From showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green and adapted from the best-selling book by Neil Gaiman, the Starz series American Gods weaves a provocative tale of faith and belief, or our lack thereof, unlike anything that’s ever been on TV before. When Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is released from prison following the death of his wife (Emily Browning), he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), with whom he makes a deal that will change the course of his entire life. As he finds himself in the center of a world that he struggles to make sense of, a war between the Old Gods and the New Gods starts to bubble over in ways that are both horrific and mind-blowing, and that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Pablo Schreiber (who plays Mad Sweeney, a down-on-his-luck leprechaun who’s always up for a good fight) talked about why he was initially hesitant about signing on for American Gods, that the role came back his way after another actor dropped out, playing a leprechaun, finding the character’s look, bringing suspenders back, Sweeney’s need to get his lucky coin and his mojo back, having to go to the hospital after he and Ricky Whittle accidentally really head-butted each other during a fight scene, what he most enjoys about playing this character, and evaluating where his own worship falls. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: First of all, congrats on playing what is probably my favorite new character on TV!
PABLO SCHREIBER: Oh, nice!
This show is both magnificently beautiful and thought-provoking in such exciting ways, and this character just seems like so much ridiculous fun to play!
SCHREIBER: It is! I’ve been blessed. I feel pretty grateful to have done the work with the writers that I’ve worked with and to have them think about me in the way that they have. I feel pretty lucky to have gotten to play Pornstache (in Orange is the New Black), and now Mad Sweeney, and I did The Wire in there, too. Sometimes I pinch myself.
How do you feel about inspiring a fashion trend, with the return of the suspenders?
SCHREIBER: You know, time will tell, if I’ve been successful in my mission to bring suspenders back permanently. The suspenders were a concerted decision based on the influence of the old country, but also it was important that each of the Gods felt like they could exist in some sub-sect of modern American society. With Sweeney, we made a pretty concerted decision to place him in the realm of the hipster. In that world, everything old is new and there’s a real aching for the throwback, and the suspenders seemed to fit right into that.
When you first read this script, did you read it knowing that you’d be playing Mad Sweeney, or were you ever looking at any other characters, as well?
SCHREIBER: I definitely knew that Mad Sweeney was the character that was on the table. First, I only read the pilot. And then, when things got more serious, later on down the road, I asked for them to send me some future episodes, so they sent me the first six episodes and I read them all. When I read the pilot, I was just struck by how different it was from anything I had ever seen on TV, but it was also quite confusing, which is probably the same feeling that people who haven’t read the novel had when they watched the first episode. It was confusing in good way, in the sense that I was just like, “What is happening?! I need to know more!” So then, when I read the next five episodes, I became a little more clear about what they were trying to do and where things were heading.
When I first read this book, years ago, I remember thinking about how much I loved it, but how there was just no way that it could ever be brought to life.
SCHREIBER: Right?! It reads as un-filmable, definitely as a movie. You can’t do this book in two hours. There’s just no way! So, TV, if anything, seemed to be the medium for it. And Bryan [Fuller] and Michael [Green] did a really smart thing, in opening up the book. The book is really just an individual road trip with Shadow and Wednesday, and all of these little vignettes where they meet these random Gods. But one of the very smart decisions they made was to elevate the character of Laura and make her road trip with Sweeney a parallel road trip to the Shadow-Wednesday one.
You originally turned down the audition for American Gods, and then someone else was cast in the role of Mad Sweeney, and then that actor left the show and they came back to you. When it came back your way, was it an immediate yes, at that point?
SCHREIBER: No, it wasn’t an immediate yes. By that point, there were a few other things going on for me. There were a few other possibilities that were in the works, and that is when I asked for a few more episodes. In the pilot, there’s just one scene. It’s a great scene and you’re like, “Wow, this could be a really cool character,” but you have no idea where it’s going. It was really just one scene in a pilot, and at this point in my career, when I said no to auditioning for it, the feeling and the thought was that I’d gone past the point where I should be auditioning for one scene in a pilot. Obviously, they had bigger intentions for the character, and that’s what they showed when they sent me the future scripts. It was clear that they were trying to take Sweeney somewhere else and that he was going to have an importance to the story and plot of the show.