It often works out that the most compelling, badly behaved villains in TV and film are played by the nicest actors you’ll ever meet. That’s certainly the case for Bruce Langley, who’s just made his TV debut on American Gods as Technical Boy, a personification our modern obsession with technology and the internet. Apropos for the territory, the character’s seen a bit of an upgrade since author Neil Gaiman first brought this deity to life in his 2001 book: instead of the pimply fat hacker archetype, he’s a super-stylish influencer who’d look right at home at an indulgent Silicon Valley party.
In real life, actor Langley does shares some characteristics with the god he affectionately calls "Tech Boy": he’s whip-smart, for example, and he’s recently gotten very into interacting with American Gods fans on social media. But he’s also profoundly friendly upon first meeting—like, “I’m a hugger!” friendly. Even after a long day of talking to the media in the middle of an even longer international press tour, he’s still completely psyched to be there. “It’s people,” he happily explained. “It’s interacting with people and I’m doing it with such a fun team. It’s a lot of fun, I’m very much enjoying it.”
Which is ironic, because playing well with others doesn’t seem to be a tool in Technical Boy’s arsenal—at least, not one he uses regularly. As we saw at the end of the season premiere, his primary goal is to eradicate the Old Gods that our protagonist, Shadow Moon, has unwittingly aligned himself with. And he won’t just kill to get his way—he’ll “delete.” What’s one human life when the dominant paradigm is at stake?
While book readers and TV fans alike first glimpse Gaiman’s supernatural world though Shadow’s eyes, Langley's first introduction to American Gods was initially through the lens of Technical Boy. During that pilot season he found himself fascinated by the audition material for the character, and only began exploring the rest of Gaiman’s work after he got the part. And of course, being so connected to the character means that he has some interesting insights into what makes the Technical Boy tick.
“In terms of personal identity, self-definition, certainly he wouldn’t self-identify as a ‘villain,’" he said. "He would consider that to be a very, very low-grade definition of anything. Have you seen Star Trek: First Contact? So, the Borg Queen: ‘You think in such three-dimensional terms.’ Something to bear in mind, with all of this going on. It’s such a nebulous, oddly 'binarily'-defined human concept that he would consider himself above. He’s not doing this to twiddle a mustache and go, 'Mwah hah ha!' He’s doing this for his own reasons.”
Those reasons, of course, revolve around cultural dominance. “It’s about progress, evolution, and moving stuff the way it needs to go,” Langley continued. “He literally thinks faster than anything else around him, so there’s that. He knows what the most logical thing to do is and he knows what makes sense and where we should be going—at least, in his own mind, he’s absolutely certain of that. And there’s all these inconsiderate meat sacks who are just sitting there not thinking the way he does. So he can come across as obstinate and all the rest of it, sure. But he doesn’t need people to understand him.”
Setting Technical Boy’s own view of himself aside, we define him as one of the bad guys. Whatever fans he garners from his arrogant attitude are most likely going to be of the love-to-hate variety. Some, in fact, have already started comparing him to Joffrey from Game of Thrones, another entitled jerk with a penchant for violence.
“I’m under no illusion that as soon as the show comes out, a lot of people are not going to be enjoying what Tech Boy is up to, and that’s entirely fine,” Langley said, joking that cast mate Pablo Schreiber (a.k.a. Pornstache from Orange is the New Black) has already offered him advice on how to deal with being reviled. “I don’t know how people are going to respond, we’ll see. But I would very much think that a lot of people are essentially gonna be jumping on the, ‘Yeah, fuck that guy’ wagon. So we’ll see. And you know what? Great! That’s a visceral reaction.”
— Bryan Fuller (@BryanFuller) May 1, 2017
It’s a reaction, in fact, that the show seems as though it’s actively trying to cultivate. Technical Boy’s “fuck you” attitude, as Langley put it, is the one constant in his ever-changing appearance as he jumps from one piece of expensive wearable tech to the next (well, one of two constants—the other is Tech Boy’s synthetic toadskin vape pen, which he’s named “Toby”). And unlike many of the the impassive embodiments of technology who’ve plagued science fiction stories in the past, his reactions are very much those of a living thing. To put it back into Star Trek terms, he’s maybe not so much the Borg Queen as he is Lore, Data’s evil android twin from The Next Generation TV series.
“Tech Boy does feel--he’s a very emotional creature in many many ways,” Langley said. “Part of him is human, part of him is born of human belief. It has to be human, and while part of him is artificial, he also, at his essence, has got a story … Anyone who, in essence, is hurting someone else usually is coming from a place of pain. So getting to explore that in him, to try to establish his filter, that was very interesting in terms of character work—why he is the way he is. I really hope we get to explore that in further seasons.”
Until that happens, of course, at least he’ll have plenty of fun working alongside TV veterans like Gillian Anderson, Crispin Glover, and Ian McShane. “Getting to play one-on-one opposite Gillian is an absolute gift, just in the smallest interactions,” he said. “You can see the experience. You can see all the work they’ve done before. It’s all there. It’s hard to be anything other than just grateful.” Not a term that Technical Boy himself would probably ever use, but that’s why it’s called acting, right?
What did you think of Technical Boy’s first appearance in American Gods this past weekend? Whether you love him, hate him, or love to hate him, tell us all about it in the comments.
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