Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon

Ricky Whittle: From The 100 to American Gods

April 26, 2017
British actor Ricky Whittle thought he had a handle on fandom after his turn in the teen SF drama, The 100, but stepping into the role of Shadow Moon in American Gods introduced him to a whole new world in more ways than one.

The last time Ricky Whittle was in Australia it was to appear at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo. Ostensibly this was off the back of the British actor’s turn as Lincoln in The 100. However, news had already broken that he would be taking on the role of Shadow Moon, ex-con and reluctant enforcer for the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), in the television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods, and it soon became clear that this was, to the assembled fans, a Very Big Deal.

“Fans were coming to me with American Gods books,” he recalls. “This is in Australia six months before the show is even going to come out and people are coming to me with pictures of American Gods artworks and books for me to sign so you kind of get a sense of how worldwide this phenomenon is going to be. It’s a monster that just keeps growing and growing and growing.”

Whittle’s first inkling of Gods fandom came when his name was bandied about on Twitter with the hashtag, #castingShadow. “I saw it on my Twitter feed and I was like, okay that looks interesting so I looked into it, asked my reps and my agents said, yep they want to see you so that’s how I got into it but it wasn’t until the announcement of Shadow Moon when the world went crazy! My social media just blew up, Vanity Fair, it was in like every single publication was like – they found their Shadow Moon! American Gods have found their Shadow Moon and now when you google Shadow Moon, my name just pops up and my pictures are just everywhere and everything has just grown with every casting. It just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and it is already huge!”

Which is not to say that the Oldham-born former model was a shoo-in for the part. The casting process took somewhere in the vicinity of five months, with Whittle and his reps submitting tape after tape to producers Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Logan). “We worked it out that it was sixteen tapes which was unprecedented but, they needed to find an actor that could convey the whole emotional roller coaster that Shadow is about to embark on because he is at his very highest and very lowest – it is a huge spectrum of emotion and it was like American Idol. Every week was a different audition and a different tape. They wanted to see you happy, sad, angry at Laura [Moon, played by Emily Browning] scene, a Mr Wednesday scene, they really wanted to see that you could convey all of the colours needed for this journey.”

And it’s going to be a long journey – Whittle estimates that the first season covers about a fifth of the source novel. “The first hundred pages,” he nods. “And it can go off in any direction but I genuinely know where Shadow is going to be so I worked backwards.

“For the first season, Shadow is sort of this empty shell, a broken lost vessel, he’s a leaf in the stream with nothing to live for. Laura, his wife, died, so he’s got nothing to fight for in life and that’s when Mr. Wednesday hires him. So in the beginning, Shadow’s nothing. He’s emotionless, he’s very empty, he doesn’t even cry because he doesn’t know how to at that moment, he doesn’t know how to process his emotions and life at the moment so I had to find this emptiness at the beginning of the season that will grow. So each season will continue and you will see Shadow grow more confident and more colours and hopefully blossom into the man we want him to become but in the beginning, he is very much a shadow of what he used to be – which is quite well named by Neil Gaiman.”

Like every other cast member we’ve spoken to, Whittle is unhesitatingly effusive in his praise of Gaiman, who first made a splash with the landmark fantasy comic, Sandman, before penning a string of acclaimed fantasy novels (Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane), not to mention various television projects (Neverwhere again), screenplays (he co-wrote Beowulf with Roger Avary) and more.

“Incredible guy.” he says. “So intelligent, cultured. When he first came to set, Mr. Wednesday and Shadow first meet on the plane so we were shooting that scene and he came down and spoke to myself and Ian, he spoke about some stories, he talked about where Shadow came from, where Wednesday came from and just continued to inspire me all day. I just want to rent an RV and travel around America just because of what he was talking about. He’s such an incredible guy and at Comic Con, we spent two days together and he’s just hilarious, he opens up, he’s just like a flower, he keeps opening up and revealing new petals and you can unravel all of this knowledge and wisdom and you just realise that he is probably the coolest guy you have ever met, a rockstar.”

And if Whittle is taken aback by his newfound genre stardom, he knows he’s got nothing on Gaiman’s position in the SF&F firmament. “He’s not even allowed to walk the floor at Comic Con! He does the red carpet then leaves. He doesn’t even go to the party because it’s too much – he can’t just be at a Comic Con because he is a rockstar at Comic Con. He is incredible and I am really looking forward to people who don’t know Neil Gaiman to suddenly get into it. I think he said he’s never sold more books than he has this year of American Gods because a lot of people now want to look at what it is, and my fans from The 100, which is a younger audience, have now been introduced to one of the greatest writers of our time, and now they are obsessed and can’t wait for the show because they are excited by the book. so he is an incredible guy and fair play to him.

“And,” he adds. “I believe he has a lot more coming. He’s made a deal with Fremantle, who have produced American Gods as well, so maybe they’ll produce some more of his works.”

American Gods will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on May 1, 2017. Customers who are not already Amazon Prime Video members can sign up for a free 7-day trial at PrimeVideo.com.

 

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