How they created that astonishing 'American Gods' sex scene

A trap door and plenty of effects magic. Actor Yetide Badaki reveals just how complex it was to film that startling sequence in the first episode.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
4 min read
Jan Thijs/Starz

The opening episode of "American Gods" is filled with scenes of blood-soaked violence. But a different scene drew stunned gasps from the audience at the London premiere.

The scene introduces Bilquis, one of the story's ancient gods adrift in the contemporary world. Fans of the 2001 Neil Gaiman novel may remember the moment a sex scene involving this goddess of love transforms into something altogether more provocative, and it's now been translated to the screen in jaw-dropping style.

Yetide Badaki, who plays Bilquis, told me how the startling sequence was created, and why it's more than just a sex scene.

Minor spoilers follow for one scene in the first episode, but we won't give away any of the episode's plot.

Bilquis appears in only two chapters in the book, but showrunner and writer Bryan Fuller and co-writer Michael Green were keen to expand the character. A goddess of love and lust, Bilquis allowed Badaki and the writers to explore questions of human connection and intimacy in the modern world.

When we first meet her, Bilquis is meeting a stranger for an internet date -- and it's from there the jaw-dropping scene unfolds.

In a moment lifted directly from the book, Bilquis and her date have sex. The goddess demands worship from her lover -- and proceeds to absorb him. Like, actually physically absorb him, swallowing his entire body into her vagina until his head is the last thing to disappear -- still swearing undying love as he disappears inside her.

It's an intense moment, scary and sexy at the same time.

"There was an immediate understanding from all parties that this could be seen in a very salacious way," says Badaki, a self-professed sci-fi and fantasy geek and a lifelong fan of Gaiman. "There are so many other things going on, the deep tragedy would be if that was all that was taken away from the moment."

Creating the scene proved a logistical challenge, especially as the filmmakers wanted to shoot as much as possible on set rather than relying entirely on digital effects.

"Everyone came at this incredibly prepared from whatever section they were doing," Badaki explains. "Even walking into that set, which was stunning, these beautiful liver-red walls which Home Depot should call 'Bilquis red' now."

If you meet Bilquis, it may only be once.


Filming the scene involved a specially created bed with a trap door and a huge bag underneath, as well as plenty of choreography. The shoot ran through the night, an exhausting side of showbiz that Badaki says people don't tell you about.

During filming, Badaki could see what the finished scene would look like, as the crew previewed the intended special effects on monitors on the set. "I kind of squealed like a little girl and jumped up and down as I saw that," she says. "Our effects [team], my goodness, they are gods and goddesses in their own right. The things they have been able to do are just astounding."

Bilquis' lover is played by Joel Murray, whom you may recognise as Fred Rumsen from "Mad Men" and the biting satire "God Bless America". He and Badaki had only met briefly beforehand, when both actors admitted they hadn't done anything like this scene before.

"He was just the perfect partner," says Badaki, "so present and so committed, and so brave, so vulnerable, all of the things that we needed to live in the moment."

Badaki is looking forward to the reaction from viewers, and not just for the shock factor.

"People have been joking about filming their friends who haven't read the book, right at the scene, and seeing their reactions to it," she laughs. But she's also excited to hear conversations it might spark, "especially here [in the US], people are really afraid to talk about love and intimacy and sexuality."

Badaki saw that reluctance to talk about love and lust when hanging out with Bruce Langley, who plays the god of technology. "People would immediately start referring books or movies or documentaries about technology," she says. "Then they turn to me and kind of go 'mm-hmm'... and they go back to recommending books about technology."

Badaki did have a frank conversation with her stepmother, whom she describes as rather conservative.

"We talked for about an hour about intimacy, about what it means to me, what it means to her," Badaki says. "I remember hanging up that phone and just kind of being in shock and in awe because in all of my life [that conversation] has never happened with my mother. And I thought, if that happens, just with one person, I would feel incredibly honoured and happy to be a part of that process."

"American Gods" premieres on Starz in the US on Sunday and Amazon Prime elsewhere on Monday. Australian air dates have yet to be announced.

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