Interview: Ricky Whittle on American Gods, why it’s groundbreaking television and Season 2 predictions ahead of his Supanova visit

When we last spoke with Ricky Whittle he was on his way to Australia for the very first time as part of the Supanova Brisbane and Adelaide tour in November of 2016. Not only that but he had just wrapped from filming the hotly anticipated show of 2017, American Gods, based on the cult Neil Gaiman book and adapted by showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green.

Seven months later Whittle gets to visit Australia again, this time the Sydney and Perth legs of Supanova Comic Con and Gaming in June of 2017 and with American Gods being hailed as one of the best new shows on television. It’s been a crazy few months and Whittle is clearly loving the ride and sounds excited to be getting to come visit Down Under again, a country he regarded as “one of his bucket list places to visit” and that he had always wanted to visit.

“This is my second time in six months in Australia having wanting to come to Australia my whole life, and all of a sudden, I get the opportunity to come twice. So I’m looking forward to again taking in the wonderful sights that the city has to offer, and kinda hanging out with the beautiful people of Sydney and Perth. Hopefully not to be eaten by sharks. I understand you guys have sharks around there so I’ll do my best to stay alive, and you have spiders the size of dogs, you have all sorts of scary things that are going to give me nightmares. But it’s worth it because I love Australia. It was a fantastic vacation last time and I’m looking forward to getting there again.”

For Australian audiences American Gods is currently available via streaming video on demand service Amazon Prime Video and currently 7 of 8 episodes for Season One are available right now. The season finale will be available as of 20 June 2017. With that in mind of course there are still some people that are yet to discover the show, so we ask him how he would best describe the show to any of those people that haven’t gotten on board yet.

“I would just describe it as your new obsession and you are the only person who’s not watching the show. The greatest show of all times that is educating the planet, that is entertaining the planet and telling beautiful scenes and stories that should and need to be told throughout the history of time. The short answer is Avengers with gods, and I play Shadow Moon who’s the poor mortal stuck in the middle of it all as he tries to figure out is he crazy or is the world around him crazy, and there actually is magic, gods and zombies.”

For those that may want to dabble further or have just dipped a toe into the series, it may seem a little confusing as it doesn’t really follow a standard structured narrative style but Whittle says “that’s by design”. With Whittle’s character playing the audience POV, a man just as confused by what’s going on as we are, that once he begins to figure things out is when things become revelatory for the audience. That of course brings with it some challenges, particularly as the adaptation from book to television requires a little unique adjustment for Whittle in order to convey exactly how utterly perplexing everything is. .

“In the book Gaiman writes these incredibly beautiful inner monologues which describes how Shadow’s feeling about any given situation and people dynamics and interactions that he has. And unfortunately, I don’t have those narrations or lines and therefore I have to kind of play this beautiful kind of written dialogue just in my head through kind of mannerisms and with certain looks. It’s all behind the eyes, which is kind of tough to do although I have been told I have a fantastic WTF face which I will take as a compliment.”

“And then also, Shadow’s a straight guy. Because I’m playing the eyes of the audience and we’re kinda entering through Shadow, I have this responsibility to kind of keep the world grounded And I’m the grounded element in this show where despite, being the protagonist, he doesn’t push the story, so everything kind of happens around him.”

Interestingly thanks to the show being aired week to week, rather than the drop all episodes and binge format, it’s been fascinating to see the reactions from both the media and the viewing public to many of the themes brought up in the show. In the second episode there’s a chilling monologue delivered by Orlando Jones (playing African trickster god Anansi aka Mr Nancy) regarding racism and 300 years of African-American subjugation and oppression. That’s just one of many politically charged topics that’s examined in the show, so it comes as both a surprise at the audience reaction but also a relief that it’s being so well received.

“The book was released in 2001. We wrapped in November 2016 before the political stuff kind of hit the fan. And you know, this was all in the book. This was all written in the show previous to all this kind of craziness that’s hitting the headlines regarding immigration and women’s rights and racism and homophobia, and gun control. This is all kind of hitting the headlines just recently so fortunately we find ourselves in a great position where we’re not only able to just entertain but educate and raise awareness of these hugely important themes that need to be- and stories that need to be told everyday.”

“It’s a shame that what is considered groundbreaking TV is when there’s two gay Muslims in a show making love. That shouldn’t be groundbreaking TV, because that is just life, that is the world we live in now. It’s a beautiful story played by two incredible actors in Mousa Kraish and Omid Abtahi and it was shot so wonderfully. And it shouldn’t be a thing. These are stories we need to be telling and I feel very proud that our show is representing all ethnicities, all kind of minority cultures and people who feel alone. With using our show as a platform and a beacon to kind of tell these stories and raise awareness that you know everyone is fighting a struggle, everyone is kind of go their own battles and we have to respect that. You know, the world’s a tough place and the fact that we’ve got this great show that is not just entertaining, the fact that we’re just telling great stories like Orlando Jones said in the episode. I mean, he could possibly win an award for one scene.”

Aside from the excellent progeny of having been adapted from a Gaiman book by two of television’s respected showrunners in Fuller and Green. The show also boasts one of the most phenomenal and diverse casts. Including Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday, the man who hires Shadow. There’s also Gillian Anderson, Crispin Glover, Orlando Jones, Pablo Schreiber, Yetide Badaki and Australia’s own Emily Browning. For a young and fresh actor such as Whittle working with McShane has been an unbelievable learning experience.

“I’ve learnt how to order food and demand a huge trailer. Nah, I’m kidding. No, he’s quite possibly the best education any actor could ever want. To watch his choices and how he works, and how he prepares. In the show it’s a lot of myself and him just talking, and he has so much dialogue and the way he delivers lines, it’s fascinating for me as a professional to watch him. And then just personally he’s a really great guy. We’re both from the same area, both support Man United (football team), and we absolutely love each other and that kind of chemistry off camera really does translate well onto camera. So it’s a lot of fun, I’m enjoying that relationship and now I’m looking forward to kind of duelling with him in Season 2.”

Speaking of Season 2 of American Gods, on the 11th May word came through that show would be renewed for a second season well before even reaching the halfway mark of airing on its US home network of Starz. As we near the Season 1 finale episode, it’s clear that we have only reached a certain marker point that parallels the book. So there is some obvious ways the second season will play out. But what has also been apparent is how both Fuller and Green have expanded certain characters and embellished other moments.

“For me, the first season with Shadow is his struggle with cynic to believer, he needs to start believing that what he as seeing was real and that there is more to this world that meets the eye. So for me, I’d like to see Shadow kind of fully go with it, to fully believe, and then he can kind of get his mojo back, you know, kind of start to gain his confidence because he’s an intelligent guy, he’s a strong guy both mentally and physically, because he had lost everything but he continued to keep getting up and moving forward.”

“I want to see him kind of challenge the gods. He’s definitely got the charisma to go against them and kind of fight back a little bit. And so it will be interesting to see his dynamic, not just with Mr Wednesday, but the other gods as they kind of force him to be harassing him, you know how does he react to Tech Boy, to Media, to Mr World, to Czernobog now that he knows that these are all actual gods.”

For those of course planning to pop along to Supanova Sydney this weekend, or Perth next weekend. There will be opportunities to quiz Whittle more during his Q&A panels, and the excitement in his voice is evident that he finds it a fun experience getting to meet and talk to his fans. But he makes it abundantly clear to us to not bring him any gifts should you get to meet him.

“My request is huge, do not bring me any food, any chocolate, any gifts. Save your money, save it for yourselves because I end up with bags full of gifts from my incredible, wonderful fans but they don’t need to get me anything. Just their attendance and getting the chance to say thank you to them because I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. So I feel very gifted that they take time out of their day to come and see me. I wouldn’t have known about American Gods if it wasn’t for the fans putting my name forward in the first place on social media. So they’ve introduced me to this show, to this world and so it’s my turn to say thank you to them. So just come along, have fun, enjoy it and yeah, I’m just looking forward to getting back to Australia and enjoying my time there.”

Ricky Whittle will appear at the Supanova Comic Con & Gaming Expo, which will be held at Sydney Showgrounds from Friday 16 to Sunday 18 June, and the Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre from Friday 23 to Sunday 25 June. For more information or tickets click here.