Bryan Fuller Demanded a Reshoot of American Gods’ Gay Sex Scene Because It Wasn’t Gay Enough

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Omid Abtahi as Salim. Photo: Jan Thijs/Starz Entertainment, LLC

When American Gods showrunner Bryan Fuller first saw a cut of the epic gay-sex scene in Sunday’s episode, he didn’t mince words. “I was like, ‘Okay, unless he has a 12-inch, candy-cane cock and can fuck around corners, his dick’s not getting in him,” Fuller recalled. “So you guys need to go back and figure out where holes are.”

Chalk it up to straight-guy naïveté. Every decision maker in the room for the initial shoot was hetero: actors Omid Abtahi and Mousa Kraish, and director David Slade. They meant well, really. All of them were veterans of the screen trade and had been tasked with bringing to life one of the most tender and erotic sections of the Neil Gaiman novel upon which the Starz series is based. In it, an Omani salesman and a djinn — one of a group of supernatural entities whose roots lie in pre-Islamic Middle Eastern spiritual traditions and who appear frequently in the Koran — make love in a New York City hotel room.

It’s one of the more memorable bits of the novel, and a remarkable bit of queerness in an otherwise mostly heterosexual narrative. In Gaiman’s recollection, it had been a bit of a challenge. “I simply went, Okay, well, I’m about to be writing gay sex without ever having had gay sex, but I’ve read an awful lot of books by an awful lot of people, I think I can do this,” he told Vulture. The result was brief but vivid: “It is an hour or more before the ifrit comes, thrusting and grinding into Salim’s mouth. Salim has already come twice in this time. The jinn’s semen tastes strange, fiery, and it burns Salim’s throat.”

Those sentences left a searing impact on Fuller — a gay man — and co-showrunner Michael Green. “When Michael and I first sat down and started talking about the adaptation, our first conversation was ‘Okay, without reading the book again, what are the things that you remember that stood out to you?’” Fuller said at a recent press event for the show. They both instantly remembered Salim’s tryst with the djinn.

“We felt like for Salim, as a man coming from a country that throws you off the top of buildings if you’re gay, a blow job in an alley is probably his only sexual experience,” Fuller said. “We felt like the djinn, in this romantic gesture, wanted to give him a more intimate sexual experience. We wanted it to be incredibly visual and gorgeous. We wanted those things not to be lurid, but to be beautiful and captivating and for heterosexuals to watch the love scene between these two men and not go ‘Ew,’ but go, ‘That’s gorgeous.’”

Nevertheless, even though Fuller and Green wanted to eschew luridness, they still wanted to be frank about how men have sex — something rarely depicted on television screens. Fuller wanted to challenge hetero viewers. He remembered seeing relatively tame same-sex love in movies like The Color Purple and Prelude to a Kiss and seeing straights in the audience cringe, and he wanted to get in people’s faces, to a certain extent.

That meant penises. That meant multiple positions. That meant a money shot. That also meant a little negotiation with Starz, though not as much as one might think. “I think the only thing they said was, ‘He can’t be walking towards him with a fully erect penis because then it starts to appear as pornography versus just being pornographic,’” Green remembered.

Getting a network onboard was one thing, but getting two straight men to accurately and passionately portray a sex act they’ve never performed in their civilian lives was another. Abtahi and Kraish both said they were nervous about the scene, but that their nerves were calmed by friendship. The pair had known each other for a decade, thanks to being at auditions together and just generally being in the acting hustle. “Omid’s a genuine, real-deal, good-hearted human being, so that made it easier,” Kraish told Vulture. Abtahi concurred: “I think that friendship helped a lot with our comfort zone and the connection aspect of it.”

That said, it was still a bit of a struggle to pull it all off. The script had very little in the way of detail about what, exactly, the two men were supposed to do once the come-on dialogue was over. “We kind of winged it,” Abthai said with a laugh. “We kind of loosely talked about it, and as actors, you talk about your comfort zone and ‘This is what I’m comfortable with and within these parameters, I’ll give you 110 percent.’ Then the director would be like, ‘Action,’ and you would have four orgasms, expecting a cut after any one of those, and it just didn’t happen.”

The men — who were concealing their privates in little pouches during the shoot; any penises seen mid-coitus are CGI — began to sweat and heave. “This felt like an action movie,” Kraish said. “We wanted it to be real and we both wanted it to be about two men who are in love with one another.” For the concluding portion of the scene, when Salim and the djinn transform into bodies that look like ebony statues and enter some kind of spiritual realm, there was a bit of CGI background work (as well as CGI semen), but their darkened skin was real: They had been covered in a combination of baby oil and charcoal to achieve the look.

Many faked orgasms later, the camera stopped and the dailies were sent to Green and Fuller, the latter of whom made his “candy-cane cock” criticism. (“That was the direct quote from the editing room, by the way,” Green hastened to earnestly add.) A reshoot occurred, the positions were nailed, and the end result was what aired in Sunday’s episode: arguably the most erotic and explicit guy-on-guy sex scene ever aired on a mainstream American television show.

“This, by far, is the actual love story of the whole show,” Kraish said. Although the central sexual relationship of the story is that of protagonists Shadow and Laura, their pairing is fraught with depression and confusion, whereas, as Kraish put it, “There’s a pureness to this about the djinn and Salim and what the djinn gives to Salim.” And unlike the novel, this scene isn’t a standalone: Everyone involved promises that there will be more of both characters before the season is through.

For his part, Fuller is just glad the whole thing ended up being as hot as it is. “It’s about a communion of sorts,” he said. “I hope there are Middle Eastern young men masturbating to that scene.”

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