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Gillian Anderson Explains How She Turned Into Marilyn Monroe For American Gods

Gillian Anderson has shown that she is quite the chameleon in her role as Media on American Gods. On the Starz original, the goddess manifests herself as different celebrities, playing everyone from Lucille Ball to Judy Garland and, in the most recent episode, David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe. For Anderson, these transformations provided unique acting challenges– and, of course, amazing costumes.

"I didn't know all that much about Marilyn as much as we all know what's in the greater consciousness: the key pieces of her death and her struggle and her marriage and all that," Anderson told Entertainment Weekly. "And actually, I was surprised at how easy I found it to immerse myself in that and how much fun it was. She was definitely the one I had the most fun doing, just because there's an imminent joy to her."

Part of the fun also came from the costume Anderson donned as Marilyn, with the actress wearing a dress with a fan built in to make it appear as if the character was floating. "I was on this robotic contraption that had been built with fans in it so that my skirt was constantly moving, even though they were going to recreate and enhance some of that in CGI," Anderson said. "So for the majority of that scene, it was me being driven around via remote control with fans blasting vertically up my dress." 

Finding ways to show Media's persona while also highlighting the person she is embodying has been a difficult challenge for the series, but Anderson's impressive performances made it possible, according to co-showrunner Michael Green. Green said that, early on, they talked a lot about how to make her performances both an impression of the celebrity and an embodiment of Media. 

"[Anderson] really hit on this idea of how to hybridize the two," Green said. "That [Media] was using the impression only as a way to make part of her point. When she's David Bowie, it's done in a completely different way, and when she's Marilyn, it's almost mockingly. She really weaponizes her alterations and vocal quality to make herself as irresistible as possible to the person she is trying to sell. And she is always trying to sell."

While Media's transformation into Marilyn was in line with what Neil Gaiman wrote for the character in the book on which the series is based, having her change in David Bowie was a big departure, as in the book she only transformed into women. "The fact that she does manifest as male and female and however Bowie might identify himself... I mean, certainly, you say 'worship,' and Michael Jackson was worshiped as much as any female icon we've ever had," Anderson said, adding that Jackson and Prince were both discussed as possible Media manifestations.

However, despite the changes in the character manifesting as different genders, Anderson said that she believes that the show still highlights female empowerment. "To me, what was important for Media, male or female, was that we got to see that the women, the female gods, and the females in general are and can be as powerful as the male gods and the men," she said. "That they are equal. I guess it makes sense that one of the most powerful gods in the story is embodied as female."

American Gods, which has already been renewed for season two, airs on Sunday nights on Starz. If you're a fan of the show, see why Mr. Wednesday looks so familiar.