Actor Orlando Jones Talks ‘American Gods,’ Society & Pseudo Narratives

ATM: Do you believe there are any good points to be a trickster like your character Mr. Nancy on American Gods?

OJ: Yes. There are good points, but it is a question of worship. We manifest what we believe. This is how it is operated. We tend to make things come true that are not necessarily true. This is natural with the belief and worship system is and this is what you hold on to. In the show, the Gods are aware of this. They are focused on the circumstances and that you give them the worship so they can move on. Mr. Nancy is not lying to the people on the slave ship, he is telling them the truth.

He is also asking them to kill themselves. He does not care about them killing themselves because he needs worship. He is talking the truth. He is not there for their benefit, but for his benefit. So, you can say he tricks them, but you can also say he liberates them. From his point of view, they gave him the ultimate sacrifice. This empowered him, and it allowed him to transform into spider form to escape danger.

ATM: Why does your character believe anger is good?

OJ: Historically, when people are motivated and focused, they can achieve tremendous things. The death of Nipsey Hussle created a lot of positive energy in the community. But to be fair, people were angry that it happened. The anger transformed itself into something else. People were not happy that they could not ride the bus. Rosa Parks refused to and grew out of this. It was not because she was the first lady to not like the racist system currently. It was because the treatment in this way orchestrated in such a way that a story was built, and a narrative was constructed. The narrative is what everyone uses to get people on their side and get people motivated to make the change we want to see.

This is generally not motivated because of happiness. People do not fight systematic racism out of happiness. They do it because they are angry, tired, and fed up. This is what we have seen happen throughout the course of history. We saw this from the previous presidency and on. He spoke the language of the people who were upset. Their anger took them to the voting office. Anger clearly is good because it gets shit done.

ATM: And it also depends on the narrative and the person behind implementing the narrative. It takes a toll on how it is perceived. A wrong narrative can get put out and get perceived in a bad way. This can ruin a generation.  

OJ: Yes. This is how life has gone on this planet for quite some time. It has become the current generation what to understand this. They are doing their diligence to understand the purpose of the narrative and the goals of the person telling it. You are right, it could be false. We have done a fair amount of this. I do not think the generations hold themselves to the responsibility of knowledge and education. The younger generations seem to believe it is supposed to be easier for them and that their outrage is original. It is not. It is age-old. They have to take this responsibly in their own hands. It is important for them to discover knowledge. Mostly people Apathetic. They get excited about it, but three days later they move to something else. This lets you know they are not authentic. They were not that outraged and did not care that much to do anything. I find this happens often.

ATM: Yes, the younger generation does not know anything. They do not have a lot of knowledge to fight. For example, I am going to a Lakers game and I cheer for the Lakers. But I do not know anything about the Lakers. I do not know the origins of the team or the players. They trying to fight a fight they know nothing about. The atmosphere during the times when blacks needed to survive has gone. Walking down the streets expecting to get sprayed by the water hose was life. If this has lessened, then how can you fight for it. No one has effectively continued it. You have a gap that might be noticed 40 years from now. It is going to look be 1960s, a big hole in the ground, then 2019, and the future time.

OJ: Okay. It is not like Martin Luther King Jr. did not go to Thich Nhat Hanh. Look at what he has done in the Vietnam War, saying, “I do not choose to be on the side of Vietnam. I do not choose the side of the Americans. I choose peace.” There is a blueprint there. It is not like the blueprint is not available to them or struggle. There are more slaves today than there have ever been in history. There is a tremendous struggle but also a tremendous privilege. People with privilege such as black, white, women then you have no reason to out to fight because you have the privilege. This is the real gap. It is the Haves and the Have Nots. It is not the knowledge out there or anger. The problem is that privileged black kids do not care that much. Poor black kids do not know how to get the tools properly.

Even though the tools are directly in front of them free at the local library. They do not still get a free library card to get the information unless there is a mentor guiding them to make smart bold choices. Again, young people have this problem now, but some old people had this problem during the 60s. It is not like there were all parents fighting in the 60s. Those were kids. Those were 16-year-olds. When they talk about the Libyan rebels – they are talking about 12, 13, 14, 15-year-old kids with guns. We can be taught the skill of getting a gun and convinced of a narrative of right or wrong. The mentorship is there in certain places but not in all places. It is s struggle and battle. The mind is the most way of control for the oppressor.

Once they convinced you of the narrative and you believe the narrative, then they are done. They do not have anything else to do. If people truly believe some God is coming to rescue you from this world and the afterlife, then what reason do you have to fight hard in this life. This narrative was built for control. This was the purpose. They say it is something else, but it is all control. You are going to get your reckoning in the afterlife. Not one of us know if this true or not, because we do not have access to them. People believe this story. They will argue you down if you say anything negative about it.

ATM: This is solely related to the young adult generation. They have moved the society to think things are supposed to be given to them. People thinking if they want this or that, then it is supposed to fly into their hands.

OJ: And if it is not fair, then some great swooping God is going to make it fair. There is no such thing as fairness. Who cares if it is fair? My kids say this all the time, “It is not fair.” Okay.

ATM: This is the narrative they have perceived. No one forces someone to perceive narratives in such ways. If things just fly into your hand, then you have no journey. You have no lines to recite in your speeches. You have no scenes to contemplate or talk about in your biopic. You have no words or sentences to write down in your autobiography. It’s about the journey. You would not have anything to say. People do not want to go through trial and error, but you must. The journey is in the struggle and the struggle is in the journey. The younger generations dream of something Monday and expect it on Tuesday or the next Tuesday in the next month. No. What journey will they have? None. This is boring.

OJ: Yes. It is boring and not unrealistic. They do not struggle or do nothing. They do not understand the cost of what they are asking. If you do not value what you have, then you are not going to do anything to get it. This is where spoiled brats come from. They do not care what it cost, they just want it and it shows up. This is one way to live, but it is a crazy way to approach things. For other people, they can ask until the end of the time and it will not show up.

ATM: The crawl before you walk element has left this world. It is not going to show up because they do not desire it or really want it. They have not sacrificed everything to want it. It is seriously all about sacrifice. Sadly, this younger generation does not understand this.

OJ: They do not want to go through what is required to get it. This means you have to be prepared to fail a lot. You have to be okay with this failure. The road to success is paved with these failures. You need to be aware of this and realize no one cares about your complaints. “It has taken you years to get this done. And your point is?” I thought you wanted it. Keep struggling. This is just how it is. It is unfortunate that people think it is different. It does them a disservice.

ATM: And this leads people to not understanding how to advocate for their race’s struggles. Most black people are fighting the struggle with a narrow mind and a one-eyed view. They need to understand white people are nonexistence to black people’s history. If you did not grow up as black, then a white person will never fully get it. Most black people think white people are obligated to know about their struggle. This is a part of where the social disconnect is. I have explained the black sector of the world in unique ways and scenarios to some of the most racist white people, and they got it. One white actor said to me, “It is like you all do not even exist.”

OJ: They cannot understand something as much as you understand it because they never experienced it. If you never experienced a bullet at your head, then someone telling you about it you can get the bullets at this person’s head and the danger. But you do not know how it was crawling on the ground and watching other people die. This is a different thing. You understand it intellectually, but you do not fundamentally understand. Yes, black people are just as ignorant like everyone. This is in the sense that they think people should know by now. They think all sort of things that have no connection to reality.

It is important for people to communicate their struggle and for someone to do it in a way to get others on their side as supposed people who are against them. This is what my character Mr. Nancy’s gift has always been. He is not some new character that was invented last week. He is a part of the Ashanti people as far back as the 1st or 2nd centuries. He is a God who has manifested himself to find himself in the narrative for everyone place of people of color who have been oppressed. This is in the Southern United States., Haiti, and islands and other places. He is not relevant because he cares about your community. No. He is relevant because he understands the power of the story and narrative. Also, with how you could use the story to achieve your goal. I have played, written, and produced this character for the show. I have a fair understanding of the show, how it operates, and also the components. I think is what’s is most interesting about American Gods. You are watching a story that is being told by a white British man and his point of view. This is how he created the show.

He was an immigrant in the United States. He is looking around not in New York or Los Angeles, but in Virginia and Wisconsin. He was in places where Americans lived. You saw these roadside monuments built in worship to something. They thought what happened to God these people worshipped when they first got here. Why do the children no longer believe in these Gods?

Why are they worshipping the New Gods? What are they getting from the New Gods that they are not getting from the Old Gods? This is the premise of the show. It was an immigrant from the United States looking at the American experience. They were looking at the diversity and how many people diverted here. Also, with how they were enslaved and brought a God here with them that they no longer worshipped. How is this God living today? The war between the Gods is based on the same thing. How do we work together to get what we want? Do we go to war to get what we want? It looks at the conditions of how this country was formed.

This was written centuries ago. It is about how these conversations are still the conversations of today. I am in the same battle that my great great grandfather, great grandfather, and father. Now I am handing this battle to my daughter. This is just how it is. There are shifts but no changes. There has been some progress and then setbacks at large, but we are still fighting something. People are still trying to do the same things. We should take segments, and then segments and fight them one thing at a time. The truth is global warming, fruit and water scarcity, women rights, and racism are all the same issues. They still disproportionally affect women and women of color.

Because of this, these things cannot be separate and solved as often as they are. It is not going to be easy; I do not have answers. I know what we are up against. I do not expect anyone generation to save it. There needs to be a system in place. There is not a system in place. We have failed to put one in place. Too many people of color take advantage of people of color. You clearly see it. This is our other problem. There are too many snakes. This does not mean the battle is worthwhile. On behalf of my two daughters, it has my undivided attention.

ATM: The premise of the show speaks to our American climate. The Old Gods represent the origins of this society and history. The New Gods represent the new ideas and the act of erasing the old standards that brought us here. The more the New Gods take their form in our society, then more the originals things are pushed out.

OJ: And it is outdated and invisible. It is gone. They teach the Black Panther as a militant and angry group. They do not teach what they really were. They do not talk about what they really tried to accomplish. This is a black group created by black people, but black people often do not protect their own history. You have plenty of entertainers who have to take a sliver of knowledge to do a show and do a program. They want to get people behind them. They are not interested in culture. They are interested in watching them and want worship. “If you do not come with something to drive toward the change, then why are you talking.”

I know this is something that I struggled with during my younger years. This is not something that often comes out in music or entertainment. But when it does come out in music and entertainment, it can easily be destroyed. Public Enemy was certainly trying to have those conversations, but it pissed someone off and it was the end of it. It is not like we protected them. This was a group that affected the community with things that were important. “We are going to support the records.” This is not how it panned out. We are complicit at this point. There are plenty of black people with money who can do something, and some do something. They often sit down to think about doing the same thing, which is not helping the change. They do not seem to be committed to it in a meaningful way instead of payment services.

ATM: Regardless of the funds, you cannot make a change doing the same methods. This is another conundrum with America and with the black race. The reason why issues are still happening is because of black people.

OJ: Yes. The South Africans took down apartheid using a very effective method. You have to use the methods. It is like saying we need a new toothbrush to get out teeth clean. No, the toothbrush you have is working if you use it. They do not use it. We will not use the same tools we have.  

ATM: Black people are also a part of the reason history is getting omitted. They are not even properly talking about it. They allow white people to erase it right in front of their faces. They do not say a word but just complain about it in the end. Society has turned more and more into the premise of your show. It is already to the point of who is the Black Panther Party? The New Gods have come in. The Old Gods are already getting replaced.

OJ: Yes. We are here already. People already select their news in a way that puts them in an echo chamber. They only want to hear what they want to hear. They can curate their news or information in a way that shuts out the other side. You do not even know what the other side is doing. We are here. We are already in this position. The information is available to us, but we have purposely chosen to stop listening to it.  

ATM: Black people stopped teaching it. This is erasing history. It is not just white people. We need to stop blaming them. Stop victimizing ourselves and be true. Black people need to look at themselves and not point the finger to the white man. The “white man” lives in the black culture and they are alive and well.

OJ: Yes. You can blame others for your problems for as long as you want. Everyone knows if you do not have any realistic expectations, they are not going to do anything for you. Stop complaining about them not doing anything for you. Why did you expect them to do anything for you? Why would they do anything for you? This is not a complaint, but an excuse.

ATM: Right. Black people should expect white people to give them anything or to understand. This is the wrong way.

OJ: I do not have any answers, but I know an excuse when I hear one.

ATM: When you ask a lot of people about the change in the black race, they all say “There is change. Let’s not disregard what others have done.” Honestly, there has not been any change. Now, this is the truth of the matter. When we completely realize this, we can move toward effective change.

OJ: Things are incremental, and things have happened, but nothing substantial or persuasive or earth-shattering. It has not happened. This is my sixth or seventh diversity revolution in Hollywood. We are now writing all wrongs, blah blah. Now, I just chuckle when I see them. I see nothing is going to change. It happens for a short period of time, but then it goes back to the way it does. I understand why. How can you diverse the storytellers who are going to tell stories in the mainstreams if these storytellers have to be a member of Screen Actors Guild, Writer’s Guild, or Director’s Guild in order for them to be published on the mainstream?

These organizations are overwhelming males. If you are not a member of these institutions, then it is not going to play on any show or movie. You are not a member of the union. All you will be able to do is cast an actor during the 11th hour in this role. This is not diversity because the story was told by someone who does not know the circumstances or the situations. Do you know how many times I have played a role that was written for a white guy?

They cast me. There was no rewrite or someone to come in to make it authentic to my voice. This is true of every actor you can think of. This is how it really is. If no one black wrote this character and there is no black male in the room at any point, then put all the responsibility on me to bring the authenticity to the character and make it resonate with the people who look like the character. There is no such place to do this. This is where we really are. Until you can become a member of the Guild to do this, then you cannot move the needle in a meaningful way. In the recent revolution, where do you expect these storytellers to come from. They told me Shonda Rhimes signed a new deal with . . .

ATM: Netflix.

OJ: I know Shonda and she is wonderful. I do not see any show showcasing on black women in a different light then they were showcased in. I do not see this on Netflix or them releasing every week. Do you see it?

ATM: No. I do not see it either.

OJ: So, they tell me about these black women who are all my peers and who I know and worked with. I know they get it and understand it, but I also know they are up against the system that does not give two shits about it. They are popular now. They give them x number of dollars. They say to make this for the mainstream. People who have never known anything about the character and have never lived it or seen it are going to come in giving their notes about how the character should be. Then they are going to cast someone to play the character. They will make decisions about how it is edited. Then they move the person who was in it from it entirely and you are going to get what they want you to have. Welcome to Hollywood. This is how it works.

ATM: And this is the control.

OJ: Yes, this is the control. So, there is no one you see who looks like you have a lot of speaking roles. No one in the history of television has ever said the things that Mr. Nancy says on American Gods. There is a reason why he is an anomaly. I get to write him. It is not like they are hanging the lines for me. This is not what they wrote, but what I wrote. I worked with someone else named Rodney Barnes. I wrote a lot of other characters. No one was bringing up the things all these characters as men and women. There was no one who looked like me in the room who understood their circumstances until I walked into and said, “What the hell is this? Why is the Goddess of Love not here demanding her seat at the table?” She is as powerful as the other fools and you give them a sit at the table. Are you not manifesting the things we are not doing? Put her in the room.

My point is that if I had not been in this position and had my disposal incredible cast of people who were willing to do this even though they did fight. A network and studio who allowed this into fruition, then American Gods would not be what it is. But the press spends all their time talking about how the second season cannot possibly live up to the first season. They assumed the people who oversaw it could not possibly do a better job as the white guys who had the job.

To be fair, they wrote the slave ships. Bryan Fuller wrote it. It is not that it is not capable of doing it, but it is the assumption. “We are not capable because we are black, but you have not done your homework to figure out I have been a part of the Guild for 25 years.” It is not new. All these come together and down to the same thing we are talking about. The ignorant racism and ignorant assumptions. I am proud of what we can do.

Nowhere else are you going to hear anyone talking about the plight of black women with the passion and truth that Mr. Nancy talks about. It has never happened. If we were not fighting for it every day, then they would not let it happen again every day. In this case, they will now because these are the characters and they have established them. There will always be a fight, but it is one I willing to be involved in. I am in it, so I am not going anywhere now.

ATM: You literally just explained the systematic racism, privilege, and injustice in the American Entertainment market, which is considered Hollywood. This is the process of how it gets embedded into a culture and then it moves into the media then how it gets perceived to outside entertainment.

OJ: This is right. They give you guys a snippet. Black entertainers are not privileged to all of it. They came in this industry in this or that way. People forget my first job was in advertising and writing. I was sitting in the room with the studio and the networks. They did not care that I was there. I was just a 19-year-old kid. I heard everything. I know exactly how it works. I use this knowledge in front of the camera the best that I can to characters so it can resonate.

Even though there is no system in place to help me. No one is interested in what I have to say. I shut up and do my job. The reward I get when an audience sees it is, “Ah, I fuck with this dude. His shit is dope as hell.” This is the only reward you get. This is not much of an award. I do not need an award. I care about the culture. This is all I have ever cared about.

ATM: We keep talking about the false narrative that the entertainment and the media feed to the outside entertainment and to society. It needs a name. I’ll coin the name, pseudo narrative. These are narratives put out to make it look like change is happening or something is happening when actually behind the scenes nothing is happening.

OJ: Yes. There is a counter-narrative shaping us and telling us it is all going to be okay. We should just hold on and wait another day and minute. It is all going to come out fine. This is why Mr. Nancy says, “I count one, two, three Gods in this room. Two of them want to exercise restraint. The Donkey work continues why you live your best life. War is upon us. An old white lady is dead.” It is pointing out that a young black girl gets snatched every day or a few seconds, but no one is interested in pointing out human trafficking. It has ridiculous effects on women of color.

It is not like people do not know it, because they do know it. The news is not interested in talking about it anyone suffering if they are women of color. They do not give a fuck. These are children and the average age is eight. Again, they do not give a fuck. Black people do not give a fuck. They do not talk about it. They would if the narrative was being put in their face. Black politicians do not even talk about it. Well, I am talking about it.

ATM: Because they are afraid. Human and sex trafficking is very prevalent. It is very prevalent near the White House and in the societies and places, you would never dream of looking. The places where it looks normalize is where it is not.

OJ: Yes, it is about their livelihood. They need to pay and send their children to college. I get it and understand why it is a dangerous thing to do. This is why I wanted to play Mr. Nancy. This is who he is. You can shy him away from this if you want and make him do something else. If he were played by someone else or different sets of people, then this might have been the place. I credit Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. They allowed him to be established in the way he was to be established on the slave ship. Are you kidding? It has been my pleasure. Frankly, I hope I can talk to you again or soon.