Aboard a 19th-century slave ship making the pitiless journey from Africa to the West Indies known as the Middle Passage, a strange figure appears. Dressed to the nines in a perfectly tailored purple suit complete with matching hat, he delivers a stirring speech to the awe-stricken captives, urging them to seize the reins of their own fate. In an eloquent call to action, he stirs them to go out in a literal blaze of glory by setting fire to the ship and taking their imperialist tormentors down with them. In the ensuing inferno, the figure known as Mr. Nancy cracks a small smile: Is he amused at how readily his marks sealed their own fate, or inspired by a show of independence from his fellow Africans? Because Mr. Nancy acts as a stylized stand-in for the trickster god Anansi, they’re just about equally likely.
Orlando Jones sinks his incisors into the curious role in the glossy new adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, which debuts this Sunday, April 30, on Starz. Mr. Nancy’s one of a large ensemble of “old gods” fading into obsolescence and readying for a great reckoning with the squadron of sleek, advanced “new gods.” Among such modern titans as Technology Boy and Media is Mr. World, a manifestation of digital omnipotence cannily portrayed by the mannered, intense Crispin Glover. Both Glover and Jones recently sat down with Uproxx in the penthouse suite of New York’s Langham Hotel — a rather ironic setting for a conversation about cultivating healthy distrust for the moneyed elite.
Prior to signing on to American Gods, did either of you have any familiarity with the book?
Orlando Jones: I had read the book. I had an interest in Anansi as a kid, parents and grandparents told me stories about him stealing from the sky-god, so I got wind of [Gaiman’s companion novel] Anansi Boys and was into it. But when I started in on that, I realized I had to get through American Gods first and then come back. I became a crazy Neil Gaiman fan after that. The metaphors he puts forth are interesting ones, because they change the way you look at your own country and your circumstances within it. His ending doesn’t decide left or right as to who should win, but rather opens up a gateway for conversation. The most interesting component, to me, was how he used common elements of language, story and metaphor to create conversations between cultural groups that are disparate, or see each other as enemies.