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'American Gods' in the age of Trump

Neil Gaiman discusses immigrants, road trips and the importance of empathy.
American Gods Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle
From left: Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) embarks on a journey with Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) in "American Gods." STARZ

Neil Gaiman hopes that  “American Gods” will make your world "weirder." A TV adaptation of his critically acclaimed book of the same title, it brings viewers face-to-face with gods of the past and gods of the present, seamlessly blending fantasy, Americana and mythology.

The central character is Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a man recently released from prison who embarks on an out-of-this-world road trip with the eccentric, Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane).

While Gaiman is a master of fiction, it turns out many of the places in the book were inspired by real places seen on his own road trips around the United States.

“I would go on long drives across America before I was writing it and as I was writing it. And I would also go on drives to places that the book had taken me,” he reveals. “I’d say, ‘Oh, okay, well the  characters in the book seem to be heading here, and I’ve never really been there.’ So then I would get in my car and go for a lovely long drive.”

Just like Mr. Wednesday’s rule in “American Gods,” Gaiman never took the highways — only the backroads. This is how the gorgeous Rock City in Georgia became the site of an epic battle between the gods — he stumbled across it by chance. While his travels were “enormously fun,” some unveiled a sadder, more haunting side of America:

“There are ghost towns that people don’t know about. I remember driving through a little town in the woods in Wisconsin and then realizing every store was closed and empty. The marquee of the local movie theatre said something like, ‘Happy Wedding anniversary, Chuck and Gina 1988,’ you know. And I thought, “That was the last thing that happened here.”

Gaiman’s unique perspective as an Englishman now living in the United States coupled with his extensive firsthand knowledge of the country’s diverse landscape, created a powerful statement about America’s identity as a country of immigrants. Despite being published over 16 years ago, “American Gods” is more relevant than ever, especially in the age of President Trump.

“When I wrote the novel, the thing that I thought was absolutely and utterly non-contentious was the idea that America is a land peopled by immigrants, colonists and people coming in from elsewhere,” Gaiman notes. “The idea that you should welcome people in — that seemed non-contentious. These things have changed and seem more important now.” He adds, “I’m proud that we’re saying it.”

While the tone of "American Gods" is dark — complete with shocking sex scenes, gloriously bloody battles and the living dead — Gaiman's wishes for what viewers take away from it are bright.

“I hope that they will give a second glance to some of the people that they meet. I hope that they will think a little bit more about the new gods that they are giving their time, attention and worship to. And I hope that they will learn a little empathy.”

“American Gods” premieres on April 30 on STARZ.