American Gods certainly got everybody talking a little earlier this year, when the first season of the genre-bending series hit the small screen. Bringing one of Neil Gaiman’s most celebrated novels to life, we saw all manner of characters introduce themselves, die, reanimate and fight as the brewing war between the old gods and the new looked to reach boiling point.
One of those characters was Laura Moon, played by Emily Browning. Here in an exclusive interview, Browning chats about Laura, red carpets and more. Read on to find out what she had to say…
How would you describe your American Gods character, Laura Moon?
She’s a person who has messed up a lot and wants to redeem herself in a way. I think that’s why it’s so important. We see Laura in her life; there are a lot of repetitive shots that are mundane, you get to see her routine and how much she wants to jump out of her own skin. She doesn’t know what she wants but she knows what she doesn’t want and what she doesn’t want is everything that her life is. I think that maybe that makes it a little easier to empathise with her and I think dying is honestly the best thing that has ever happened to her. Think about it: once you realise that death can’t beat you, what the hell is there to be scared about? This story is all about what you choose to worship and, ironically, Laura realises after she dies that what she worships is love, which is kind of funny to me because she is the least loveable character in the whole show and she’s certainly not the kind of character that you would imagine was just fighting for her husband’s love the whole time. And that’s exactly what I find so fascinating and so cool about her. There’s the scene in the car with Audrey where she says, ‘What happens when you get to Shadow? Are you going to have a zombie baby and a zombie dog?’ She genuinely is just like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t care but I love this person now. This person is the light of my life.’ If she was written as a lovely, friendly, submissive girlfriend character that would be sickening but the fact that she’s this really difficult, crass, sometimes really horrible person, I think it makes that journey a lot more interesting.
Did you know Neil Gaiman’s original book before signing up for the show?
No, I didn’t actually. I knew of Neil Gaiman. I’d actually never read any of his work but I’d read – do you know a website called brainpickings.org? I’d read a lot of excerpts of Neil Gaiman’s work on there and loved him as a person before reading any of his work. When I first heard about the show, they said, ‘Oh it’s a fantasy’ and I think my first response was like, ‘Argh, boring!’ But then they said it’s a book by Neil Gaiman and then I said, ‘Oh! Okay! Let’s have a look.’ I read the script and fell in love with the whole story but with Laura in particular and then I started reading the book and then I actually put the book down and didn’t finish it until we finished the show. It’s not that Laura’s a different character in the show; it’s just that you only get to see one tiny facet of her in the book and she’s been expanded so much for the show that the book was getting in the way of my story.
Did you get time to spend with Neil?
Well, I arrived on the set of the show about a month after everyone else because I’m not really in the first three episodes but I was also working on something else at the time so I missed Neil but I was hearing a lot of second-hand feedback because I know that he watched all of the dailies and he watched everything that we shot. But I didn’t meet him until the wrap party and we sort of chatted for like two hours at the wrap party and I just wanted him to be my best friend!
Is he now your best friend?
I wish! I only met him afterwards which was maybe a good thing because I think I would have been a little bit intimidated if he was on set. But knowing that he is really happy with everything we have shot is really important because I think the book has such a huge fanbase…I mean it’s not that we are changing the story a lot, it’s just that we are adding so much into it and I feel that as long as Neil approves of everything then the fans won’t get cranky.
How do you decide which characters to audition for and to play?
I don’t have a plan for my career. When people ask, ‘What kind of films do you want to make next?’ I have no idea…it’s purely instinct. If I read something and I respond to the character then I want to do it, it’s as simple as that. I would always like to keep that way of doing things. It feels very pure to me and there’s so much… fuckery that goes on! The celebrity stuff terrifies me and all of the other crap that comes with this job is a little uncomfortable for me, it doesn’t feel particularly natural. So as long as I can keep that process pure and true then it feels a little less like I’m selling my soul to the devil. I have a great team of people, they are the ones that are thinking about my career trajectory, and I’ve worked with them for a really long time and they are very aware by now that if I don’t want to do something, I’m not going to do it and if I do want to do something, they can’t stop me.
Did you find red carpets a bit difficult and then got gradually better at it?
No, I don’t think I ever got better at it! I still feel like I’m going to vomit every time I’m on the red carpet. It’s much easier when it comes with a show like this because first of all, we have a huge cast so…
It’s not all on you?
Yeah, exactly, but also everyone is just wonderful. It’s just an easy, great group of people and that definitely helps a lot but, red carpets make me very, very nervous. Whenever I see pictures from the red carpet, I can see in my face – it’s like ‘Aw man, you are so uncomfortable.’ It’s just I’m not great at it. I like interviews like this where we can just sit and talk but as soon as there’s a red carpet on camera interview, it’s my nightmare. It’s silly, there are much harder things in the world…I could be coal mining for a living! So I’m very lucky to be doing this.
Is doing publicity very different to playing a character, as you have to be yourself?
One hundred percent. I think the main thing that I love is acting. Unfortunately it happens kind of rarely, even if you are working on a project like this which you absolutely love – so much of the day is still getting hair and makeup done, messing around with lighting. But for me it’s all about the element that makes me feel like I could never quit this job because I don’t know what I’d do without it. When you’re working with great people and you are working on a scene that is beautifully written and it’s the moment when the camera’s rolling and you completely lose yourself…I mean it’s the closest thing to a religious experience that I know. It’s a really funny thing when you don’t notice that there are a hundred crew members you know sitting around picking their noses and you are just in it completely and you can lose yourself. I mean that’s what I’m there for and in that moment I have no fear. I mean I’ve done fight scenes where afterwards I’d realise that I’m bleeding or I’ve pulled something but I don’t realise it at the time because you are sort of invincible in that moment and it’s very different to being on camera when you’re just yourself and don’t have anything to hide behind.
When you look at Sleeping Beauty or Sucker Punch, those roles required you to be fearless. Is that what you think really drives you?
I’m definitely not looking for roles based purely on how far can I push the envelope so I’m not sort of a thrill seeker in that way. It’s funny, I mean I remember doing press for Sleeping Beauty and so many people were like, ‘Wow! Wasn’t that difficult?’ And I was like, ‘Well, not really because I loved that person.’ I had read that story and found this person really interesting so when I find a character interesting and as long as I feel safe with the people that I am working with, then I will completely give myself over to it. I think it’s just that I’ve had lots of questions about nudity…
In that film?
Yeah and because of American Gods, there is a bit of that in here but it’s not me, I still feel protected, I think that’s why in interviews particularly on camera…that’s why that makes me nervous because I don’t want to give away anything of myself and I feel that once you reach a certain level of celebrity, people feel as though they own a part of you and it is though you owe them something and I don’t like that but in my mind, when I’m playing a character that I love, I am not giving anything of myself away because it’s all outside of me somehow if that makes sense. But, yeah, it’s funny how people assume, ‘Oh, you’re fine. You’re on camera all the time’ and I’m just like, ‘No, it’s not the same thing.’
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
That’s really tricky. The one piece that I remember was…well, it was sort of a joke and it wasn’t even said to me, it was said to my ex- boyfriend when he was just starting out and he was fresh out of drama school and sort of wide-eyed. He was working with an Australian theatre actor who’d worked for a really long time and he said, ‘What tips do you have for me? What advice?’ His advice was, ‘Say it and mean it!’ Which is pretty great!’
That really simplifies what your job is on some levels…
But it’s true! I think I’ve got so much good advice and of course now that you are asking me about it, I can’t remember a single thing but I think I still haven’t quite figured out how to do that when it comes to press and publicity but there’s no need for me to do that when I’m actually working because I think I am innately good at separating myself from the character because that’s the whole point for me. I forget about all of the neuroses and all of my crap when I am in this other person I suppose.
You’ve just worked with director Alex Ross Perry. How was it working with him?
He is, he’s wonderful. I did Golden Exits just before I started working on American Gods and those two experiences could not have been more different and they were both wonderful. It’s so rare to be able to do projects that you love back-to-back but American Gods had a lot of 4am pick ups and hours in hair and makeup and it was intense. Luckily, I loved it and everyone I was working with but my life was out of shape for the five months of doing it. Working on Alex’s film, I was in an apartment in Brooklyn. I walked to the set every day. I would drive at seven or eight o’clock in the morning and they’d do like two seconds of makeup and wardrobe, just put on clothes and then I’d get to sit in a room with Jason Schwartzman all day and just talk which is wonderful. Alex and I met for a different film and he said, ‘Well this film’s not going to be made for a while so let’s make another movie in the meantime’ and I’m thinking, ‘Yeah sure you will buddy!’ You hear so much of the crap in L.A. where people say, ‘I’m going to write a film for you’. And a few weeks later we Skyped and he said ‘OK, so I’ve written the script, Jason Schwartzman’s on board, Chloë Sevigny is too’ and I was like, ‘What? How did this happen?’ Alex just makes movies. I initially met up with him because I loved Listen Up Philip and Queen of Earth. It’s funny because people talk about making films – ‘Oh, it’s hard! It’s such hard work and it took me forever to get this done!’ Which bugs me first all of because I’m like, ‘Alright, context please!’ But Alex does not have that attitude at all, he’s like, ‘Yeah, if I want to make a film, I’ll just do it’ and he does, which is really refreshing. It was the easiest shoot I’ve ever done.
So you’ve got another one possibly lined up with him as well?
Well, I hope so. I met with him for a film that was going to be a much bigger budget than he had done before and I think he was having issues with casting because they were saying, ‘Well if you want this money, you have to cast this person’ and he doesn’t really work like that. He wants the people that he wants. He is very blunt. I think he even said to me, ‘I want you to do the film but they don’t think you’re really important enough’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, cool, thanks.’ We spoke about it at Sundance and he said he was a bit sick of that story but I’m hoping he still makes it. I’d love to work with him again. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat because it was just the most pleasant experience.
Who are you playing in Golden Exits?
I’m playing essentially a nightmare version of myself. I was talking to Alex a lot while he was writing the script and we were talking about it. I mean he took little tiny moments of stories that I’d told him and discussions that we’d had. It was funny because when we were filming, because I play a girl from Australia who is awkward and doesn’t really know anyone and I was like, ‘Do you want me to play myself?’ And he said, ‘This is you!’ and I was like ‘No Alex, this is not me. This is a horrible person that you’ve based on this weird idea you have of me!’ But she’s essentially a young arrogant girl from Australia who comes to New York and ruins two marriages. You know what his stuff is like: it’s people not saying anything that they mean and just being very uncomfortable with themselves and nothing really gets resolved – which is my favourite kind of movie.
American Gods is out now on digital download and on Steelbook, Blu-ray and DVD from July 31.
Tagged in Emily Browning