From Shadow to Wednesday: Casting Thoughts for American Gods

This article originally appeared on on June 13, 2012. With news that HBO’s side-lined American Gods television series has found a new home with Starz, it’s time to revisit some possible casting options!

If you’ve been reading fantasy for the last ten years, watched the recent seasons of Doctor Who, or have been paying attention to good comic books for the last decade or two, you know who Neil Gaiman is. If you’re familiar with his work then you’ve heard of the unbelievable novel known as American Gods. It had its ten year anniversary recently and during that celebration, Neil Gaiman announced a sequel that would continue the adventures of his quiet, cat-loving, coin-trick playing protagonist Shadow. But another amazing bit of news last year involved HBO purchasing the rights to create American Gods as a TV series. (Note: the project is now owned by FremantleMedia and is in development by Starz.)

That’s right, sometime soon we’ll see Mr. Wednesday and Shadow gracing our cable television screens. But who might be cast in such a huge endeavor? The ensemble is going to have to be pretty big, as there are so many great characters, but Neil Gaiman has stated that the show might take some different directions than the book. Still, I’m laying out my favorite possibilities for some of the main characters in this hugely expansive work. Take a look!


casting American Gods

Shadow is the main character of the book and a sticky casting question overall. Shadow is described as quiet and big, something we’re not short on in actors in Hollywood right now. But websites and blogs have been buzzing about whether or not the casting of Shadow would stay true to the descriptions in the book of his mixed racial heritage. Sure, we could always fall back on Vin Diesel as an obvious choice, but fortunately, HBO has two vets in their stable of other shows that could use a run at being leading men. What about True Blood’s Joe Manganiello? He’s shown star power in spades playing the quiet yet powerful werewolf Alcide. And speaking of quiet yet powerful, we may require Dothraki subtitles for his performance on Game of Thrones, but Jason Momoa has an intensity that translates onto film very well. The most recent Conan might not have been a spectacular film, but Momoa brought one hell of a ferocity to the role while he’s shown his quiet side as Drogo. Either would make killer leading men for Shadow. Alternately, Dominic Purcell of Prison Break fame could be a dark horse candidate.


Mr. Wednesday

casting American Gods

Opposite Shadow is the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, Shadow’s boss and ultimately the lever upon which a lot of the story in American Gods turns. Casting a powerful actor with charisma and power is vital to this role. And while it would be nice if Anthony Hopkins decided he wanted to come to television for a little while (as he would be my first choice) I think an equal could be found in Clockwork Orange’s Malcolm McDowell. There’s few people who can stare holes into a camera and put on a big smile and deliver back and forth witty dialogue against a silent as stone protagonist like Shadow with verve like McDowell. One other person comes to mind, however, and that’s Willam Dafoe. There’s no question Dafoe has range as well as a wiley, wild streak a mile wide. Granted, he’s a younger choice but could he play the boss man with style? No question, hands down.



casting American Gods

Shadow’s ex-wife Laura is a difficult character to cast. She is a complicated character who I’ve seen categorized as everything from a psychotic to the ultimate manic pixie dream girl. I think it would be difficult to put her into either one, but one thing is for sure – whatever actress has to pull off Laura’s antics in the television series better be ready to put in a stellar performance. To that end, I’m investing my hope in Ruth Wilson. She’s got the lead in the upcoming Lone Ranger and did wonderfully on Luther and The Prisoner on television before. This is a woman with sex appeal and acting chops. Alternatively, for someone a little different and off the beat and path a little, might I suggest Marguerite Moreau (Queen of the Damned, Firestarter 2).  She’s not as big a name as Wilson but she has a quiet power to her performances that I think could translate well for Laura. 


Mr. Nancy

casting American Gods

The character Mr. Nancy was so compelling in American Gods, he appeared again in Gaiman’s follow-up (but not sequel) called Anansi Boys. This wily old man has to be eclectic, charming, and debonair, yet carry an air of mystery and wisdom about him. My vote goes with long-time acting powerhouse Keith David. Ever since I saw him in They Live opposite Roddy Piper, I believe he’s been sadly undercast and underused in Hollywood. Sure, one could go for a mainstay like Morgan Freeman, but could he pull off the ’out there’ nature of the old crazy coot Mr. Nancy? I believe Keith David could. Alternately, Garrett Morris is a comedian without measure and has a style and rhythm all his own that could light up the screen as Mr. Nancy.


Low-Key Lyesmith

casting American Gods

Low-Key Lyesmith is a character that would require an actor capable of pulling off depth and subtlety as well as being capable of keeping everyone guessing. While there are a lot of different directions one could go with this casting, I keep coming back to Watchman’s Jackie Earle Haley. The man’s got a non-traditional Hollywood look and star power coming out of his ears. He can do subtle, he can do intense, he can do pretty much anything. Alternately, for someone who is already embroiled in his own series, Once Upon A Time’s Robert Carlyle would be an amazing choice — if he’d be able to get away from being all Rumplestilskin. 



casting American Gods

One of my favorite characters in the whole book, Hinzelmann is Shadow’s neighbor and a whole lot more than he seems. While there are tons of actors that could work for this slightly off character, I have this odd fascination with long-time Hollywood mainstay Matt Frewer. You might know him as Trashcan Man from The Stand, Taggart from Eureka or just as The Guy Whose Been in Tons of Stephen King Adaptations. Still, Frewer has been in so much and has nailed his performances with conviction and earnest delivery every time. Alternately, Stephen McHattie from Syfy’s Haven is a strong actor who can play ’guy next door who got something weird happening’ very well. 


Samantha Black Crow

casting American Gods

Every show should have a snarky sidekick female character and Samantha is that girl —without falling into that manic pixie stereotype I was talking about before. Intelligent and thoughtful, Samantha is the Mulder in this American adventure, wanting to believe in more than what she sees. She’s also described as being multi-ethnic so an actress like Shannon Sossamon (A Knight’s Tale) might be just the girl to give her some exotic yet winsome beauty. Plus, Sossamon can also be snarky and fun, so I think she’d make a perfect foil for the quiet Shadow. Another choice might be Glee’s Naya Rivera. Rivera has proven that she can pack a wallop in some scenes as Santana and this could give her the chance to branch out of her teen sensation status.



casting American Gods

Easter is described as, well, kind of a vamp. She’s beautiful, she’s vivacious and more than anything else, she’s got healthy curves in all the right places. Which, sad to say, in Hollywood is harder to find than you’d imagine. So immediately when you think about a woman who could fill out a role like Easter, be sexy and curvy and also deliver a great performance, my mind immediately went to Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks. She seems to be the go-to girl for any performance that doesn’t require the actress to be itty-bitty and she’s got the acting chops to boot. Alternately for someone who isn’t Hollywood’s it girl but who has a wholesomeness that can’t be denied, Sarah Rue is also a fantastic actress who could make Easter shine. 


Mad Sweeney

casting American Gods

There was only one person in my mind when I thought of a madman like Mad Sweeney and that was Denis Leary. This comedian turned actor has no problems bringing aggressive yet hilarious performances, as we’ve seen in Demolition Man and his critically acclaimed series Rescue Me. It might not be the biggest role in the world, and I originally considered him as a switch-out for Low-Key, but he could really pull of a fantastic Mad Sweeney in a way that would make the character stand out. Alternately, Colm Meaney (Star Trek: TNG and Deep Space Nine) is a fantastic actor who recently blasted expectations away with his performance on Hell on Wheels.


With a cast this long, I’d love to go through everyone but it would take forever. Some other possible casting suggestions would be Sanaa Lathan (AvP) or Rosario Dawson for Bast, while Czernobog could really use some Mickey Rourke. Mr. Ibis would be amazing with Brad Dourif at the helm, alongside Lance Reddick (Fringe) or Colin Salmon (Resident Evil) as Mr. Jacquel, and I could love to see Tech Boy be played by Jonah Hill. Like I said, the list could keep going, but I’ll leave it here.

Are there any characters I’ve left out that you have suggestions for? Sound off!

Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and


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