Ricky Whittle Talks American Gods, Ian McShane And Surviving Hollywood

The former Hollyoaks and Dream Team alum is making it big stateside and he spoke exclusively to loaded

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Ricky Whittle Image Getty Images

American Gods is a different kind of TV experience; it’s a mythic and metaphoric dive into the human condition with a whole lot of magic and mayhem thrown in.

Better yet, in this environment of too many whitewashed film adaptations, the American Gods cast is reflective of the diversity we see in life.

The man at the centre of this tale is Shadow Moon, a con man and complex soul from an ethnically ambiguous background, who finds himself in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Ricky Whittle isn’t that far off from that character. Born and bred in Manchester, he moved around a fair bit as a child thanks to his RAF serviceman dad. In so many ways, including physical attributes, he’s an ideal candidate for the role and is more than doing Shadow justice eight episodes in. 

But while Whittle is making a splash stateside, he has his roots in English soil. He previously made a name for himself in shows like Hollyoaks, Casualty and Dream Team where he put his footballing skills to use, a deftness that once caught the eyes of scouts at Arsenal and Celtic F.C. at youth level.

Injury put paid to that particular career but it wasn’t long before Whittle discovered a new-found passion for acting at university while the rest, as they say, is history.

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Ricky and Ian McShane in American Gods/ Starz

loaded was lucky enough to catch up with Whittle before he begins filming the second season of American Gods.

loaded: You started your career in football, how did you make the transition into acting?

Ricky: I was at university studying law and criminology and modelling to pay for books. My agent put me forward for a show called The Dream Team on Sky One. I’ll always credit Terence Maynard, the actor who played my father because in the audition he grabbed me by the shirt and threw me against the wall and screamed at me in the scene. It shocked me because I wasn’t expecting it. The director and producers were like, “that’s fantastic you looked really scared.” I didn’t tell them that I actually was (laughs), they thought it was great acting.

Ricky Whittle
Ricky and the cast of Dream team/Sky One

loaded: Was your character Lincoln on The 100 arguably your breakout role in the US?

Ricky : It was more my breakout role in science fiction; the sci-fi audience is so much more vocal and passionate as a genre. All of a sudden they start talking about you across all social media, they raise your profile on their own, if you connect with them and they like what you’re doing, you’ve got fans for life there. I’m very grateful; it was those fans that got me the role on American Gods. When asked online who they wanted to play Shadow Moon by Starz, they put my name forward and brought this project to my attention. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.

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Ricky as Lincoln on The 100/CW

loaded: Speaking of American Gods, the cast is incredible. What is it like to work with Ian McShane (Mr. Wednesday) and Gillian Anderson (the God Media)?

Ricky Whittle: Ian is one of the best actors of our generation and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I grew up watching him as Lovejoy, America know him as Deadwood. We’re both from Manchester and both support Manchester United. His dad actually played for Manchester United! We had a lot in common from the get go and a great dynamic off screen which thankfully translates on screen.

It works really well and is important to the central storyline of the show. Gillian Anderson, I grew up knowing as Scully. It took all my strength not to call her Scully. It was a lot of fun, acting alongside her and seeing how she works. What she does on our show, portraying all these iconic characters as the God Media is amazing, she recently did David Bowie which was my favourite. When you meet someone, and they exceed your expectations, it’s great. The first time I met her, she handed me a book and said, “Can you doodle on this script because I’m going to sell it for charity.” She’s a wonderful woman who cares about others.

Gillian Anderson
Gillian Anderson as Media / Starz

loaded: How are English actors received in Hollywood? Is it prickly considering the amount of British talent taking over American roles?

Ricky Whittle: No, not at all. At the end of the day we all audition for things. There were 1,200 tapes for Shadow Moon alone; it’s not like they offered it to me, I had to put in the grind for the craziest audition process I’ve ever been in. It’s not like I haven’t worked for it. If there is any negativity, I haven’t seen it. I know Samuel L. Jackson commented on actors like myself and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Sicario). When you’re talking about artists who are winning awards and critical acclaim for these roles, it’s because they’re good at what they do, you can’t take anything away from them despite what people say. I don’t take notice of anyone who isn’t positive. When you get Ian McShane’s seal of approval, everyone else can relax. That’s the only certification I need.

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American Gods/Starz

loaded: Do you think your experience on American Gods has changed how you view the world?

Ricky Whittle: Not really, the show itself is touching on universal themes. We touch on immigration, racism, religion, women’s rights, gun control. We’re just raising the conversation again and keeping it in the headlines as we should do. These stories need to be told. Like the Muslim storyline, which is illegal in some countries. The way Omid (Abtahi) and Mousa (Kraish) play Salim, and the Jinn in their love scene is beautiful and meaningful. Although we have this great platform to entertain, we have a responsibility to enlighten as well. I’m excited by what this show represents. There’s nothing like it. We have a black lead on a TV show that’s not BET or Tyler Perry. It’s a fantastic evolution. We’re moving in the right direction.

American Gods airs on Starz in the US and Amazon Prime in the UK.

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