American Gods star Emily Browning on Tom Hardy, immortality, and turning down 'abusive' Twilight

Emily Browning stars in Neil Gaiman adaptation American Gods - Rex
Emily Browning stars in Neil Gaiman adaptation American Gods - Rex

Breathing is a difficult habit to break. But for Emily Browning, as Laura Moon in Amazon’s new fantasy drama American Gods, respiration would be very out-of-character.

At the end of the third episode, released this Monday, Laura is seen waiting for her husband Shadow in his hotel room. It comes as a bit of a shock, given that she’s several days dead.

For reasons as yet unexplained, Laura has left her grave and is trying to rekindle her last relationship. “She very much lacks self-awareness,” Browning tells me. “Even though she cheated on him, and was horrible to him, and is now decomposing and smells like a dead body, essentially she’s like, ‘No, he loves me, I’m fine! We’ll be fine!’”

Browning with Tom Hardy in Legend
Browning with Tom Hardy in Legend

It’s something of a leap for the 28-year-old actress, last seen in Legend, where she played the (living) wife of notorious gangster Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy, slathered in Brylcreem). She was nervous about working with the glowering star of Taboo, she tells me.

“I was worried before I met him,” says Browning. At first, she expected Hardy “to be very intense and very serious and very method – but he’s not at all! We were goofing around on set a lot. He’s hilarious.”

Of course, her American Gods costar Ricky Whittle can seem equally intimidating on screen. In his own words, Whittle turned himself into a “monster” to play Shadow, taking on a tough muscle-building regime to capture the “don’t f--- with me” physique he has in Neil Gaiman’s novel, on which the show is based.

Browning with Ricky Whittle in American Gods - Credit: Starz/Amazon
Browning with Ricky Whittle in American Gods Credit: Starz/Amazon

When asked what Whittle’s like to work with, Browning gives a charmingly odd description. “Ricky’s just a very sweet, fun, endlessly energetic human being who survives on 25 pounds of meat every day. He doesn’t drink. He’s just a bit of an angel.”

In both Legend and American Gods, she was grateful for her costars' light relief. “When your character is dealing with some dark, tricky subject-matter, it’s very important for me to be working with actors who are able to switch off from that between takes,” she says. Of course, your character's situation can’t be much darker than actually being dead.

American Gods’ showrunners Michael Green and Bryan Fuller have a good pedigree when it comes to creating lively dialogue for the lifeless. Green has co-written the forthcoming Blade Runner 2049, in which oxygen is an optional extra for the film’s android replicants. Meanwhile, Fuller created the cult comedy Pushing Daisies, a show about a happy-go-lucky baker who can reanimate the dead.

Browning as Laura Moon in American Gods - Credit: Amazon
Browning as Laura Moon in American Gods Credit: Amazon

But deciding how Laura should behave was still a stumbling block for the team. “I had this discussion with Michael Green on the first day,” says Browning. “Does Laura blink? Because she certainly doesn’t need to any more. Does she breathe? We made up our own rules.”

“What we eventually decided was that she still feels like she’s alive,” she continues. “So, if breath is being used emotionally, it’s okay. If she’s shocked, she can gasp, because that’s an ingrained reaction.”

For fight sequences, however, things became difficult. “If she’s fighting with someone... well, breathing usually plays a big part in a fight scene, because you’d be huffing and puffing and panting. But Laura can’t do that, because she doesn’t need to. She doesn’t need oxygen!”

Browning with American Gods author Neil Gaiman at the show's Los Angeles premiere - Credit: Rex
Browning with American Gods author Neil Gaiman at the show's Los Angeles premiere Credit: Rex

On the plus side, being "essentially indestructable" has made Laura a bit more laissez faire. "Like many actors, I care a lot about what people think," says Browning. "So it was nice to play someone who really couldn’t be bothered with other people’s feelings."

Had her career gone slightly differently, Browning might still have ended joining the ranks of the undead – after a bite from the world’s most eligible vampire.

She was offered an audition for the first Twilight film, after the YA series’ author Stephanie Meyer put her name forward for Bella, the lead role. But she wasn’t interested.

“That was one of those internet things,” Browning sighs. “I guess in one interview the author of the book mentioned my name in relation to that character, and people on the internet grabbed that and sort of ran with it.

“And yes, I was asked to – I wasn’t offered the part, which is what a lot of people have reported – but I was asked to audition for it. And it just wasn’t for me. I’d never heard of it at that point, but then I read the book and I just…” Another sigh. “No.”

After Trump's election, it felt like a war had started

What was it about the novel that put her off? “I don’t want to say anything bad about it,” she begins, “but in my mind, the boy character – what’s his name?” Edward Cullen. “The boy vampire seemed to be kind of emotionally abusive. That relationship just didn’t appeal to me, really.”

She still hasn’t seen any of the Twilight films – which have since grossed more than $2.5 billion worldwide – but she has nothing but kind words for their star, Kristen Stewart. “I think she’s amazing, and I think she’s been so unfairly pigeonholed in people’s minds because of those films.”

Emily Browning in Toronto, 2015 - Credit: Rex
Emily Browning in Toronto, 2015 Credit: Rex

She’s less complimentary about the current American president. Born in Australia, Browning now lives in Los Angeles, and was there during the election. “Driving around in LA when the early numbers were first starting to come in, it felt very surreal,” she recalls. “It almost felt like a war had started.”

Filming had already finished for American Gods when the results came through, but the Trump administration’s stance on immigration has given a topical bite to the fantasy series – which shows how people of different religions have brought their own gods to America over the centuries, from the Vikings onwards.

“The show is about the fact that immigration makes America what it is,” says Browning. “It’s a cultural melting pot, and the idea that that is going to be restricted in any way is truly terrifying.”

American Gods is available now on Amazon Prime Video; new episodes are released each Monday

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