Where do "American Gods" go to build a home? Canada.
The eight-episode first season of the multi-million-dollar U.S. TV fantasy series was shot in Toronto, one reason executive producer Bryan Fuller jokes it should be called "North American Gods."
Addressing reporters at a gathering of TV critics in Los Angeles, Fuller admitted the biggest reasons to shoot in Toronto were the tax incentives, not to mention the low Canadian dollar.
"And the other reason is Toronto's a great city, and it has fantastic crews," said Fuller, who shot the NBC drama "Hannibal" in Mississauga, Ont. He said the crew he worked with on that series "had fantastic attitudes and became friends, so I love walking on set and seeing friends."
Based on the bestselling 2001 novel by Neil Gaiman, also an executive producer on the series, "American Gods" follows the adventures of Shadow Moon (played by UK actor Ricky Whittle), a man released from prison after the death of his wife Laura (Australian Emily Browning). Shadow meets a con artist named Wednesday ("Deadwood" star Ian McShane) and is soon caught up in an out-of-this-world road trip across America, recruiting old gods from mythology and religion in a square off against new gods from the worlds of media and technology. Seems the historical gods are losing followers to these upstart gods, reflecting society's fickle obsessions with money, media, celebrity and drugs.
Developed at HBO then shifted to Starz, the epic series began production in 2015 and wrapped the first eight episodes in Toronto last October. The cast rocked Comic-Con last summer, even without the presence of recurring star Gillian Anderson, who plays the new god Media.
British Columbia-born Pablo Schreiber is among the principals as 4,000-year-old leprechaun Mad Sweeney, a part expanded beyond the original book.
Schreiber, who at 6-foot-5 is rather large for a leprechaun, told the Comic-Con crowd that he felt like he was given "a gift from the gods" just being part of the series. Best known as "Pornstache" from "Orange is the New Black," Schreiber admitted fantasy is not his usual genre. He was hooked on the challenge, however, of trying to make these outrageous characters "incredibly believable."
The Toronto location was good news for several Canadian actors who round out the cast, including Demore Barnes ("The Flash," "12 Monkeys") who plays Mr. Ibis, an old god who runs a funeral parlour and writes some of the books behind the mythology. Sonja Smits, Sebastian MacLean and Andre Dae Kim are other Canadian-born actors in the series.
Whittle, who enjoyed a brief stint on "The 100," endured 16 auditions before landing the lead role.
"Finding our Shadow was a process that lasted several months," Gaiman told fans at Comic-Con. "We put poor Ricky through the wringer."
"American Gods" can be seen as the story of how immigrants came to America and brought their gods, religious and mythical, across the ocean. The clash between old and new gods and the immigrant storyline might seem like a reaction to the ascent of Donald Trump, but showrunners Fuller and Michael Green ("Heroes") caution that season 1 wrapped before Trump was elected U.S. president last November.
One of the things Green loves about the book is that "it manages to discuss religion in an inclusive way that invites all, whether you're coming at it faithfully, whether you're coming at it agnostically, whether you have an academic background in mythology, it really rewards varied attention."
"American Gods" premieres Monday in Canada on the streaming service Amazon Prime Video.
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.
Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press