Exclusive: Orlando Jones Talks Playing Mr. Nancy / Anansi In Starz’s American Gods

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Exclusive: Orlando Jones Talks Playing Mr. Nancy / Anansi In Starz’s American Gods
Posted by Wilson Morales

May 5, 2017

Currently airing on Sunday nights on the Starz Network is its Original Series “American Gods,” adapted from Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed contemporary fantasy novel.

American God has been translated into over 30 languages and earned numerous accolades including Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Awards for Best Novel. The plot posits a war brewing between old and new gods: the traditional gods of mythological roots from around the world steadily losing believers to an upstart pantheon of gods reflecting society’s modern love of money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs. Its protagonist, Shadow Moon, is an ex-con who becomes bodyguard and traveling partner to Mr. Wednesday, a conman but in reality one of the older gods, on a cross-country mission to gather his forces in preparation to battle the new deities.

The cast includes Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon, Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, Emily Browning as Laura Moon, Sean Harris as Mad Sweeney, Yetide Badaki as Bilquis, Bruce Langley as Technical Boy, Crispin Glover as Mr World, and Jonathan Tucker as Low Key Lyesmith.

Also appearing on the series are Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy, Gillian Anderson as Media; Kristin Chenoweth as Easter; Jonathan Tucker as Low Key Lyesmith; Cloris Leachman as Zorya Vechernyaya; Peter Stormare as Czernobog; Chris Obi as Anubis; Demore Barnes as Mr. Ibis, Corbin Bernsen as Vulcan and Mousa Kraish as The Jinn.

Jones, who plays Mr. Nancy / Anansi, brings the African trickster god to life with an explosive speech about racism in America aboard a slave ship bound for this country. From writing on shows like “A Different World” and “Martin” to appearing in the comedy show “MadTV,” Jones has certainly created a diverse background in the entertainment field over the last 2o years. From films like “The Replacements,” “Drumline,” “Biker Boyz,” and TV series like “Black Dynamite,” and ‘Sleppy Hollow,” Jones has shown he can plays all sorts of roles in any genre.

In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Jones talks about playing Anansi in American Gods and his ability to take on different roles.

What was it about this project that made you say yes?

Orlando Jones: I was a fan of American Gods and a bigger fan of Anansi. I’ve been hearing that tradition of Anansi since I was a kid and how he stole those stories from the sky God when I saw that character as a part of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I obviously recognized Anansi pretty quickly. When opportunities like this come along, it’s generally rare. There aren’t that many African Gods or superheroes who find themselves coming to light through mainstream Hollywood entertainment.

With you, Ricky Whittle and Yetide Badaki on the show, this is not that show that has only one person of color as other shows have done.

OJ: It’s the repeat of another time. There was a time when that wasn’t a common thing. Throughout the success of The Cosby Show, A Different World, Martin, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it’s always been a cyclical thing. The issue is that we still think that diversity is Black and White and no one else and Black people have more representation than more than the other groups combined. Until we take some real looks at ourselves, we’re not going to get diversity, but it’s nice to see a show that is multicultural and that also has women and gay people and disabled people. American Gods is unusual.

How would you describe Anansi?

OJ: Anasi is a trickster. That’s what he does. His thing is that he tells stories. He uses stories to get you angry generally. Anger gets shit done. He does those things for his own purposes.

With your dialogue in which you first appear on the series, there’s drama and comedy mixed in. Was that how it was intended to be?

OJ: That’s how I intended it to be. I would say that all the characters are that way. I would say that Mad Sweeney is hilarious. The seven foot leprechaun is hysterical and there’s some definitely jaw dropping moments with Bilquist. I think that they are all comedic in the way Neil Gaiman’s work tends to be prophetic and comedic at the same time. What’s most intriguing about American Gods is that it’s a war. That’s really simple. We came here worshipping certain Gods and as time has gone by, now we’re worshipping our phones, our clothes and these various other elements and celebrities and what have you; and a war between the new Gods and old Gods has broken out because we create our beliefs. Once we believe, we bring it to life. It’s real once we believe.

With Sleepy Hollow, this series and others that you have done, what is it about the sci-fi genre that you appreciate?

OJ: Since Evolution and Time Machine, I’ve been involved with global franchises that were about sic-fi and that genre and since MadTV, I’ve been operating in this comic book world and fortunately my career has been varied and diverse to include other things like The Replacements, Drumline and other projects. I never really look at those elements but I often meet a lot of people who mention a lot of things that they are excited about that I have done throughout the course of my career. American Gods is a real separation from all of that. At the end of the day and though I love each and every one of those characters, to pretend that Anansi is not a surprising character to see represented in a show about the Gods of the world, to me that’s huge. I think it speaks to who we really are. We call ourselves African Americans. We’re not. We’re American Africans because most of us don’t have any connection to our African roots. To be playing a character that has that connection in African culture and that survive our journey to the middle passage to the south of the United States and has proliferated thought the US, that character to me is greater to me than Captain Irving on Sleepy Hollow, who I loved and had an amazing time on that show. I think this is definitely a more substantial character and the show is filled with more substantial characters that speak to our culture like Bilquist, the Queen of Sheba, the Goddess of Love. These are huge characters that represent our culture not just based on the slave element. To play someone who is known for his cunning, his mind, his trickery as so often as stereotypes go, that’s what Anansi represents. That’s what the trickster spider was about.

What goes into the projects you take?

OJ: I decided a long time ago when I just to Hollywood and A Different World was my first job and someone asked what I wanted to do with my career. I said that I just want to keep telling stories and playing interesting characters and learning and enjoying this craziness. For the most part, I think choices are made in two ways. Sometimes it’s about the position and the opportunity and what doors it can open. Sadly, it’s a game you have to play if you’re in the entertainment business; and it’s about the work itself. That’s the thing I care the most about. If I’m going to do this, for whatever reason, how am I going to bring this character to life in a way that it feels authentic. What are the details to those things? Those are the questions that factor in before I say yes

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