TVAndMovies

How "American Gods" Pulled Off That Explicit Gay Sex Scene

“We wanted to make sure that it was undeniably beautiful for even those who were uncomfortable with same-sex romance,” American Gods showrunner Bryan Fuller told reporters.

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BEVERLY HILLS — “I remember when they sent me the script describing somebody being filled by an ejaculation of flames,’” Neil Gaiman recalled late Wednesday night during a panel for the Starz series American Gods. “I’m going, ‘This is beautifully written in the script. Obviously they won't actually do this ... Only a madman would write this.’”

The British author was referring to a scene from the upcoming episode “Head Full of Snow.” In what might be one of the most explicit gay sex scenes ever shown on television, Salim (Omid Abtahi), a Muslim man from Oman, and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish), a fiery-eyed genie disguised as a taxi driver, make love in a New York hotel room. It begins with full-frontal male nudity, and then the men are shown thrusting in and out of each other, first on a bed and then in a faraway desert — and yes, there is an “ejaculation of flames.”

Showrunners Michael Green and Bryan Fuller took extreme care with this strange yet tender moment, as they adapted Gaiman’s seemingly unadaptable 2001 novel American Gods, which is about feuding deities who live among men.

“We wanted to make sure that it was undeniably beautiful for even those who were uncomfortable with same-sex romance,” said Fuller during the moderated Q&A, which, in addition to Gaiman, also included Kraish and Abtahi. Each took turns talking to a crowd of fans and newcomers to the series after an advance screening of the episode hosted by GLAAD.

Salim and the Jinn’s narrative is not a coming-out story, Fuller said. “As a gay man looking at gay entertainment, there are a lot of coming-out stories, and we didn’t need for it to be a coming-out story; we just needed it to be a connection between these two men.”

That’s why Fuller and Green decided to take some creative liberties with the characters’ storyline: For example, they rewrote a blow job in the book as a penetrative sex scene on the show. They wanted the scene, furthermore, to portray a moment of intimacy rather than a meaningless one-night stand — a vision Fuller inspired in Green.

“That was something that Bryan brought that helped me understand what the goal was going to be, and why it was going to be worth doing something that, on a production level, was very hard,” Green said. From there, he “approached it as a straight man just thinking, This is a beautiful romantic story between two people who find each other ... I saw it as a story of a god giving a man permission to be himself and to enjoy sex and to be made love to.”

Although Salim and the Jinn’s sex scene is noteworthy for its graphic nature, it’s also a rare depiction of Muslim characters — who typically aren’t afforded any displays of intimacy on television, let alone same-sex romance, or even narratives that portray them simply as human beings.

“Sex scene aside, just seeing two Middle Eastern men represented in that way — with humor and love and joy...It's taken me 11 years to get to that,” Kraish, who has been acting since the early 2000s, said of his first-ever sex scene. “I want to see more of that.”

He and Abtahi had known each other for 10 years before working together on American Gods; their comfort level with each other helped them establish Salim and the Jinn’s chemistry during what was otherwise a very technical, unsexy shoot.

“As lovely and spiritual and beautiful as that scene is, there was a lot of giggling going on. We had to shoot it twice because our gentlemen here are heterosexual, the director [Guillermo Navarro] is heterorsexual, and there were some positions that were just not conducive for anal penetration,” Fuller explained.

Abtahi said he attempted to do some “research” to prepare for the episode. “I tried to watch, like, gay porn, and I was like, I don’t think this is how it really works in real life, similar to heterosexual porn,” he said. “But I do have a very dear friend who’s in this audience, who allowed me to ask him all these embarrassing questions about how this works. I was like, ‘Hey, man, can you have an orgasm without jacking off?’"

Kraish was particularly nervous about whether his nude body would feel “exploitational” to viewers, and he expressed his concerns to Fuller prior to filming. As Fuller explained it: “There was a moment early on before Mousa would agree to drop the towel. We had to have a conversation about the intention of the sex scene, and it was wonderful because he just wanted to make sure that it was not exploitational, and that we weren't just showing cock because Starz loves cock.”

As for why Gaiman decided to include a gay romance in American Gods, the author said he merely wanted to reflect the people around him.

“As I’ve said many times in interviews, I didn’t regard the things I was writing about on American Gods ... as contentious,” he said. “Obviously it's a book about immigrants, it's a book about all sorts of cultures, it's a book about all sorts of people; obviously there will be LGBTQ characters in here, because there are LGBTQ characters in life and amongst my friends.” He wasn’t doing it for the recognition of being a champion of diversity: “There was no feeling at any point that I was getting any magic virtue points.”

Kraish, who has admired Gaiman since his teenage years, praised the author for including Middle Eastern and LGBT characters in his story: “You truly are representing the world in this show, and that makes me proud to be a part of this.”