Ian McShane on his divine new role
He’s played a western entertainment entrepreneur in Deadwood, a deadly pirate in Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, an assassin in John Wick, and a reformed mercenary in Game Of Thrones. Now Ian McShane is trying his hand at playing a God, or is he more of a con man?
One thing’s for certain: he’ll leave a lasting impression on fans for his role in Starz’s/Amazon Prime’s new TV series American Gods, based on the best-selling book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. We talk to McShane about life as a God and why Manchester United should have signed Marco Reus.
THE RED BULLETIN: American Gods is quite something. The book goes all over the place. Which genre have you settled on in the TV adaptation?
IAN MCSHANE: To find the tone of a project like this wasn’t easy. It’s not a magical show, it’s not a cop thriller, it’s not a western – it’s very different. The only way to describe it is, ‘It’s not like anything else.’ You think it’s about this guy called Shadow, who comes out of prison and gets accosted by this older guy – that would be me, Mr Wednesday – who seems very charming and very charismatic. Mr Wednesday wants to hire him as his bodyguard and his chauffeur and he meets all these strange people and you think, ‘There’s more to it.’ Shadow’s character is played by Ricky Whittle, whom I am very fond of. He’s terrific.
In the show you start out as Mr Wednesday and turn into a God.
Well, yes, at some point. But turn into what? He is who he is. The magical moment that comes at the end of the first series. The main thing about Wednesday is he wants Shadow to believe in himself. It’s like saying, ‘If you believe, things can happen.’ Everybody can do extraordinary things and we only use a certain part of our brain. You can actually influence things and you can become a better person or a worse person. But things can happen in life. Things can be extraordinary. He wants to employ Shadow as part of his ongoing grander plan, which is to fight the New Gods. Somebody asked me, ‘Is the novel anti-religious?’ I said: ‘No, it’s far from that.’ The series is about faith. It’s about believing in something. I don’t care what you believe in.
Are you a religious person?
No, I’m not a religious person. I mean, I have faith in certain things. Otherwise, you know, a total cynic has very little to look forward to or believe in. When we were doing this show, Brexit happened and then Trump came into power, and you think the show is not about that, but it oddly mirrors a lot of things happening – that things are going backwards a little bit. Trump, he has no respect. But he’s only there for a while. He’s a temporary obstacle. Things always change. But it is a step backwards, that’s what Wednesday is trying to say in the show. Everybody thinks they’re stepping forwards into this wonderful new intellectual age of technology.
Actually it isn’t like that. Why don’t we take a step back and get closer to where our roots grow? What’s wrong with the fact, that when in the old days, when spring came around, they worshipped spring. I’m not saying that Jesus took that away from the Goddess of Easter, when he decided to come out of his grave. Stuff like that, which is really interesting. The Bible says: ‘You shall have no God but me.’ But what’s wrong with that? You pray to little statues – what’s wrong with that? Everything becomes a little easier, otherwise life becomes just mechanical and dull. Wednesday is anything but mechanical and dull. At the same time, Wednesday is just as capricious and as wilful and as convinced of his own wonderfulness as the Gods that he’s fighting himself. But he’s more fun than they are. Also, he’s pulling a few strings, which in the show aren’t seen yet. The show has got to be very careful. I think this is why it’s an interesting show to do. What we reveal or don’t reveal on every episode.
How did you manage that?
It’s helped that they decided to have prologues at the beginning. It opens with this Viking sequence – when they sacrifice. The second episode starts with a slave ship sequence and you have the African spider god, Anansi, which puts a whole different cast on the show. I knew it would be good. It’s very different.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned?
Not to take anything to seriously. I mean, I take the work seriously when I do it. But the rest of it? How can you take anything seriously? The present stage of the world going backwards. But I’m pretty positive and I’m not a cynic. I have a very cynical view of my business, though. It’s a funny old business. You have got to be lucky. Talent and luck go together. Some people never get it. They really don’t. One great thing is there’s so much work now for actors, for directors and writers, because great television comes from all over the world now: Germany, France, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands. They’re all producing great shows.
The modern gods of Netflix and Amazon Prime are at work.
That’s what I’m talking about. They’re enabling all these writers to come together. Our show is on Starz in America and Amazon Prime in Europe. But what they’re doing is, they’re just building up content. People will just stream whatever they want. It’s the prime time. It will stop sooner or later. This Golden Age won’t continue.
You think so?
They can’t keep the amount of shows. I mean, there are 450 TV shows being made.
Is there something on your bucket list?
No, I don’t have that. I’m not one of those people who say, “I’d like to go back to the theatre and do a classic.’ I don’t think that way. I always get on for the interesting stuff.
Like Game Of Thrones?
Yes, it was a one-off. People said, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a regular?’ And I said, ‘No, I just wanted to do one.’ I didn’t want to be a regular. It’s far too late to be a regular. One show was perfect. But, again, it was interesting because the character was a warrior who became a peace lover. He knew he was going to die, but what he was there for was to give character to the character of The Hound played by Rory [McCann]. To show him not everybody in the world is a bad person – to give him humanity and bring him back to the show.
You’re a big football fan and supporter of Manchester United – how are you feeling about their prospects right now?
Don’t even go there! Actually, my father played for them in the ’50s. So I have been close to them forever. [Alex] Ferguson is one of my closest friends. I’m a huge football fanatic. Now [José] Mourinho is apologising for how he treated [Bastian] Schweinsteiger. [Laughs.] No, but really, he was already gone when he came. He was a marvellous player, though. But if you ask me they should try and buy Marco Reus.
He’s a great player.
Oh, he’s a terrific player. But they have got lots of these kids now. When it comes to coaches, I wanted the guy that went to Liverpool for United. I would have preferred him. I like [Jürgen] Klopp. I think he’s great.
American Gods is out on Starz on April 30 in the US and on Amazon Prime on May 1 in Europe.