“Time and attention—better than lamb’s blood.” That’s the credo of digital goddess Media, a powerful deity manifested into reality thanks to America’s decades-long worship of television, celebrity, and the screen at large. (She may have even been summoned into the world back in the heyday of radio storytelling, but that’s another story.)
If you watched the second episode of American Gods, you just met Media—and fed her, too. The character made her debut in week two of the Starz series, played by Gillian Anderson, but the hitch is that Media is more of an abstract being who tends to take the form of iconic figures from the screen, so her first materialization (as written in Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel) is also one of her most famous: Lucille Ball. Who better to represent the palpable worship of celebrity than the first legend of TV’s golden age?
Media, as Lucy, appears to protagonist Shadow (Ricky Whittle) in a seductive attempt to lure him to the cause of the new gods, who all share an eagerness to reprogram reality to better focus on the things that power them in the digital world. (Read EPs Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s explanation of what that means here.) In the novel, Media shocks Shadow in his hotel room by taking over his TV; in Fuller and Green’s adaptation, she hijacks a whole display of them, revealing herself to Shadow in the electronics section of a big-box warehouse store that might as well be designated a temple for how it bears the tools Americans would use to worship her.
Speaking with EW, Anderson says she connected differently with all of the characters she would play in the role—including Judy Garland, David Bowie, and Marilyn Monroe—but it was Lucy with whom the actress shared at least some semblance of a history.
“The only experience I really had in any personal way with any of Media’s characters was a photo shoot I did with Mark Seliger many eons ago where I was Lucille Ball,” Anderson says, referring to a 1997 magazine spread in which she vamped up as several television icons. (In fact, some Gods fans even mistook the portraits as an official first look at Media back when Anderson’s casting was announced last summer.)
“Funny enough, I actually looked more like Lucille Ball back then than I do now, just in terms of the angularness of my face,” Anderson continues. “So I had that experience of being her for a day, but it was, of course, different from trying to figure out what aspect of her to present in ratio with what aspect of Media, and who is Media, and how does Media come through, and which bit of Media lives in each of these characters?”
To that end, the challenge Anderson faced in waxing Ball, Bowie, Garland, and Monroe was not just finding footing inside these recognizable celebrities, but figuring out who the actual goddess of Media is in the moments between her manifestations onscreen. “I think that was the biggest challenge with all of them, and I guess it changed as per how easy it was to take on a character or feel like I could channel someone. [That] had some impact on how much Media showed up within that character,” she says, adding that she made a key early decision to avoid thinking too hard about what the abstract Media might look like—if anything at all—in between her big moments. “I kind of stayed away a bit from thinking about that,” she laughs. “That’s still a very, very big question mark, even in my head.”