen but when to show what level of anger. What is the relationship to anger? Which is essentially the thrust of the speech.”

“So (that scene) is nothing without him,” Green concluded. “And us handing it to him and wanting him to mold it in his own experience.”

Expect to see more of Mr. Nancy (and Jones), as Fuller and Green have teased their “American Gods” adaptation will also feature scenes from Gaiman’s spinoff novel, “Anansi Boys.”

“American Gods” airs on Starz Sunday nights at 9PM.

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