Ricky Whittle has been around since early 2000. The model-turned-actor cemented his foray into acting as Calvin Valentine in Hollyoaks.
Forgettable movie roles aside, his stardom soared when he did Strictly Come Dancing in 2009. He went on to earn more screen time in Mistresses, where he played Daniel Zamora for 10 episodes, and The 100. Cast as Lincoln, he went from a recurring actor in season one to a series regular in the second and third instalments.
With American Gods, he has probably blown every character he has played out of the water. Being a passionate and consummate actor, he would probably disagree with the statement.
But his role as Shadow Moon has become that deeply embedded in the minds of fans.
American Gods is a series that wondrously flits between reality and fantasy. There is a raging war brewing between the Old Gods and the New Gods. Shadow becomes caught in the crossfire.
In an exclusive interview with Whittle, who is charming and calm, he shed light on his character.
He says: “To be honest, I find the character very similar to my previous character, Lincoln, in The 100. He’s a morally good character who is ruled by his heart. He sacrificed his life and everything for the woman he loved. And, in this show, Shadow is very much ruled by the heart.”
Whittle continues: “When we first see him, he is a broken show of a man. He has nothing to live for because the one thing he had in his life – Laura, his wife died. Without that, he probably wouldn’t have gone with Mr Wednesday on this journey.”
By the way, she’s come back, as we witnessed in the third episode.
“It’s going to mess him up a lot,” he says. “He doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t.”
And that becomes his character’s biggest struggle this season.
“He isn’t sure whether he’s crazy or the world is crazy. What’s interesting is that this is my first time with a green/blue screen and all the CGI stuff. That’s all very exciting.”
Although Shadow is navigating his way through an emotional internal storm, he is forced to keep his wits about him.
“When you’re surrounded by all these fantastical god-like characters, who are very colourful, wild, insane and out there, I’m the one grounded character, the human. The audience follows my journey. So I have got to keep that straight and not allow myself to be taken by those crazy fantastical elements around me.
“So, in a show of crazy gods and zombies and things, I get to play normal.”
As for sharing the screen with the inimitable Ian McShane (Mr Wednesday), Whittle says it was his first time working with him.
“I grew up watching him in Lovejoy, Deadwood and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. He’s gotten more work than I’m probably ever going to do. He’s done
50 years in the business, which is incredible. And to have that alongside you is the greatest education an actor can ask for. He’s better than any acting school I’ve ever been to.”
“Just watching him and his choices. He’s a lot of fun. Acting is about reacting and when you have someone like that opposite you to react to, it makes my job very easy.”
Shadow does seem like a man with decisions being made for him. This clearly incenses him. He is not keen on being anyone’s puppet.
Whittle says it’s really tough because at the end of the day, Shadow is an intelligent man and he has his pride.
“He thinks maybe he is imagining it. Maybe it’s not real. And that is a really terrifying thought for someone who is intelligent – to start thinking you are losing your mind. He’s constantly battling everything around him and inside him.”
The challenge, as an actor, lies in manifesting the frustrations through his performance.
“I don’t have the luxury of narration, where Neil Gaiman writes these long monologues in the book of what Shadow is feeling about any given situation or person. It explains the emotions he’s going through. I have to deliver it through mannerisms and looks, so that has been a huge challenge.
But I’ve been told that I have a very good WTF face.”
By the way, American Gods has been renewed for a second season. The war is far from over!
* American Gods is available on Amazon Prime Video.
** Customers who are not already Amazon Prime Video members can sign up for a free seven-day trial at PrimeVideo.com. The show is also available on DStv CatchUp.