Bilquis - American Gods

Yetide Badaki: Getting to Grips with American Gods‘ Goddess of Love

April 13, 2017
Based on the acclaimed novel by Neil Gaiman, the new series American Gods charts a clandestine war between Old Gods and New that rages in the shadows of the American heartland. We chat with Yetide Badaki, who plays the love goddess Bilquis.

The fan expectation around American Gods is huge. Are you sensing that yourself?

Oh yeah, I mean people have been reaching out as soon as they discovered I got cast. They have been reaching out with nothing but love and support and excitement and also there’s been a lot that’s been learned about character and about the things that resonate for people, things that you intuit but then have expanded and resonated by all these voices reaching out they are like ‘yeah, yeah, we feel something about this too and very strongly about it as well.

So what’s the reaction to your casting? Were people kind, did they think you were perfectly cast?

Yeah! People were lovely! One of the reasons that I love these fans already, they embraced me. I mean I’m getting messages like ‘oh, we think this is wonderful’ or ‘you are exactly what I imagined’ and there’s excitement and encouragement coming from all angles. It’s been really freeing. I know, for some, it may feel like pressure. However, with the openness in which the fans have been reaching out and it’s an incredibly intelligent fanbase, they know what they are talking about and as a fellow fan, I get it and I hear you and it’s been freeing in that you get to play with these iconic scenes and these iconic ideas that you don’t get stuck in worrying about you in there. You are constantly reminded that it’s about a bigger story, that it’s about servicing the story and servicing these incredible creators and individuals like Brian [Fuller] and Michael [Green] and Neil Gaiman and these incredible fans.

Did you know the book at all before-

Yes! Did you know that I was a geek? I was a huge Neil Gaiman fan. I mean anything that is sci-fi or fantasy or any of that, I’m in so it wasn’t that I had just heard it on the side. In 2001 I was like ‘Yes! I need this book! I’m reading it.’ I mean I wasn’t even considering that I would get to play in that sandbox but yeah.

So in other words, you knew the character that you were going to play or at least were up for and more to the point, you knew some of those scenes you would have to do.

Yes, definitely which is funny because the reaction you usually have when you get the role is ‘yes!’ And then you go ‘oh. OH! I need to prep for all of this!’ There is so much layered in there and people are like ‘how would you audition for that scene?’ And I go ‘what do you mean?’ And they go ‘well there’s this and that’ and I think that that’s not what the scene was about for me.

You are talking about the first scene we see you in?

Yeah!

The first sex scene, well, if you could really even call it a sex scene-

Well that’s the thing. It’s the first scene that really illustrates how important connection is to the character Bilquis and that is why it was incredibly easy to audition with because that scene was immediately about that deep need for connection in a world where we are so stuck in our devices and interaction feels a lot more walled away. It was an incredible resonance with this deep human need to see and be seen and that was what the audition was and that is what that scene was on a deeper level and that is what that character was you know so it simplified everything.

I must say, it was one of the most mind blowing scenes I have seen because I don’t know the book at all but I was like ‘What?’

Oh, it was straight out of the book. There were just so many things to just geek out about in creating that. First off, yes it’s this incredibly iconic scene which everyone has really strong feelings about. I mean no one just goes ‘oh, you know, that scene’. Everyone feels something very strongly about it.

Do you mean because of the way it was described in the book and so what it represents-

It brings up something in people.

From a male perspective, it’s quite frightening.

Well, for a lot of us ladies, it feels really powerful. And there are many elements that were and that are being explored in that one scene. You see it and then you go ‘wait a minute, I never thought of that either’.

It’s hard not to have expectations about a big show that is about to come out. Are you wondering what will happen now in terms of what producers or whatever will see this and go ‘wow! Look at her’?

Right now I get to be part of this incredible storytelling experience with these great people and great minds that are passionate about what they do. I am soaking in every minute of this. What the future brings? Yes, of course there are things that you want to aspire to, you always want to top yourself and you always want to be growing but this moment now is pretty darn magical.

Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon

Ricky [Whittle, who plays Shadow Moon] said you had time to spend with Neil Gaiman –

I’ll tell you the first time I met him! This was true nerd right here! The first time I meet him they introduce me like Yetide, this is Neil Gaiman, I shake his hand, I nod and I turn around and walk away and I thought oh my goodness, Neil Gaiman thinks I’m a weirdo because I literally could not talk. I was so starstruck and he didn’t know for the longest time know that was what was going on with me, he just thought I was strange. Then ComicCon I got to talk to him a lot more.

Yeah, Ricky was saying that he couldn’t even walk out of the door because he would just be mobbed. 

Too much of a rock star! People go crazy but it was nice that we had a chance to talk.

Did you ask him about the character or –

You know, I think as an actor it is a responsibility that when they hand you the pages, you learn it inside and out, you research the character and read everything they said and you go out and you do it and if they say they need a little more of this, you say ‘okay’ and do it. I purposely did not want to. I know he had a lot of stuff going on, the man’s always creating so I wasn’t going to say please walk me through this however I did at every chance I could get express my gratitude for the chance to come in and give it a go.

We haven’t seen all of the episodes of season one yet so I don’t know how much you want to reveal but could you give me a sense of your character’s journey which I believe is a fifth of the book or Ricky said the whole season-

The whole season all the way up to the House on the rRock. One of the things that Michael Green and Bryan Fuller do is they are masters of setting up and creating the story from the bottom up. I’m dancing around this but yeah you start to get a sense of who Bilquis is and where all of this ancient power comes from and where it is looking to go. I think that was a safe answer!

And are you, I don’t know if you can say, are you signed on for the next season? 

Watch the space!

How it was working with Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane?

Ricky, I don’t know if people understand it but I will scream it to you from the roof tops how dedicated this man is and how he works so hard. Oh my gosh. He brings together this incredible family that you find on this set.

Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday

And McShane?

Yes well, it’s a master class in performance, in the career, in every element that you can think of in acting and you get to experience him on set- it’s a gift, he’s a gift.

You are finished season one completely now so are you taking some time off or are your agents bringing you things? 

I have a lot of fun in the fact that there are so many mediums in which to tell stories and you know, I’m the kind of person who will always, I think, tell stories in one form or another. So I have the film which I got to be a part of, that’s coming out, the video game came out a little while back.

Which was-

Call of Duty. I’m a fan too! I mean talk about geeking out! They named a character after me and I was like ‘Thank you!’

Do you do all of the motion sensor stuff?

Well yeah, it’s like green screen all around. I’d say the closest thing it is, is being that little kid again and pretending you’re jumping around hot lava. You are imagining all of this amazing stuff all around you with this team of people so that’s coming out soon- there are just different ways to tell stories.

And you’ve got a film coming out- Cardinal X.

It’s already on it’s way out in the festival circuit. It’s actually based on a true story. It follows the character of Angie Wang through trying to pay for school. She was actually one of the first North Americans to make ecstasy, as she first engineered it just to pay for her school bills and then things gradually devolve and become a little rougher than she planned.

You play that character?

No, I play a crack addict, and she’s this mother who’s going through struggles. No one I have ever known has gone through this and it’s just a terrifying struggle so that was a fun experience well, not ‘fun’ but-

Challenging?

Yeah, so it’s fun now to come back and be a goddess of love.

American Gods will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on May 1, 2017. Customers who are not already Amazon Prime Video members can sign up for a free 7-day trial at PrimeVideo.com.

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