“Establishing scenes are particularly important,” Orlando Jones told me, just a few weeks before making one of the most magnetic TV debuts in recent memory on Starz’s American Gods. In “The Secret of Spoons,” meet Jones as African folk-god Anansi aboard a Dutch slave-ship, in 1697, appearing in a purple-checkered suit-fedora combo to deliver an accurate history of African-Americans in America—”once upon a time, a man got fucked”—before convincing all aboard to set the ship ablaze in his name.
“My research was more about wanting it to be true to the Ashanti people, their colors, the tribal colors. He’s a god, he’s royalty, that generally means purple,” Jones remembered. “But then how do you deliver a message that makes people believe? Ultimately, the core premise of American Gods is, ‘What do you believe?’ And how your beliefs can be manifested into reality.”
As for the logistics of filming the scene itself? “It’s pretty straightforward,” Jones laughed. “Slaves ships are not pretty big places.”
“So they built the ship to the correct specs?” asked Crispin Glover—who doesn’t debut until episode five as Mr. World—sitting to Jones’ right, marking the first, but hopefully not last time Crispin Glover helped me conduct an interview.
“They built a slave ship, yeah” Jones answered. “Then you put the other 50 people in it. There is no room. It is balls hot. I’ll give you the directions I got from [director David Slade]: ‘You got a step and a half or so this way, you can take one step forward. Try not to hit your head as you move around. Are we ready? Rolling, and…action!'”
For Jones, though, the set’s limitations were a stepping off point, his way into understanding an unthinkable situation.
“I think the physical circumstances of that scene are less important than the mental strain. Anansi’s audience, whether you like it or not, is completely enraptured with fear,” he said. “They don’t know where they’re going. And in order to get them out of that and to listen to you, you have to be saying something that relates to their conditions directly. Otherwise, they’re not exactly going off on a journey with you. Beyond that, from Anansi’s perspective, there’s nothing else really to think about other than ‘here are believers. I need them to believe.’
“‘And in order for them to really believe,'” Jones continued, ‘I need them to burn down this ship.'”
American Gods airs Sundays on Starz, 9 PM EST. Read our latest recap here, then check out an interview with the show’s resident love goddess, Yetide Badaki.