The series’ response, in part, says that American Gods‘ storylines “have continually shifted and evolved to reflect the complex mythology of the source material,” and that Jones’ option was not picked up because his character, the Old God Mr. Nancy, “is not featured in the portion of the book we are focusing on in Season 3.” (Read the statement in full here.)
Jones chuckled ruefully. “I mean, I don’t think that it really responds to anything, but it’s fine if that’s what they have to say,” he said. “I mean, what can I do with that? There’s a real reality here that has to be addressed and dealt with, and it’s painful in a lot of ways.”
Anyone who follows the actor, writer and producer on social media knows that he posted a video Saturday announcing that he’d been fired from the fantasy drama in September. In the minute-long spot, Jones alleged that the “Connecticut-born, Yale-educated” showrunner Charles “Chic” Eglee said that the character of Mr. Nancy sends “the wrong message” to “black America.”
(In a statement to TVLine, a rep for Eglee replied: “We don’t have much to say right now but we may have more to say soon. All I can tell you is that Mr. Jones’ characterization of Chic Eglee is inaccurate on so many levels, from the macro to the micro — the least of which is that Mr. Eglee is not even ‘from Connecticut’ (as Mr. Jones states).”)
In a candid and lengthy interview with TVLine, Jones detailed his experience at the beleaguered Starz drama over the past two seasons, which started with him as an actor and ended with him poised to return for Season 3 as an actor, writer and producer. We also discussed series co-creator/executive producer Neil Gaiman’s involvement in the behind-the-scenes drama, as well as which co-stars have reached out to Jones since news of his departure broke.
TVLINE | Let’s talk more about how things went down.
I showed up in Season 2 of American Gods, and they hadn’t written for my character at all. They certainly knew I was coming. That was literally the studio’s job. And they didn’t do that job. And I wasn’t the only person: They didn’t do it for all of the characters of color. So if you really care about these characters of color, then why don’t you write for them? So I found myself in a very odd situation, because Neil Gaiman was the one who asked me to write a [character] Bible for Mr. Nancy [at the start of Season 2]. I didn’t jump into the writing process and throw my weight around. I was invited by Neil Gaiman. And when I wrote that character Bible and sent it to him, I got back a message I wasn’t expecting. As a fan of the human and, you know, as a writer myself, I was overjoyed. It was all caps the email, you know, “I F–KING LOVE IT. Spread it around.” …I spread around that character Bible. And I suddenly found myself writing, not just Mr. Nancy, but Ibis and Salim and the Jinn and Sam Black Crow and Shadow Moon and all of the characters of color who weren’t written.
…And frankly, [the show] could have told me after the Season 3 pick-up that I would not be a part of what you were focusing on. There’s no reason for them to stay in contact with my management, pretending I was going to be on the show in Season 3, and wait until the 11th hour of September 10, which literally stopped me from being able to work at all. I would have gone to do another show, but after 19 months of hiatus, I waited on this show and didn’t go do something else. I busted my hump and did my job and a lot of other people’s jobs who were sitting at home while I was doing that job.
You had to get sanctioned by the Writers Guild to actually pay me, a tenured Writers Guild writer, a mere pittance for the work that I did do. Yeah, I did all of that. I didn’t say anything about any of that during the press. I didn’t say anything about any of that stuff during Season 2. I 100 percent was on team and you strung me along, took me out of work? And tell me on September 10 that you’re taking another creative direction? If that’s the truth, why couldn’t you have told me that four months prior? Three months prior? …In 16 months production over three years, I worked 21 days.
TVLINE | And you were a series regular in Season 2.
Yes. I did two scenes in Season 1. But I was center in [the show’s] press [efforts]. In Season 2, [the show] knew I was coming and didn’t write for my character, didn’t write for any of those characters. Throw me to the wolves and having to not only do that and then fight with [the show] to actually compensate me fairly for doing so. String me along all throughout the offseason. And then after [the show] wouldn’t respond to us… [the show had] the network, who I didn’t even work for, call me up at 7 o’clock and say we’re taking another creative direction, and then [the show] didn’t pay me? So to hear them say that, “Oh, we didn’t pick up this option.” OK, September 10th, you were already past preproduction on American Gods. Why didn’t you call me earlier? Right. I don’t understand.
And the only reason I came out with it now is, it’s past December 10th. For all of their announcements, they never told anyone. So suddenly I was watching my work from Season 2, which went viral on Twitter. It went viral on Facebook, going viral on Instagram. I didn’t do any of those posts, but my inbox has been flooded with messages. “We can’t wait for Season 3. We love Mr. Nancy…” So I assume that at some point somebody [from the show] would say, “Hey, he’s not gonna be a part of it. But I’m really glad you guys were pumped up about, you know, the work we did in Season 2.” So for two months, they didn’t even address that. They just let me get inundated with messages of people saying, “We’re inspired. We love it. This is amazing. Never seen this said before on television” to the point that I finally had to say something today.
It’s also obviously hurtful to me in the sense that their new showrunner literally told everybody who would listen that he writes from a black male perspective and quote, Mr. Nancy’s angry, get sh-t done is the wrong message for black America. Those are his words, not mine. That man never called me. He never deigned to have a conversation with me. No one from Fremantle ever called me or ever spoke to me. So you stayed in constant contact with my manager, who was pinging you literally once or twice every couple of weeks to follow up on your components of this thing. So how come you didn’t tell her? My option wasn’t picked up in September? How come you didn’t help the fans that I wasn’t going to be there? And it’s now December and you’ve announced everybody and their mother that’s going to be on the show. So I’m sorry. That’s just wildly disrespectful, like they didn’t have to do that. They could have just said, “Hey, we’re not going to pick up your option.” They could have said exactly what they said in that press release.
[Had I been let go] a week after the show was picked up for Season 3, I would have said I completely understand. Which is what I said when they told me on September 10. But by September 10, everything else that I was going to go to, I had to pass on. You knew that. And you took me out of work for 19 months in 2017 while you fired the two showrunners and then hired someone who was so inept that you didn’t even have him do it. And I ended up doing his job. So if I hadn’t done the work I did, he wouldn’t have a job to ruin Season 3. So I look at all of those scenarios and I go, how am I to respond to that? This was spiteful. It’s insanely hurtful.
I never did anything to any of those people. I didn’t walk off set. I didn’t comment when all the press was talking about what a mess Season 2 was and all of that madness. You know, I know I held the company line. I sat with them and I did the very best job I could do under extremely difficult circumstances and just to have them pull that?
TVLINE | As you said, you’re a huge fan of Gaiman’s. Have you heard from him at all? Do you have any idea whether he had any say in what was happening to you?
He did reach out while madness was going on. Look, he was running Good Omens last season and doing a wonderful job of it. I will say: The person who asked me to write a Bible for Mr. Nancy, the person who was honest with me, the person who put me in the position of being a writer/producer on the show in terms of Season 2 was Neil Gaiman. So I personally have a deep and abiding respect for Neil Gaiman, because he was the only person who was honest with me and he was the only person who invited me into a process to help make it better.
He certainly reached out as this madness was going on. And he said, “I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why that happened.” And he extended his, shall we say, empathy and care. And he and his team have consistently done that. And that’s why I wanted to specifically thank him [in my video]. All I can do is respect someone who behaves in that manner. And that’s how he has always behaved with me. So I don’t have any arguments or beef with Neil Gaiman.
TVLINE | Have you heard from any of your castmates?
I haven’t really. Demore [Barnes] called me… He was like, “I didn’t know. They didn’t tell us anything.”
It’s been a difficult process. It’s certainly not my way. I’ve been in this business for a long time, and it’s the first time I’ve ever found myself in a situation where I was compelled to have to say something like that… I don’t get any joy from it. It’s a really hurtful thing because I know I gave that character and my cast mates, who I really cared about dearly, I gave them my soul. I gave them everything I had. And I did the best work I could possibly do under the circumstances. So it’s always difficult and a little bittersweet. And I’m a fan… So I’m sad, deeply saddened, that I’m not going to be able to do that anymore. And I feel like honestly, I feel like I let down the fans and I wish there was something I could have done differently to make them not be so upset at me or whatever it is going on over there.
But to say that you’re no longer going to follow the war between the Old Gods and the New Gods with what you literally set up in Season 1 and literally what you played out in Season 2? And you’re going to pretend all of that tension is now gone? That is the stupidest creative thing I’ve ever heard.
I mean, you set up a war between the Old Gods and the New Gods, and now your creative direction doesn’t encompass the driving force of your first two seasons? ‘Cause [Shadow’s] hiding out in Lakeside because of said war, right? Right.