Orlando Jones Hopes 'American Gods' Will Stop History From Repeating Itself
American Gods has had a number of stand-out moments throughout its freshman season, but perhaps none that hit the cultural zeitgeist in the way of Mr. Nancy's "Coming To America" sequence that opened Episode 3. But American Gods actor Orlando Jones, who portrays the African trickster god Anansi, insists that the show itself is not "inherently political." Even though the sequence in question ends with a ship full of African slaves rising up against their white captors and burning the ship down — with themselves inside it — Jones argues that any resemblance to our nation's current political climate is purely coincidental, given that the novel the show is based on was published 16 years ago.
"I think most of the subject matter that Neil [Gaiman] is covering are really sort of timeless things," the actor tells Bustle of the author of the novel, who is also an executive producer on the series. "The battle for human rights is still very much alive and well." In fact, according to Jones, Season 1 was done filming before the 2016 Presidential election was decided, which means any parallels to a post-Trump society exist entirely in how the show resonates with viewers.
Still, Jones doesn't mind if the show is stimulating those kinds of political debates among its audience. "It's exciting to be in a show that's doing this in a way that's science-fiction and fantasy in many ways, but also hopefully still sparking the conversation," the actor says. "Clearly, avoiding it hasn't served us well as a country, so maybe looking at our history and getting an understanding of how we arrived at this point can be a helpful way to build bridges."
Still, how does Jones feel about delivering a monologue, the moral of which boils down to: progress can only be achieved through violence, even if it means your own destruction? ("Anger gets sh*t done," as Mr. Nancy says to the rapt slaves just before they burn themselves alive.) "Mr. Nancy's a tricky one," Jones admits. "I think there's always an interesting juxtaposition between faith — what we believe — and worship. He's a god, so he requires worship. So his words can be trusted up to a point; and like any good storyteller, he uses a lot of the truth to get you to believe and to get you on his side. I don't think it's clear what his intentions are right now, but it is very much clear that the history of Anansi is that he's the keeper of stories, he's the spinner of tales."
It's that theme of storytelling that Jones hopes will continue into a potential Mr. Nancy spinoff based on Gaiman's American Gods sequel Anansi Boys. "I love that the central theme [of Mr. Nancy] isn't really about race at all, it's about the power of narrative, and how the way you frame the story and the way you tell the story really does play a tremendous role in how people respond to it, how they get ignited," the actor says. "That's why I love the anger — angry is good, anger gets sh*t done — because it speaks to the passions that ignite people and the things that make people become active."
So, will a Mr. Nancy spinoff actually come to fruition? It's early stages yet; the cast and crew haven't even begun filming Season 2 of American Gods. But Jones claims that the idea of a spinoff has always been a "key part" of the plans for the show, and that co-creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green are "moving down that road in some capacity." For his part, Fuller has declared his desire to eventually turn American Gods into its own Marvel-like cinematic universe, with each deity — not just Anansi — receiving their own spinoffs that branch off from the main series and intertwine with one another.
Regardless of whether or not he gets his own spinoff anytime soon, fans can expect to see plenty more of Mr. Nancy in American Gods Season 2. (Despite the fact that he left a major impression upon the series, Jones actually only appeared in two of the eight episodes this year, including the upcoming finale.)
"Season 1 will be the lightest Nancy will be in this series," Jones promises. "I think he's in pretty much every episode next year." And what will his character be up to? Jones — like those who have read the novel — has some idea based on what happens next in Gaiman's story. But given the way Fuller is notorious for futzing with his adaptations (like he did on Hannibal) and for adding in original material, there's no way to really know what might happen ahead of time.
One thing Jones hopes to explore is the extent of Mr. Nancy's powers. An odd detail in his monologue to the slaves is that he apparently knew what was going to happen to them and their descendants in America over the course of the next several hundred years. So, can Mr. Nancy predict the future? Not exactly.
"He has the ability to move through time," Jones reveals. "They pray to him and he comes to them very much as a modern Nancy. He's not in their time when he appears there. It's funny you should mention it, because I was actually going to ask Michael and Bryan, like, 'Are we tripping through time here? Are we going to go forward? Because we've gone backwards; are we going to go the other way?' I'm very curious about that myself. I'll make a deal with you: when I find out, I'll let you know."
Here's hoping Jones keeps his word, so fans have the solution to at least one mystery to tide them over during the long wait between now and American Gods Season 2.