“I’m really trying to do my level best to create an environment for the future, because there are plenty of folks who are going to come behind me with that company who are going to experience the same thing that I experienced,” Orlando Jones says of his decision to go public a few days ago with what he calls his firing from the Starz drama American Gods by producers Fremantle. “Hopefully, they’ll just do their business practices right moving forward and not do what they did to me, which is take work out of my family’s pocket and then call me an asshole for posting a video in December for some sh*t they’ve probably known way before September.”
After two seasons as trickster god Anansi, aka Mr. Nancy, on the Fremantle-produced show based on Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed 2001 novel, and one troubled season as a writer and producer, Jones took to social media this weekend to say he was suddenly fired from the series in September as it prepared to go into production for Season 3.
“This white man sits in that decision-making chair and I’m sure he has many black bffs who are his advisors and made it clear to him that if he did not get rid of that angry god Mr. Nancy he’d start a Denmark Vesey uprising in this country,” the Sleepy Hollow alum claimed in a video posted on December 14, aimed at new showrunner Charles “Chic” Eglee without ever actually mentioning the Walking Dead veteran by name. “I mean, what else could it be?”
Already under a spotlight for what went down with Gabrielle Union’s stint and exit from America’s Got Talent, Fremantle has insisted that Jones was not fired, but that the company decided not to pick up a third-season option on his contract because of the narrative focus of the upcoming season.
“We stand by our original statement around the ever-evolving storylines and characters that weave in and out of American Gods,” a Fremantle spokesperson told Deadline in the company’s second response to Jones’ pointed remarks about how he was treated by the producers and why. “While we greatly appreciate Mr. Jones’ contributions to Seasons 1 and 2, we are disappointed he feels the need to make inaccurate accusations regarding the non-renewal of his contract. Our efforts are focused on Season 3 and working with our amazing cast, crew, and creators.”
Jones isn’t buying that and, as he tells me in our recent in-depth conversation, he is thinking about taking legal action. In fact, from the specifics of his alleged pink-slipping, his current conversations with Union, the departure of other cast members, and the chaos he stepped into in Season 2, Jones says “all of this option horsesh*t, that’s all them just trying to cover their own bases.”
DEADLINE: You have insisted that you were fired from American Gods, but Fremantle says you weren’t fired from American Gods, that they just didn’t renew your contract option. How do you square that?
JONES: If that is true then why didn’t you tell me that in April, May, June, July or August when we were reaching out to you to get an understanding for what was going to happen with Season 3 and then summarily call me on September 10 to say that, one. Two, why do I not have in my hand a release letter, because when your option isn’t renewed with the studio that’s what they send you to let you know that so that you can go get other work. Where is that letter that is in my contract that you have to give me? You can’t just notify me by phone call. No contract works that way because other people want to make sure that they’re not infringing on Starz’s rights by looking to employ me as a series regular if I’m contracted elsewhere and they’re holding exclusivity.
Three, why did you make a deal for three years if in fact it was a different creative direction and you know that’s what you were going to do then shouldn’t you have made a two-year deal with me as opposed to a three-year deal with me.
Lastly, they were in contact with my manager all throughout those months and the conversation was clear. It was about renegotiating my acting contract, bringing me on as a writer as I was in Season 2, but that was retroactively and bringing me on as a producer as opposed to a consulting producer as I was in Season 2, fixing all those problems. The studio and the network all said those things and they all were clear that I would be writing Mr. Nancy and I would be producing on the show because that was part of the reason I did the insane amount of work that I did in Season 2 because they paid a lot of other people to do the work that I was doing but they were all sitting at home.
DEADLINE: That’s a fairly specific set of examples…
JONES: Yes, and when I look at all of those factors, I think it is humorous that you would say that you didn’t pick up my option on September 10 yet you were back into production less than 30 days later not allowing me to go work anywhere else. Why would you take me out of work? Where is my release letter?
I’d known I was gone since September 10. I didn’t say anything until this weekend. I gave them two months to take the high road here and let people know and not sell subscriptions off of my name and off the work they supposedly weren’t happy with.
Lastly, let me add to show you how far along this got.
Ricky Whittle and I were scheduled to appear at Fan X, formerly known as Salt Lake City Comic-Con. This was in October. I had not had a conversation with any of the creative on the show and an American Gods panel had been announced. So, I contacted Neil Gaiman and I contacted Fremantle and I said what do you want me to say on the American Gods panel? I was just at San Diego Comic-Con with Syfy and NBCUniversal and I ducked all of the American Gods questions because I wasn’t there for American Gods, but I’m not going to be able to do that on an American Gods panel with Ricky Whittle at Fan X. To which they said to me, we don’t know what’s going on there either so you guys will just do what you usually do and figure it out.
I said, guys, this is crazy. How is it possible that you guys don’t know what’s going on at this late juncture? But the point is, to answer your question directly, that’s a lot of opportunity to tell me my option isn’t picked up.
DEADLINE: To understand this clearly right now, they are saying your option wasn’t picked up. You are saying you were fired and you have yet to receive a release letter releasing you from your contract. Is that correct?
JONES: That is 100 percent correct.
DEADLINE: With all that, are you considering suing them?
JONES: Yes, but that’s all I can say on that right now
DEADLINE: Fair enough, but in that vein, one of the elements that has also come out of this, and clearly on social media over the weekend, was Gabrielle Union responded to you and suggested the two of you talk. You obviously are aware of the issues that she is going through with America’s Got Talent, which is also produced by Fremantle, and her being fired from the Simon Cowell-created show after just one season as a judge. So, I’m going to put this as bluntly as I can. Does Fremantle have a race problem, in your opinion?
JONES: Yes, I do think the problem stems from them. I want to be very clear about this. I did not introduce race into the conversation with regard to Fremantle. When a showrunner is telling everybody he can find that angry get sh*t done is the wrong message for black America you have just entered race into the conversation. That didn’t come from me.
DEADLINE: Still, there is a point of view that says this was just a lousy way of doing business and you got screwed out of a role and some cash, but that is all. How do you respond to that?
JONES: Look, you know I’ve been around, I know the difference between an option not being picked up and being fired. And if Fremantle doesn’t have a race problem, then why did they single out the black guy? Then why did they point out to the black guy that he wasn’t particularly worthwhile to them because they hired a white guy who believed he could write as a black guy and that they didn’t really think that the black guy should continue because he was suddenly going to cause a problem with black America?
DEADLINE: Fair point …
JONES: Thank you, and the real problem with that is I didn’t write angry get sh*t done. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green did. If you didn’t want that then why did you approve it Starz, Fremantle? Why did you guys approve angry get sh*t done? I stepped in and did those words and that slave ship to a tee, written by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. I didn’t start that narrative. You started that narrative. So now you all are mad about the narrative that you agreed to, approved, handed to me to perform, and started. Huh?
DEADLINE: Is that why you decided to make this public at this point?
JONES: The real point of this, frankly, is to just deal with people respectfully and if you’re going to cast them in the eleventh hour and bring them in at least provide the necessary support that is your job for them to do their best job. That’s really what this is about for me on a huge level. Granted, they screwed also me out of money and have certainly treated me badly, but who do you go to about that ultimately?
DEADLINE: Well, the courts, if you choose.
JONES: That’s exactly right. That’s the only place to go.
So, I’ve got to sit down with lawyers and go through all of that madness. I tried to be two things here. One is not emotional. One, not to see myself as a victim because frankly that’s the problem. They only see people of color as victims so they write you as victims. So, Mr. Nancy not operating as a victim because he’s a god and not a human suddenly became problematic. All of these are the mind-sets of individuals who think a certain way about certain people. That’s what we’re dealing with here. You can call that race, sex, homophobic, whatever proclivity that somebody has decided to single you out and make you feel like an asshole for, there are plenty of fat, tall, freckled, ugly, whatever the f*ck it is they’ve decided this week.
To me, that’s really what this is about. I’m really trying to do my level best to create an environment for the future, because there are plenty of folks who are going to come behind me with that company who are going to experience the same thing that I experienced. Hopefully, they’ll just do their business practices right moving forward and not do what they did to me, which is take work out of my family’s pocket and then call me an asshole for posting a video in December for some sh*t they’ve probably known way before September.
So many of you & reaching out to me with support & love. I am so humbled & grateful for this wonderful community behind @neilhimself & #AmericanGods. I can confirm that I wasn’t asked to come back this season. It has been an honor to play the Jinn & live in his fiery eyed skin..
I also want thank @starz & the amazing team there. ❤️ The door isn’t closed for me. If I’m ever asked to come back & portray the Jinn I will do it happily & proudly to be able to stand in front of my friend @AbtahiOmid & shine with the two characters who go beyond the page…
— Mousa Kraish (@MousaKraish) December 16, 2019
DEADLINE: We’ve seen a lot of ruptures and number of exits on both sides of the camera on American Gods. This week, besides your announcement, Mousa Kraish made it official that he won’t be in Season 3 as The Jinn either, another person of color…
JONES: Well, not only is that true, but let’s just take a step back and look at what transpired in Season 2 for real.
DEADLINE: What do you mean?
JONES: I didn’t become a consulting producer on the show by accident. It’s because none of the disenfranchised characters were written. Who was I writing? I was writing Shadow Moon. I was writing Ibis. I was writing Bilquis. I was writing Laura Moon. I was writing Salim and The Jinn and Sam Blackcrow, New Media. If you’ve seen the show, you know there aren’t a lot of characters left. I was writing all of the disenfranchised characters because they didn’t care or wish to write any of them.
If you cared about these people or these things, then why didn’t you write for them? Why was I thrust into a scenario where suddenly I had to write my own character? That’s crazy.
So, if they don’t have a problem then where is the evidence to suggest that they care even in slightest about any of those characters. The problem on American Gods isn’t the actors or the cast — it had the best cast in television. The problem is you either fired them or they left because frankly you didn’t even write or do anything for them. I found myself a pariah in a process that you asked me to come in and write. You begged me to come in and write. I didn’t volunteer.
At the end of the day, I did this work, I got it done in order for us to get to a Season 3. I never had a clash with anybody and at no point during the Season 2 press or during the season did I open my mouth and blow up what I just told you. I wasn’t looking to destroy the show or embarrass anybody. When people were online taking credit for the work that I did I didn’t call them out and try and make them look like assholes. I said nothing because that really wasn’t my point. The cast was very clear that when they had a problem they came to me. Why were they coming to me? Because there was nobody else there.
— Ricky Whittle (@MrRickyWhittle) December 15, 2019
DEADLINE: Ricky Whittle went on social media and Neil Gaiman tweeted that you are “astonishing actor, and as a writer/producer was vital in helping get us through Season 2 of American Gods,” but even as an EP, he doesn’t “have a say in contractual renewals.” Have you heard from anyone else from the show or Fremantle since you took this public?
JONES: Nobody’s called me.
DEADLINE: I have to ask, how does that make you feel?
JONES: I know who I’m dealing with. I figured that out along the way. Look, man, it’s not the first time I’ve been disrespected. I get that. We’ve all, for one reason or another, had to deal with some level of horsesh*t. So that’s not exclusive or special to me. I’m not special in that regard, but this is a different thing because it’s extremely pointed, in my opinion. There was simply no reason for them to behave in this way towards me. I did my job and I did it for the best of my ability.
It’s clear that they have a personal bone to pick with me. I don’t know why they do. I don’t know what their reasoning is and I find it bizarre that if I said something that wasn’t true, they haven’t denied anything I’ve said about Chic. There’s been no denial about those statements because they know it’s true. My video simply repeats what he said and then thanks people. All of this option horsesh*t, that’s all them just trying to cover their own bases. The truth of the matter is they can’t produce a release letter and everybody knows September 10 is literally way too late to release me. There’s no gray area about what transpired here.
DEADLINE: Gabrielle Union did call out to you, at least on social media. Have the two of you had a chance to talk since?
DEADLINE: Can we expect to hear something from you in a joint capacity in the near future?
JONES: I’m thinking about that. I want to kind of have that conversation.
The truth of the matter is Gabrielle and I have known each other for a long time. Our conversation, for me, first and foremost was about supporting the fact that I understood what she was saying because I had the same experience. At the end of the day, Gabrielle showed up to sit in a chair and judge contestants. She didn’t think that she would find herself in the position of having to stand up for people who didn’t feel like they had the power to stand up in the face of being treated badly. I found myself in the same scenario with the same company where Mousa and Omid and Laura and Yetide and all these people didn’t feel they had the power to stand up to fight to get their words right to protect their character.
So I found myself in that seat.
But as you can see now, they made me out to be a pariah for the work that they begged me to do and for the work that I did that got them to Season 3. I identified deeply with what Gabrielle was saying in her situation because they paid a lot of people who took their money and sat at home. For me it was like why are you mad at me for what you begged me to do? What are you so angry about? I don’t understand what the problem is.
DEADLINE: As you decide how you want to move forward, where does this all sit with you right now?
JONES: What hurts most is that I have never seen an African God represented in TV or film. Let alone three. One of which was raised in a matriarchal society. Anansi worships Bilquis, that’s what Neil Gaiman was excited about in my character bible. A dark-skinned African Goddess in Anansi’s Queen. Representation matters. My connection with this young man I tweeted about and how it impacted is life, is the sole purpose of art. It’s a business of people. I’m a person. I’m a fan. I came here to have fun. This isn’t fun. This is what it feels like when you’re fighting a bully.
I want to tell you guys a story about @TheOrlandoJones . This photo was taken when my then 10 yr old was shy, bullied for his love of books, acting & journalism, embarrassed about his glasses, met an actor who looked like him … pic.twitter.com/177Oj6ByIL
— jeanae (@Jeanae) December 15, 2019