As it enters its third season, the fantasy series American Gods continues to push boundaries while it explores issues around gender, queerness, race, and our rapidly changing world. The Starz original series tells the story of mounting tensions between the Old Gods of mythology and our “New Gods” of technology and modern life. With an already star-studded and diverse cast, fans have been further blessed by the TV gods with the addition of Dominique Jackson (Pose) as the latest incarnation of “Mr. World” — now Ms. World, a beautiful and immaculately dressed Black woman.
The Advocate recently chatted with Jackson about the genderfluid role of “World,” which was originated by white actor Crispin Glover in the series and will soon be portrayed by Latino actor Danny Trejo.
Jackson says she was already a fan of the show when her manager called her about the part. “I was just totally blown away and fascinated by it,” she says. And though the talented Tobago-born beauty became known to most in her star-making performance as Elektra Abundance in Ryan Murphy’s Pose, she admits she was still a bit shocked when she realized she was being offered the role, rather than asked to audition for it.
“For me, as a Black trans woman who has struggled, who has gone through so much,” she says, “for someone to just say to me, you know, ‘Here, we’re going to give you something,’ I was like, Wait a second. Is this real? Is it happening?”
Jackson also says she couldn’t deny the parallels between the genderfluid character and her own journey as a transgender woman.
“I realized that it was a major character,” she says in understanding the power of the part. “Mr. World becomes Ms. World, and at a time now that we’re … realizing that we need to be more inclusive of people. If our gods can transform, why can he not transform into a woman? And it was just also really major that not only was he transforming into a woman, but he was transforming into a woman who embodies all of what gender is, because society told me that I had to represent as male for some time. And then I had to reclaim and validate … and force the world to recognize my femininity. So Mr. World becoming Ms. World, and Ms. World being [played by] myself is very profound. It was something that I was just like, OK, this is just the stars aligning right now, so I’m just going to go with it.”
Jackson also tied the timing of her character to real-world events with Ms. World choosing the form of a Black woman to take the helm as the leader of the New Gods while in the real world we swear in our first Black female vice president.
“Think about how amazing it is that they thought about this before [Kamala was chosen as Biden’s running mate],” Jackson continues. “It speaks volumes to the fact of how television influences us and helps us. … It is because of the thought processes of the folks that are actually writing and directing that they think of these things that now influence decisions.”
She also explains that, ironically, the fact that the character isn’t human is actually relatable for her.
“Actually, no, it was not a challenge for me to take on the feeling of an extraterrestrial or almighty or powerful being, because it’s what I envisioned as a child,” says Jackson. “Growing up and being trans and being a part of this community, we always look to characters like the X-Men to build larger-than-life characters. And this is what we use — well, I can speak for myself —when I wanted to feel safe and feel like I belong and be like, I was a part of something. I didn’t envision playing a mom on television … I wanted to play superheroes. I wanted to play people that people would look up to and respect. Because in my own life, I didn’t have that respect.”
She also confesses that one of the most fun and enjoyable aspects of playing Ms. World was filming some of the character’s darker scenes. Without giving away too much, there’s one particularly violent scene involving a baseball bat. She says the time of filming the scene coincided with the tail-end of a long and mentally challenging period in her life. Due to a culmination of factors and the built-up emotion that comes with that the scene was unexpectedly liberating.
“I have gone through a lot. You know, in the midst of rising to fame, I also went through a divorce and found love all at the same time,” says Jackson. “There was a lot coming at me … [and] I’m the type of person that when I am stressed out, I cannot eat. … And when I went in to do the scene, and they showed me the process and assured me the actor would be fine. … The process of filming it was just very safe — and fun, actually, because like now I can really watch horror movies and stuff and laugh. … But when they took everything away, and it was just me trying to get that blood splatter with the bat, I felt this sense of all the tension, all the stress, everything that I had been going through that I had to bottle up and still walk around and let everyone know that I was happy and appreciative of the blessing that I had — but yet on the inside, there was so much going on. In that moment of doing that, I was free for a second.”
She adds that the sense of release also brought back her appetite. With a vengeance. “Once that scene was finished, I went outside to my now-fiancé and said, ‘Feed me. I want food!’” she recalls with a laugh.
Despite the fun and fantasy of the role, and her rising up through the Hollywood ranks, Jackson is still focused on the protection and liberation of all trans lives, especially those not privy to red carpets.
“Many times I do turn down interviews, because these interviews are about, Oh, your success! and all this — and they don’t realize that it is not successful for me until I can wake up in the morning and know that across the globe, my trans sisters and brothers are not being murdered.”
She also notes that, as a Black trans woman, even once you do achieve a certain level of fame and status in Hollywood, you still don’t necessarily feel safe, nor is a lifetime of trauma suddenly erased.
“I had the amazing opportunity to meet Sarah Jessica Parker at [the premiere of Ryan Muphy’s] The Prom,” says Jackson. “I introduced her to my bodyguard at the time, who now became my fiancé. And I said, ‘This is my, my bodyguard’ … and she looks at me and she said, ‘Oh, I don’t have security.’ In that moment, I thought to myself, That’s because you don’t realize the fear and the dangers that me being public and being seen brings to me. … And you know, I didn’t say that to her, because she was very sweet — she was very caring, loving, and everything like that. But in that little moment, it reminded me that I am not what society considers normal. And I will never be able to live that normal life.”
“I have to be protected at all times,” she adds. “Because I don’t know what someone is going to do to me. And especially during the Trump era, it was a very fearful time. For me also, being an immigrant [from] Tobago, I had people threatening me to send me back to my country. I have people threatening me to do all kinds of things to me. And so it was a fear. I did not have the privilege of feeling like, OK, I’m in Hollywood, everything is fine. … Because as long as there’s one person out there who feels that trans lives do not matter and Black trans lives do not matter, I will not be truly successful.”
Catch new episodes of American Gods Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz and the Starzapp.