There are only two episodes left of American Gods’ first season. For fans of the book series, it has been a wild and unpredictable ride. Starz gave Bryan Fuller, Neil Gaiman, and the rest of the writers the latitude needed to fill out the source material. By the season finale, American Gods will only be about a third of the way through the novel, with plenty of new character arcs to create years of tangents (if that’s what the show wants to do).
One of the characters that has received a major upgrade is Mad Sweeney, played by Pablo Schreiber. In the novel, Mad Sweeney appears twice: once at Jack’s Crocodile Bar where he gets into a scuffle with Shadow Moon and once much later when the leprechaun is suffering fatally at the end of his luck. What happens between those two events is now slowly being filled in. In this Sunday’s episode — written by Maria Melnik and entitled “A Prayer For Mad Sweeney” — promises to delve deeper into the history and motivations of the tall, drunken leprechaun. Ahead of the revelations of this penultimate episode of American Gods, we spoke with Pablo Schreiber about breathing life into his character in this insane, complex the world Bryan Fuller is building.
“This whole experience for me has been a real eye-opener. My first exposure to [this world] the pilot episode. I was just utterly confused as to what was happening [in Jack’s Crocodile Bar]. I had no idea how it could be made into a TV show, but I thought was very interesting and a worthy challenge,” Schreiber explains. “It piqued my interest. After I accepted the job, I got the audiobook. A lot more became clear, but at the same time, I still had no idea how the fuck [Bryan Fuller] could make it into a TV show.”
Listening to the audiobook of American Gods didn’t fill in any gaps for Schreiber though. As I mentioned earlier, Mad Sweeney is barely a character, more a wisp that blows in and out of Shadow’s life. In a way, that lack of detail was helpful for the actor.
“There was a lot of freedom in terms of what they were able to create with the [Mad Sweeney]. Because he made such an impression in those two short scenes in the book, I think there was a desire to expand him a little bit. We have no idea what he does or what his journey was, so they were able to create a journey for him that quite happily could tie in with Laura Moon.”
Laura Moon (played by Emily Browning) was another character that the series has been able to enrich. In the novel, she’s a glorified cipher, seen only through the loving eyes of her husband. But now that audiences are living outside of Shadow’s point of view, Laura and Mad Sweeney get to have their own adventures, missteps, and character flaws. Schreiber, for one, loves the parallels between his character’s journey with Laura and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) traveling with Shadow (Ricky Whittle).
“The marriage of these two characters into this parallel road trip that goes on alongside with Shadow and Wednesday, was one of the real genius moves in adapting this for a TV show because it opens up the book into a larger canvas.” This unspooling of the plot to give the audience more characters to become attached to. In the upcoming episode, Emily Browning will also play Essie McGowan, a character who has history with Mad Sweeney. Schreiber hinted at how things will play out and how Essie’s story is connected to Laura’s. “I was so happy [Emily would be playing Essie] because the amount of levels it adds to the Laura-Sweeney relationship is phenomenal. To learn that there is this person who bears a striking resemblance to Laura Moon that Sweeney has a whole long history with, really immediately deepens the connection between the two of them and provides a lot of explanation for why these two are so deeply connected.”
But mostly, Schreiber is excited for fans to see another side of his character. “All the set-up of it so far has been based on me trying to get much humor out of it as I can and keep the pace up. ‘A Prayer for Mad Sweeney’ is where you learn what’s behind the curtain. It really ties a lot of things up, it explains a lot of his bit of his behavior, it explains a lot of the interactions he has with Laura. This is now where you put the heart to the asshole.”