From the Shadow into the Spotlight: Ricky Whittle opens up about one of 2017’s most hyped shows, American Gods

When Neil Gaiman‘s popular fantasy novel American Gods was announced to be coming to television, it was met with the kind of reception you’d expect when it comes to a beloved literary work: much excitement and bated breath. We all know what it can be like to have our favourite source materials screwed with when it comes to big budget TV adaptations, but in the hands of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green and with the knowledge that Gaiman himself would be Executive Producer, it’s looking like American Gods  – the TV show – is going to be very well taken care of.

It’s a sentiment felt by the show’s lead, British actor Ricky Whittle. With a fan following already well-established in the States thanks to the success of The 100, Whittle is bracing himself for a whole new wave of experiences once American Gods is finally unveiled to the public in 2017.

“It’s been very intense!” he says of the show’s production in Toronto. “It’s an incredible project; we’ve been going for six months now and I think it’s [one of] the most anticipated show of 2017, so the producers want to make sure that it’s as good as possible. It’s got quite an incredible reputation from Neil Gaiman’s book, obviously, fans have been waiting since 2001 for some sort of adaptation. It’s a lot to live up to.”

With a cast featuring the likes of Ian McShaneEmily BrowningGillian AndersonPablo Schreiber and Crispin GloverAmerican Gods is set to show off a diverse range of acting backgrounds and character development, for sure. Where some original characters played smaller, slightly more dormant roles in the book, Whittle says the TV show has given the writers the opportunity to further explore such identities and further extend the book’s universe and mythology as a result.

“It’s absolutely fascinating watching the minds of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green flesh out these characters who only briefly appear in the book, such as Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) and Mad Sweeney (Schreiber) and Laura (Browning).” he explains. “The show is immigration, it’s about Gods, it’s about religion, it’s about finding yourself and journeys. Laura, who is Shadow’s wife in the book, only briefly appears now and then but because Emily is such a fantastic actor – and she’s one of your own – in what she does, we’ve fleshed out that character. All of a sudden, you’ve got this beautiful love story in there now, it adds another level.”

“In the book, she’s very cold and she starts the book off having an affair with his best friend while he’s in prison!” Whittle laughs. “I can guarantee that once the viewers start watching Emily’s performance, she becomes a character that you sympathise with and you feel that empathy for her and the position she was in. You really start to love her character. These characters who didn’t really have much of a shelf life in the book are able to really be invested in and hopefully the audience is going to enjoy becoming invested in these characters and seeing where they went when they weren’t being spoken about by Neil Gaiman.”

Whittle & Browning | Jan Thijs
Whittle & Browning | Jan Thijs

As American Gods enters post-production, Whittle and his cast members are beginning to face the press and promo junkets. Currently out in Australia for Supanova, Whittle has been enjoying being able to mix it up Down Under, heading to Adelaide this week.

“I have to admit that Australia is possibly one of my favourite places to visit in the world,” he says. “My father was in the Royal Air Force so we travelled the world and I’ve been very blessed and lucky that I’ve been all over the place, but I never quite got to Australia. I lived in Hong Kong for a while and I got as far as Indonesia and Thailand, but I never made it that extra plane stop. I had so many friends from Australia in Hong Kong and lots of Australians are in London of course and in California too.”

“I’ve worked with so many on The 100 and obviously now with Emily – I absolutely love you guys.” he gushes. “I’ve never met an Australian I didn’t get on with or didn’t enjoy a great night out with. I’m really looking forward to socialising, having some fun and meeting the fans – at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. I’ve got this incredible support that really inspires me each and every day to go big or go home; they keep me moving forward and this is a nice opportunity to meet some fans who you never would’ve imagined having the chance to meet. It’s a really beautiful experience. I may not leave.”

Resurrection

Having already had the experience of being part of a production with a fiercely passionate fanbase behind it, Whittle excitedly anticipates being able to branch out with American Gods and see its own community build up around it from the beginning.

“I’ve only ever joined a show,” he explains. “You already know the tone, you know the feel and how to come in; you know what level you want to come in at, whether you’re too funny or not funny enough. Whether you’re too serious or too dark. It’s an advantage; you have a feel for it and you can just jump in and judge where you want to place your character. With this though, this is the initial season and we’ve set the tone for ourselves. Every actor has been finding their feet; although it is an adaptation of the book and we’re trying to stay as true as possible within storylines and characters, it is still an adaptation.”

“The book doesn’t quite translate to screen,” he admits. “Shadow [for instance], he’s very stoic and silent throughout the whole book, he’s very blasé about things. That’s not something you want to watch week in, week out, so we added a bit more colour to Shadow; he’s very much more pro-active. He asks more questions of his surroundings. I mean,  he’s seen some pretty incredible things. In the book, he doesn’t really react so in TV land, we’re going to make it a bit more real and a bit more grounded. He’s actually going to start questioning Mr. Wednesday; he wants to know what’s going on with his life, it’s been flipped upside down. Fans of the book will love the show because it’s following that blueprint, but they’ll also be surprised by some of the twists and turns. It’ll be fresh to their eyes as well.”

Whittle is appearing at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo at the Adelaide Showgrounds this weekend, November 18th – 20th. For tickets and more information, head to www.supanova.com.au.