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Yetide Badaki on Bilquis’ Journey in American Gods Season 3

American Gods Season 3 premieres on Starz on Sunday, January 10, 2021, and Vital Thrills got a chance to chat with Yetide Badaki, who stars as Bilquis in the Starz series.

Badaki talks all about what’s coming for the Goddess of Love, her new allies and how it all fits into the continuing story of the Old Gods in America.

Yetide Badaki on Bilquis' Journey in American Gods Season 3

Vital Thrills: Let’s start off with the rivalry between Bilquis and Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) this season because it’s intense. [Note: We were able to watch the first four episodes of Season 3 before the interview.]

Yetide Badaki: It is! I’m going to try my best not to be spoiler-y about it. I think it’s always interesting when Bilquis and Technical Boy interact, because we tend to view them as two very different individuals – people who are maybe on opposite sides of the spectrum. We see him coming in, wanting to collect on what he perceives as old debts, and further harping on this war that all these Gods are working so hard to pull Bilquis into.

What I’m excited for everyone to see is the introduction of what I call “SPEC,” or superpowered empathy conductor. It’s something that a lot of us wish we had on demand here in 2020. We see her really trying to educate and to bring forth to him the idea of what a war actually entails. What it actually means for someone in the trenches.

She spurs him from that moment onto his journey of self-discovery, and perhaps the first glimmers of empathy for an individual not very used to experiencing that before.

Yetide Badaki on Bilquis' Journey in American Gods S3

VT: Things are not going very well for Bilquis when the season starts. What can you tease for readers about where this season is going to go?

Badaki: Again, I will try not to be that spoiler person! [laughs] Where we see Bilquis start out in Season 3. She’s in a place where she’s feeling the walls coming in, and she’s feeling the labels and the expectations that the other people want to put on her. She’s feeling that starting to encase her and seeing the ways people want to put her in a box.

What we’re going to see through the season is that she also gets to take a journey of self-discovery and breaks free of those restraints in order to step fully into her own power. As she is forced inward, much like many of us in 2020 in isolation – because we cannot travel outward, we travel inward, and she really starts to excavate different parts of herself that maybe, after having lived for so many eons, may have become dormant.

She may have forgotten. She gets to reconnect these parts. She gets to reconnect with the Orishas. She gets to reconnect with this concept of “I is we.” And this idea of, though we may feel isolated, we are not alone.

VT: She’s older than the Gods we’ve seen, but because, as it’s said, Gods are created by humans. Do you think that in the show lore, there is a difference between who humans were back then versus now?

Badaki: Interesting! I think the understanding of the power of the self within the whole may have shifted, which has also been very exciting for her to go on this journey, very much like many humans today, and understanding that “I is we” idea, and that you have a say in your destiny. I think that would have been the biggest shift that Bilquis may have seen from the people of the past to the ones in the future. But as individuals are understanding that in the present, again, Gods are only distillations of their belief, and therefore, we’re starting to really see the Gods understand that they are – at least in Bilquis’ journey – she understands that she’s a part of a tapestry. And again, “I is we.”

VT: The New Gods don’t seem to care very much about the people who worship them. Would you say that the Old Gods do?

Badaki: I think it’s a different perception of – or the way that they receive sustenance. The Old Gods are used to ritual, to worship. That is how they’re used to gaining sustenance and maintaining themselves. These New Gods, what’s interesting is that they receive attention almost unwittingly. So where there’s an intention with the worship of the Old Gods, where someone would put down certain kinds of foods or perform some kind of ceremony where they are speaking to and asking of this entity.

Yetide Badaki on Bilquis' Journey in American Gods S3

These New Gods – the moment you start scrolling on your phone or, you know, the minute you jump into another Zoom call, your attention is going towards them and feeding them, whether you made a concerted effort to do so or not. So, I think that makes it very different in how they relate to their followers.

I feel like there’s a sense of contempt, almost, of the New Gods for those who follow them. Not to say that all the Old Gods do not have that sensibility as well, but there’s an understanding that there’s a relationship, that there’s a contract with the Old Gods.

VT: One of the things I love about this show is that we get to see the origins of the Gods. Are we going to see more of Bilquis’ origin this season?

Badaki: We definitely get to see Bilquis going further into relationships of her past, and to things that have further built who she is. We also get to see the idea of – we stand on the shoulders of giants. Many before me have said this. We see that represented in some of the women we get to see — I won’t spoil who — if briefly. And we are reminded of giving flowers to the ones that came before.

And I think it’s a great reminder that there have been so many women through history, through time, who have added incredible efforts to who we are becoming. They are part of the architects of everything that may come, and often aren’t celebrated until they have disappeared into the fabric of history. And I think it’s also a great reminder to give the flowers now. To give women their flowers now for all that they are doing to create the world in which we live.

VT: This show has such a great balance of men and women in it. What’s it like to be part of a show that has that kind of balance when most don’t?

Badaki: It is an incredibly important part of the work. Getting to work with the idea of equity. We have so many incredible people involved. I’m so excited for people to see Dominique Jackson, and so excited for Danny Trejo, Cordelia is played by the lovely Ashley Reyes. We have Laura Moon who – everyone knows how much I adore Emily Browning. Omid Abtahi who plays Salim and Bruce Langley as Technical Boy, and of course Ricky Whittle who plays Shadow Moon.

And I love that we get to meet some new individuals as well, like Herizen [Guardiola], Baron [Mustafa Shakir] and Brigitte [Hani Furstenberg] as the Orishas, and Wale [who plays Chango], and I’ve always been a fan of Devery Jacobs [who plays Sam Black Crow]. And it’s always a joy when we get to see so many different viewpoints.

As someone who cares very deeply about the plight of woman in the present day world, and probably would have cared about it in the past if I was there. Who knows? But getting to play Bilquis, and to get to speak to the power and the universes that live within women as well, and to see her go on these journeys of self-discovery, that lead into the idea of how we all fit into a whole, that means the world to me.

VT: One of the things that American Gods took on, particularly last season, was racism in America. Is that something that you’re continuing to tackle this season?

Badaki: I think one of the great things about the world that Neil Gaiman has created, and that we get to continue to evolve and grow within, is that it’s such prescient work. That it really gets to have its pulse on the world that we live in today.

There’s so many ideas within there, including the idea of isolation that we’re all dealing with right now. We couldn’t have told you what would happen when we were filming this earlier in the year.

There’s so much that speaks to our immediate surroundings that it’s almost a given with American Gods that you will see the issues that mean the most to us, that are continuously need to be addressed. We will continue to see those looked at within this world. So the short answer to that is yes. [laughs]

VT: I know we’ve spoken before about how much you love the geek world. Is there anything geeky coming up that you’re super excited for?

Badaki: Okay, again, I’m trying not to give it all away! I think there will be some very surprising things that you see from Bilquis that we might get to geek out together about. It’s something I can fairly say that you’ve never seen from Bilquis before!

The third season of the popular Starz series will premiere on Sunday, January 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT in the US, as well as internationally on Amazon Prime Video beginning Monday, January 11.

Yetide Badaki on Bilquis' Journey in American Gods S3