I am extremely excited for American Gods. I’m also firmly in the “Bryan Fuller is a perfect person who should get to do whatever he wants on TV” camp, so learning that he would be combining his talents with Neil Gaiman’s fills me with joy. The one thing that made me (and at least some of the rest of you) a little nervous was the Technical Boy.
American Gods is a brilliant book, but the Technical Boy was something of a late-90s, early-00’s nerd stereotype: an overweight, acne-riddled, emotionally stunted, arrogant kid who couldn’t speak to humanity, and had a special viciousness toward women. Given the ascendancy of what used to be considered “nerd culture”, and how much out relationship with technology has changed over the last 17 years, it was obvious that this vision would need to be updated. The glimpse of Tech Boy seen in American Gods’ first episode laid many of my fears to rest, but getting to attend a press junket and listen to the actor behind Tech Boy, Bruce Langley, talk about his work on the role checked on my fears, got them a glass of water, and put the nightlight on before lullabying them back to sleep.
Langley was paired with Pablo Schreiber (who brings a wonderful weight and, yes, madness to Mad Sweeney) for their interviews, and at first Schreiber led the conversation, talking about his stage work, and his excitement at Mad Sweeney’s expanded role in the Starz series. Langley was a bit quieter, deferring to the older actor and checking in with him as they spoke. Schreiber commented on this relationship, saying, “Bruce is like our mascot. Everywhere we take him is the first time he’s ever been there.” Langley agreed, saying, “It’s so true! I’m having the best time!”
But after a few minutes the floodgates broke. Asked about how his own interest in technology informed the role, Langley gave interviewers a torrent of information about the ways technology is changing humanity, and made it clear that he has put a lot of thought into how Technical Boy would be today, as opposed to how he would have been in 2001. I’ve summed up a few highlights below.
On his start as an actor:
Rewind a year and a half, I’m doing bits of theater all around London. When I got the call to tell me I got the role, I was carrying two suitcases of kid’s party equipment, like lightsabers, Jedi robes, all of this stuff, I was literally carting my stuff around to do kids’ parties at the weekend. No I’m serious. So it’s me dressed as a Jedi like, “C’mon kids! Force-push!” That’s me every Saturday and Sunday. It’s like a clown…like, clown plus! I also did a variety of superheroes. Sometimes pirates… so I’d audition during the week, and my weekend job would be these kids’ parties. I got the call and I’ve got two suitcases, and I’m like ah, no, can’t put it all down, but I got another call straight away, “You got the role!” (makes a head explodey noise while making the universal ‘mind-blown’ gesture) “Oh, and by the way, in nine days you’re moving to Toronto for half a year.” And since then it’s been this omnishambles in which I am a leaf in a stream going “AAAAH!”
People keep asking me, “Has it hit you yet?” and I still don’t know what that means, so I guess that means no. And I’m really hoping that “it” will never hit me. I’m having the best time of my life.
On the Technical Boy and his Children:
Tech boy is the effigy and representation of our current relationship with the thing that’s defining the direction of our species the most in history. So there’s that. He is the representation of our current relationship with technology which is a double-edged sword. The first time we used fire: “yay! Cooks our meat! …whoops, burns down our house!” and then multiply that to the nth degree. Now we’re in a situation where we have access to all the library of human knowledge at our fingertips. We have low-grade artificial intelligences in our pockets. We are integrating synthetics into our lives, we are cementing with technology, which is great. At the same time we’re sacrificing our definition of privacy. We are losing so much of what we define to be human. Our access to our long-term memory is changing. Nicolas Carr’s got a great book called The Shallows about how our use of the internet and our relationship to tech is literally changing the structure of our neocortex, and how we evolve as a society we are being changed by our tools. We make our tools, and then our tools make us. And Tech Boy is the representation of that. He is born of that belief. He’s born of this addiction, this dopamine addiction to this instant gratification. He’s also the representation of progress and the way things are changing. What could be possible? Technology is a one-way street. It’s the representation of hope and a better life, it’s that—it’s also the representation of what makes us, traditionally, human. He’s the combination of so many different ideas and he’s amalgamating into one form, and he’s forced. To interact. With humans.
On bringing emergent technology into American Gods:
There are some [technologies] that are displayed during the show, some possible future forms. In the initial episode – my children, the creatures who have a physical altercation with Shadow, they are a representation of a form of bio-synthetic 3D printing. We’re not too far off that.
On Technical Boy’s Godhood:
If there is any form of technology in any form, anywhere around him (and for the record, my favorite technology is language—at least so far…) any form of tech, he knows. It’s functional omniscience. And tangible omnipresence. So he is as close as you can get to being like… in terms of videogames he’s totally OP. All he has known in his very, very, relatively short existence, compare to all of the old gods, certainly, all he has known is constant worship. Constantly growing power base. He’s growing exponentially. All he has known is praise, he is young, and he does not know what it is to be in a state of lack. And it doesn’t look like that’s changing. He is only getting more powerful. He’s having to evolve with it. He’s having to grow as fast as his worship, which is growing as fast as technology, which is faster than a linear human brain can compute. So, yeah. There’s a lot to him.
American Gods premieres on Starz on Sunday, April 30th, at 9pm EST.