Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Return of the god squad

Lydia Jenkin talks to actor Dean O'Gorman and writer James Griffin about the third season of The Almighty Johnsons, the popular Norse family saga that nearly wasn't

Dean O'Gorman says his character Anders, aka the god Bragi, gets to say the most outrageous things.
Dean O'Gorman says his character Anders, aka the god Bragi, gets to say the most outrageous things.

There was a brief period last year when it seemed that fans of The Almighty Johnsons might be left wondering forever what would happen to the Nordic god brothers. Word came round that the show was not to be renewed for a third season, leaving us to wonder whether Gaia would ever become Frigg or if she was destined to be Idun, entwined with Bragi/Anders for good? Whether Ty would ever become Hod again or win Dawn back? And would Axl ever become Odin?

As Dean O'Gorman, who plays the irascible Anders/Bragi explains, it was a great disappointment to the cast too.

"When we found out Johnsons was cancelled, it was kind of like that feeling you get when you read a really good book and you finish the book, but you keep thinking about the characters afterwards, keep thinking about their lives."

But it seems the gods smiled upon the show, because it wasn't long before it was announced that, actually, the show was being renewed. And just eight months later, season three is finished and ready for broadcast next week.

As series creator/writer James Griffin explains, the reasons for the flip-flop, as he understands it, all went back to money - first it was there, then it wasn't, then it was again. But other than causing a few weeks' delay in the writing of the new series, the initial cancellation had very little effect on the show. The producers even managed to get the entire cast back on board and pick up the storyline almost immediately where it left off.

The shoot even miraculously coincided with a break in O'Gorman's filming schedule for The Hobbit (in which he plays Fili the dwarf), and it seemed like the weather gods were on their side too.

"Part of the joy of the show for me is getting to work with these people who have become my friends, and having a really glorious summer this year meant we could be shooting outside on these lovely, long days, and then go and have a beer together after work. It was kind of like a reunion and a holiday with a bit of work sprinkled through."

On screen, the five Johnson brothers are frequently at odds, fighting and arguing despite their brotherly love, and though O'Gorman is much more gentlemanly than his onscreen alter-ego, he does admit their banter often carries through to their off-screen relationships.

"Definitely. None of us agree with each other. Ben [Barrington] is, despite appearances, completely random and eccentric, and Emmett [Skilton] is kind of like one of those Russian dogs, you know, full of energy and not really aware of how long his limbs are.

Everyone has their different personalities, but somehow we all work together. And though we're always arguing, it's in a brotherly, friendly way. There's a lot of camaraderie."

So what can fans expect on screen during season three? Well, without giving away any surprises, Griffin explains that some of the gods aren't so interested in dealing with all the godly stuff any more.

"I think it would be fair to say that after the events that were set up at the end of season two have played out, there are certain members of the Johnson clan who are determined to give the god side of their being a rest and to engage much more with the so-called real world. Of course, the nature of drama is that what you want is rarely what you get."

It seems that rather than introducing any more elaborate facets of the god world (Maori or Norse), this series will be turning the focus firmly back on the Johnsons.

"When we did the second season, everyone was very excited, and we had all these ideas," O'Gorman explains. "With the third season we've been able to look back at the previous two and see what worked, and what didn't, and so it's been streamlined a bit. Obviously, other things happen around them and people come in and out, but they've tried to keep the storylines focused around the brothers and their relationships with each other, and finding out what they're going to do with their lives."

As to whether we'll ever see a soft side to Anders, O'Gorman is doubtful.

"The thing with Anders is that he's completely straightforward. He's not secretly this nice guy who keeps making the wrong decisions, he just makes decisions in the moment, and those actions are the sum of his character. He's completely self-absorbed. It's a pleasure for me to play him though, and it's a pleasure for James to write, I think, because there's no pressure or responsibility to portray a character that has to be likeable, or sympathetic.

"Anders doesn't ask people to like him and because of that, he gets to say the most outrageous things. And when you're playing an arsehole, there's nothing to live up to."

Who: Dean O'Gorman, who plans Anders.
What: The Almighty Johnsons, season three
Where and when: TV3, Thursday July 4 at 8.30pm

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