A year after the lamenting of Hannibal being canceled by NBC, Bryan Fuller is back at Comic-Con with not one but two new series – American Gods and the Star Trek revival. The later hasn’t even started filming yet, but the Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s award-wining 2001 novel is deep into production in Toronto and elsewhere on the road.
Set to debut in 2017, American Gods the series sees the Hannibal EP teaming with Kings creator Michael Green to bring Gaiman’s words to the premium cabler. The drama features Ricky Whittle as ex-con Shadow Moon, a man pulled into a battle across continents, ages and deities. Produced by FreemantleMedia North America and with frequent Fuller collaborator David Slade directing the pilot, American Gods also stars Ian McShane Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber, Yetide Badaki, Bruce Langley, Crispin Glover, Kingdom’s Jonathan Tucker, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stormare, Cloris Leachman, Orlando Jones and Demore Barnes. Whittle, McShane and Gaiman will be among those joining Fuller and Green on their Friday afternoon panel in Room 6BCF.
With that panel looming, Fuller and Green talked with me about bringing American Gods to the small screen, collaborating with Gaiman, and what they think the book’s themes have to say to an America of 2016. Hall H will see Fuller hosting the Star Trek 50th Anniversary panel with William Shatner, Scott Bakula, Michael Dorn, Jeri Ryan and Data himself Brent Spiner, and the EP went to the final frontier discussing his feelings about bring the iconic series back to TV and online for CBS – and of course, there was some Hannibal in the house.
DEADLINE: So, this is going to be American Gods’ debut to the world in many ways. What are we going to see on Friday?
GREEN: You will see some footage, and you will have some surprises at the American Gods panel. Absolutely.
DEADLINE: How has the process of adapting this beloved and award-winning Neil Gaiman book been for you guys? Difficult?
FULLER: One of the things that has been very rewarding for me in the experience has been just the partnership with Michael and being able to go into this well-loved book and come at it from two different perspectives of religious experience: Michael being raised Jewish, myself being raised Catholic, and both of us having a fondness for those religions and a curiosity about what constitutes those religions. It feels like this book is a great opportunity for both of us to have conversations about faith and our roles in the universe in a way that is every bit as fun as the stories that we grew up loving in science fiction and fantasy.
DEADLINE: In many ways, American Gods is an immigration story, an outsider story. So what resonance do you think the series will have in today’s charged political environment post the Presidential election?
GREEN: One of the reasons we were so excited to adapt it is it hits on a lot of themes that people have passions about and that, a lot of times, shows tend to shy away from — not the least of which, religion, which few enough shows tackle head on, and the immigrant stories of just people come with their faiths, with their traditions, with their myths, with their beliefs, with their idiosyncrasies and then have to negotiate those against this new world they find themselves in that they came to largely on purpose and with different dreams and aspirations.
We are very fortunate in that the book lends itself to talking about those things, because we get into this idea of new gods, which is what are the things we worship now whether passively or unintentionally? And wherever you put your passions, wherever you put your time and attention, is a form of worship, whether it’s technology, whether it’s media, and these things that Neil really apotheosized in his book.
Those are passions that have taken on a religious zeal for a lot of people, and taking a little bit further, we now have a very big gun debate in our country, and we’re looking at a story later on in our season where an old god has become the public face, in a manner, of people’s passion for holding weaponry in their hands.
FULLER: There are things that are happening in America right now with the political climate and the sociological climate where we have episodes that focus on the black person’s perspective of being an American, that focus on a woman’s perspective of being an American, focus on a gun owner’s perspective of being an American, and using those sort of hot-topic issues as a platform to have a conversation about faith and our role in the universe.
DEADLINE: Are fans of American Gods the book going to find it greatly changed as a TV series?
FULLER: Michael, and myself, and Neil feel that this show is an opportunity to accordion out some of those stories and some of those issues, so at the end of the show’s run, you will look at the book as the Reader’s Digest version of the story.
DEADLINE: But the first season will not end where the books do, like in the Outlander series and novels?
FULLER: No, it feels like the book would be anywhere from three to four seasons, depending on where we get into as we’re arcing out the second season. The first season was fairly easy to arc out when we went, “Oh, this point in the book, that’s where we end the first season.”
In the original discussion when we were breaking out the arc of the show, we thought what was originally going to be the ending was actually going to be around Episode 5. Then we just thought, let’s just slow this way down, and at the encouragement of the network, who have been incredibly supportive of what we want to do with the show, and their note, essentially, was slow down. We want this to last a while.
DEADLINE: So what has it been like working with Neil on taking the book from the page to the small screen?
GREEN: Oh, that’s been an adolescent reader’s dream come true. Whenever you adapt things, there are always a lot of people who want to throw their opinions at you, and you have to be deaf to a lot of them because you need to move ahead. But it’s really nice when the one voice you want to hear support from says they like your script.
FULLER: I’ve adapted Stephen King, and I’ve adapted Thomas Harris, and I haven’t met either of them. With adapting Neil’s work, it was a delight to be able to say what did you mean here?
DEADLINE: What unexpected challenges did you encounter in making the show?
FULLER: That’s easy – the sprawl with production of a road show with no standing sets.
GREEN: It’s a very nuts-and-bolts answer, but it really is a unique challenge to the show in that television primarily lives in recurring environments. You go back to the familiar places, and you learn how to shoot well and quickly, and with the nature of a road show, we end up making an hourlong new movie every episode. That’s been challenging, and exhausting, and fun all at the same time for everyone.
DEADLINE: And you pulled together a diverse and deep-bench cast…
FULLER: For us, getting that caliber of actor in the show is a fun bit of fan casting because one of the things about this show and the following that the book holds is that people have been casting this show for 15 years in their minds. So, when we hit upon someone and announce Gillian Anderson is playing Media, and to see the reaction online of people saying perfect. Or when we announced Ricky, everybody breathed a huge sigh of relief because we didn’t whitewash the casting process.
So there’s always a bit of fan casting, like professional fan casting, for ourselves as people who love the book and want the book to come to life in the most vivid way possible. And then we get to share that fan casting with the audience and the Internet and have a collective excitement about what these actors are going to bring to each of their respective roles.
DEADLINE: How have you updated the book for a 2016 TV audience?
FULLER: I think, primarily, you would see the update in the Technical Boy character. The book came out in 2001, and there was the fetishization of The Matrix at the time. So the Technical Boy in the novel who was overweight and sort of a stereotypical, almost comic book guy style, you know, “nerd,” and we’ve taken the Technical Boy into a much more fashion-forward and aesthetically driven arena so that we can take part in all of the advances that are happening in fashion with different fabrics and styles that are reflective of what’s also happening, you know, beneath the surface of our keyboards.
DEADLINE: Bryan, you’re going to be jumping from production of Season 1 of American Gods almost right into production of the new Star Trek TV series for CBS All Access as showrunner. You’re doing a 50th anniversary panel in Hall H this weekend with William Shatner and others from different versions of the franchise, so, as a former writer on iterations of the series, what does Star Trek mean to you now?
FULLER: You know, it’s one of the things that I love about being able to talk about both of these shows, is that they are each about something in a really wonderful, human, positive way. Star Trek is about the betterment of the human species, and I think we’re in a very sensitive time where we as a society need some healing and some hope.
— Bryan Fuller (@BryanFuller) July 18, 2016
Michael and I have talked a lot about bringing American Gods to Comic-Con and having a real conversation about what faith is, and where we put our energy, and how Comic-Con is a place where people who love passionately gather together and love collectively, and that it is a wonderful communal experience, much like a religion. So it feels like a great arena for us to explore the toy box that Neil has given us with the storytelling, and very much the same way with Star Trek.
DEADLINE: Last year’s Comic-Con was bittersweet for you with the demise of Hannibal, which was a fan fav in San Diego.
FULLER: Well, I am bringing my brand new, not-yet-released Threezero Hannibal 12-inch figure to participate in Comic-Con with me this year. So it’ll be like Hannibal is with me.