English actor Ricky Whittle admits he wasn't familiar with a lot of the folklore and mythology that permeates American Gods, the Amazon Prime Video series based on Neil Gaiman's beloved 2001 novel and brought to television by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. "This is a huge education to not just the fans but myself," he says. "I feel like I'm learning a lot from the biblical, mythical gods who I hadn't heard of, to wonderful things about immigration, religion, racism, and women's rights."
Whittle, 35, who plays central character Shadow Moon in the acclaimed adaptation that ended its first season this week, tells WHO a bit about himself and acting with his fellow mortals.
Q: Fans say you are perfectly cast as Shadow. Did you have a sense that you as you followed Shadow's journey on the show?
A: I find it absolutely fascinating. Being a rookie with new eyes to American Gods, and to Neil Gaiman himself, I didn't realise until we kind of worked hard and started shooting how much of a huge deal this was. With that obviously came a great pressure to deliver, and responsibility to deliver, a character that has been in their hearts and minds for 16 years. It's not just picking up any fictional character, it's almost like doing a biography now. You know, I'm Daniel Day-Lewising the heck out of it because he's a real person to so many fans.
Q: Does it help being English to play this very American part?
A: I think it helps, because I get both sides of the story. Living in America for the last six years, that's very much home for me and so I've seen it from the inside. But being British, I have seen it from the outside and I can distance myself and see it from both sides. I think that does allow me to kind of tell a story from a neutral perspective,
Q: You've been in Australia for the Supanova convention. Thoughts?
A: I've never met an Aussie I've never got on with. You guys are hilarious, you're chilled-out, fun. Growing up in Hong Kong, lots of my friends were Australian, my dance partner in Dancing with the Stars was Natalie Lowe, who was a champion on your show. Working in The 100, you know, with numerous Australian actors, and now my dead wife in American Gods is Emily Browning. I feel like I've been surrounded by you guys my whole life, so it feels a little bit homely, here in Australia, I like it.
Q: Did Emily teach you any catch phrases?
A: She did, but I can't repeat it. I can repeat it off the record, but it involves a bag of some genitals, and eating them.
Q: So much of your work is with Ian McShane. How has it been to play opposite him?
A: He's possibly the greatest education an actor could ask for. He is one of the finest actors of our generation. He's forgotten more roles than I'm probably ever going to do in my lifetime. He's incredible. I grew up watching him, and, you know, both being from Manchester, supporting Man United, watching Man United games and England games during our time off in between scenes and stuff was a lot of fun. We really bonded and got on well. We're both practical jokers and pranksters and we love each other very much, and that chemistry, fortunately, translates very well to screen, which was very much needed and very important and integral for the central storyline of these two characters who are bonding.
Q: So who is winning in the prank department?
A: I think I'm winning on the prank war for the whole cast. I've definitely got some serious pranks planned for season two. Kristin Chenoweth needs to watch out, because she last got me, so I owe her. She's lucky I've been so busy with press because I was going to fly to New York whilst she was on stage in Broadway and prank her whilst she was working. Emily Browning, I love to kind of get her because she's so anxious and nervous all the time. She's normally so confident, but when, you know, when it comes to pranks ... she's too sweet, she doesn't want to prank people, she's too lovely. But yeah, Pablo Schreiber's going to get it.
Q: And with Ian?
A:I think we're pretty even at the moment, I keep using his trailer when he's not in and then sending him videos of me using his toilet or lying in his bed and watching his TV. Stealing his contents of his fridge is another one of my faves as well. He gets really fancy water. There's no need! There's no need — bring normal water like the rest of us. We're in Canada, the water's fine, you don't need the fancy bottled water, but he's Ian McShane, he's fancy.
Q: You definitely have the coin tricks and magic down pat, right?
A: It's a great way to pick up ladies in Australia. I've been pulling coins out of Australian ladies' ears all weekend, it's been fantastic! No, it's a great part of my job. I kind of learn new skill sets and magic is something that's always been dear to my heart as a kid. It's very interesting that in American Gods that Shadow was chosen because he had nothing to believe in and he completely didn't believe and it was about taking that complete cynic and changing him into a believer. Whereas taking someone like me wouldn't have been so much of a challenge because I'd have been like, 'Yep, there's gods everywhere, there's magic, it's wonderful. It would have been a very short story. I loved learning all the magic. I get very excited when they teach me new tricks. We have magicians, David Kwong and Jay Sankey, who've been teaching myself and Emily Browning, your very own Australian princess, card tricks, magic tricks, all that sort of stuff. It's a lot of fun and long may it continue. I'm looking forward to trying to learn a few more tricks in season two because Shadow performs a lot of magic in the book, throughout the whole thing. We shall see, and if I learn a lot, I will take my tour in Australia.
All eight episodes of the first season of 'American Gods' are on Amazon Prime Video now.