The face of Ian McShane means a lot of different things to many people. For some, he will always be Lovejoy, the rogue antique dealer who filled our TV screens with his adventures in the eighties and nineties. For others, he is of course Al Swearengen, the foulmouthed brothel owner of Deadwood. Or look, maybe you just know him from the new Nespresso ad.
That would be a mistake however, as Ian McShane's career has spanned over five decades while he has worked with some of the most iconic actors of our time along the way, from Richard Burton to Robert Mitchum and Oliver Reed, appearing in everything from the likes of John Wick and Pirates of the Caribbean to Dallas and Game of Thrones. Now, the actor has taken on a role which could go in the bag for one of his most iconic characters yet, as he stars in the much anticipated upcoming series American Gods, Bryan Fuller's new fantasy drama based on Neil Gaiman's novel of the same name.
If you haven't read the books, the show re-imagines a world where the old gods still live alongside the new, more modern ones. McShane plays the role of Mr Wednesday, who if you are up to date on your Germanic mythology, you will know is Odin, the God of war.
It was a role Ian McShane felt was meant for him, telling entertainment.ie: "When they asked me and then I read it, I thought it was right up my alley in a sense. People say how do you play a god well you don't, you play Mr Wednesday, who is like this charming old codger who drives a beautiful car and likes a good life and hires this enigmatic character Shadow Moon as his bodyguard/chauffeur, but all is not as it seems."
Shadow Moon is played by fellow British actor Ricky Whittle in what will no doubt be a breakout role for him (you may recognise from the likes of Dream Team and Hollyoaks). Ian shares a great deal of screen time with Whittle and had nothing but praise for the young star when we talked to him: "We're from the same part of the world, he's a great kid and I think he has the most difficult part of the show because the character Shadow is not proactive - everything happens to Shadow, he is the eye of the viewer. I think Ricky is terrific and I think our rapport was an important thing, actually the first scene we ever did was the very first scene we meet. So whether that was by design or whether that was by accident it was good because it gave us a firm footing together."
From my preview of American Gods, I was struggling to find a show to compare it to when people asked, and it seems Ian feels the same way, saying: "It's not like a normal TV show, I mean TV shows say that all the time - that we're pushing the envelope, we're different, we're not like anything - but this isn't actually like anything else. I haven't seen another television show like this."
He continued: "I think that the difficult thing about this show, well not difficult to do but difficult to think about, was the tone that you actually use. I think they only got that after we'd been shooting for a couple of months and they saw what they had in the camera and then we could go back and reshoot one or two things, because it's very difficult to know with a show like this. It's not a crime show, it's not a medical show, it's not a procedural show, it's about all those other bigger themes about humanity, emigration, love, loss, life, whatever happens to us...faith."
The actor was more than impressed with the final product though, saying: "It exceeded my expectations. I knew it would be good because I'd worked with Michael Green before and I'd worked with Neil Gaimon before and I knew Bryan [Fuller] who's also a very gifted showrunner [Fuller previously worked on Hannibal]. I expected it would be good, but didn't think it would be that good. I was absolutely blown away."
Big words considering the calibre of shows McShane has previously worked on, with many heralding his HBO series Deadwood as one of the greatest TV dramas of all time. The American western ran from for just three seasons and its cancellation has always been the source of much frustration for fans. However there has been good news recently as Ian has confirmed that a script has been completed and is now in the hands of HBO. McShane said: "There's talk now that HBO are going to do it. I've had lunch and breakfast with David Milch over the years. People keep talking about a two-hour movie of Deadwood, well, I would love to do that. I must say."
It's a role Ian feels very passionate about, going on to say: "Three years of playing [Swearengen] and three years of doing Deadwood was I think the most satisfying creatively over a period of three years I've ever had over a professional career.
"We were all on the one location on this ranch where we filmed it, and we were all there every day - the writers were there, the wardrobe, the costume, we were all on this amazing set on this ranch. David Milch, who was the creative genius behind Deadwood, could change anything he liked at any time because we were all there so it was like doing a workshop, it was like doing theatre, but at the same time, like doing a movie. It was very exciting. If you like doing your job, which I do, it was the place to be."
The 74-year-old actor also showed up in the most recent season of Game of Thrones, a role which landed him in some hot water with fans who said he was giving spoilers away before the show aired, to which McShane now famously replied: "I was accused of giving the plot away, but I just think, get a fucking life. It’s only tits and dragons."
"That was a remark that was picked up on social media," Ian told entertainment.ie. "But it was social media in the first place saying I'd given it away. Well what had I given away? I played a character who was in it for one episode, so what did they think, he walks away happily?"
"It's a very fine show," Ian continued."It's a lovely show to do. I loved the character and I did it because my grandkids wouldn't have forgiven me if I hadn't done it. They're big fans of the show, my son is too. It was fun to do, it's one of those things - I wouldn't have wanted to join it as a regular, but doing one episode was great.
"I hadn't been back to Northern Ireland... it was nice to know the city [Belfast] is coming back to what it was, and the show has pumped a lot of money back into Northern Ireland."
It's been some time since Ian has been down this side of the border but he looks forward to coming back soon: "I haven't been back for a while. I love going there, we did a Lovejoy show there and then I did a Dick Francis movie in the late eighties. Oliver Reed and I made a move there in the seventies [Sitting Target]. I always love going back to Dublin, I have a great time."
Finally, I wanted to know, having worked with as many legends as he has, as well as some of Hollywood's current A-listers, who did Ian enjoy sharing the camera with most?
"I think Burton was great [they worked together in Villain in 1971]. I worked with him, George C. Scott, Robert Mitchum and they don't make them like that anymore you know? They really don't. And also Johnny Hurt, my oldest friend who died last year. I worked with Johnny a couple of years ago, and we started together in the business, he was a wonderful actor and a dear friend. I miss him a lot."
Catch Ian McShane in American Gods which begins in the US on 30 April on Starz, and in the UK and Ireland on 1 May on Amazon Prime Video.