Ricky Whittle: How “American Gods” Changed My Life

Ricky Whittle Photo Credit: Eric LaRokk

Photography: Eric LaRokk
Grooming: Stacy Rosas & Toni Garcia Jackson
Wardrobe: Ambika Sanjana

Haute Living catches up with American Gods star Ricky Whittle — who fans know best as “Shadow Moon” — on his most memorable moments and the end of his Gods era. 

Ricky WhittlePhoto Credit: Eric LaRokk

On the STARZ drama series American Gods, you star as Shadow Moon. How would you describe your emotional journey during the process of becoming your character?

First of all, one has to understand Shadow and what makes him, his history, relationships, everything that has shaped him. What I want the audience to feel and think about him and where I want them to go on that journey with him. At first, my goal was to give the audience a broken shell of a man who has seemingly lost everything, except the will to live and push on. I needed the audience to care for him, to want him to be ok, and I think that strength he shows carried them. You find similarities between yourself and characters to make them real to you, to make feelings and reactions more authentic. I substitute personal relationships for those in the show to add a connection, this is then enhanced by the other talented actors, I had the honor of working opposite. It was tough as Shadow was a beloved character from Neil Gaiman‘s book for 16 years, I didn’t want to let the fans down. I feel happy that I was able to bring their favorite off the page, in a way they loved. Shadow was a tough layered and exhausting character to build, I had to be patient, I hope people get to see the unchained Shadow that finishes the story!

What are some similarities and differences between Shadow Moon’s life and yours? Have you learned anything new about yourself by playing him? 

I guess we are similar in that we put others before ourselves. Both mama’s boys raised with light and love! A lot has happened to the both of us, but we continue to focus on the good, spread positivity and do the right thing, no matter what the evil and negative forces around you try. I don’t think I’ve learnt much about myself from playing him, but I have learnt so much about the different cultures and history that are on the show. Devery Jacobs who plays ‘Sam Crow’ taught me so much about the indigenous population in Ontario, the writers this season taught me so much about the Orishas. Dana Levinson and Omid’s story really increased my awareness of the struggles the LGBTQ community go through. It has been wonderful learning more about people like myself and more so about those who are different from me, as I said earlier, beauty is everywhere and in everything!


What are some of the most memorable moments in filming American Gods? 

I would say the on set antics of the cast and crew and when we travelled together on press junkets or premieres. We are very close and have such a laugh together pranking each other, constantly mocking each other, but in times of need, always there for each other. We were very lucky that most were wonderful people from day one and we were able to weed out any bad eggs, so it’s more fun than work when we get together on set. I think you see that in how we socialize on social media, too. Even the great friends that have moved on from the show, we are still there for each other pushing each other’s projects!

Did it come as a surprise that American God’s would not be returning for a Season 4?

Starz announcement didn’t surprise us at all. We are very proud and fortunate to have been able to finish most of our incredible third season when the pandemic hit production in March 2020, and air it earlier this year. Many other shows were cancelled before they started or even part way through. We were fortunate to also have a passionate global following meaning that we’ve always been sure we will finish Neil Gaiman’s book in one form or another. It’s the most unique, diverse but also expensive show on the Starz slate before the pandemic and they have always preferred to focus on smaller budget shows with less cgi. So post pandemic when budgets/insurance risks are larger, this was always going to need a home that would be able to continue to put huge money into our movie quality episodes. At the end of the day this industry will always be about the numbers and one has to accept that. But we are working together with Neil Gaiman, Charles Eglee and Fremantle to finish the story so our fans get their closure and the epic end to the story they love!

Actors are constantly becoming someone else within different storytelling contexts. How does this shape your sense of compassion and expand your personal growth?

I think lots of actors are able to escape into roles, to live out alternate lives they want or would never live through characters. Actors will always bring a piece of themselves to their roles to bring realism but digging deeper into characters unlike ourselves is a fun way of learning about seeing the world through others eyes. It allows you to maybe feel compassion or empathy, pain, love or happiness by walking in their shoes. American Gods was a wonderful show that enabled me to research and learn about so many different faiths, gods, beliefs and stories about America and its history. Things I probably would never have read about or learnt. It’s a gift that I wish I could pass onto the many who know nothing of other people’s struggles. People who make assumptions, hold prejudice or false unfounded information or beliefs. True education and wide reading is so powerful and would go a long way towards breaking down hate, bigotry, fear and misinformation.

Ricky WhittlePhoto Credit: Eric LaRokk

You have been in the entertainment industry for close to 20 years now, naturally like any industry there are ups and downs. During those challenging times, how are you able to preserve?

It’s an unstable industry, the key for me is to stay level. Don’t get carried away by the highs, but don’t get disheartened by the lows. Every moment passes, you enjoy the moments and learn from them, what you did right, what you could do better next time. Just focus on yourself, being a good person, personal growth, being ready for opportunity mentally and physically when it comes along. Don’t compare yourself to others, everyone has their own path, their own successes and struggles and cope differently. Focus on being the best version of yourself you can be, I like to focus on myself 10 years from now and what that Ricky would appreciate me starting today. Like studying, stretching, hygiene, reading, training, improving my diet, learning new skills, time with friends and family. I’m here today because I set goals and tasks 10 years ago, fortunately I’m the fittest and happiest I’ve ever been.

You have achieved success in your career. When you look back, is there a particular moment or role that stands out?

Every role molds you and means something, you learn from them all and take many things from each. Obviously, Shadow Moon in American Gods was a monster role that went global and changed my life forever in so many wonderful ways. But I’d go back to my first ever lead as Ryan Naysmith in Dream Team. A wonderful scene with Terrence Maynard who played my father in the show. We were mid scene and I was so engrossed in the moment it became so real. I didn’t see cameras, crew, I only saw him and felt everything. It was a special moment and feeling that I crave every scene, I’d say it’s the moment I became an actor and became truly excited about my craft.

You were raised in the U.K. How did this shape your sense of self as well as influence your continual becoming?

I believe it’s made me realize how lucky I was to be born outside the United States. I don’t mean for that to sound negative, but I genuinely feel it has been a gift to have the opportunity to be able to have two levels of awareness on topics of a country that is still just realizing what it is. To be exposed to and educated on the variety of cultures, ethnicities, nationalities and beliefs around the world, like I have been and tends to be European practice in schools and education, that I don’t feel American schools have true access to.
I was raised by parents from different backgrounds and ethnicities, who came together believing in everyone’s equal, love is love, and connection is important, not your race, religion, political stance. They raised me to see everyone has a place, a voice, that connection and love is everywhere, if you look for it. That the world is beautifully different and the less we worry about others’ opinions, the happier we will become. Don’t take other people’s word for it, go and learn and experience life for yourself, don’t just exist, live!

The entertainment industry is rapidly shifting and becoming more inclusive and diverse in it’s narratives and representation. How do you feel about it and how would you describe your own contribution to the industry’s expansion within this topic?

Inclusivity and representation is important and necessary in every industry. People should have dreams and know there is a pathway to those dreams, for all. As the lead of ‘American Gods’, it is an honor to be front and centre and represent a show that actually facilitated change in front of and behind the camera. To bring forward a writing room in season 3, that included more Black, Biracial, Latin, LGBTQ, writers than the previous two seasons was a tangible progression. People writing authentic stories from personal places giving truer representation. Growing up, I had idols, few that looked like me and in limited industries. I now stand proud that kids growing up can see me front and center of a critically acclaimed show and see there is a pathway for people that look like them, and that they can achieve it too. I’m grateful to those that opened the door for me, like Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Oprah, Whoopi Goldberg, etc. These are people I loved watching growing up, they gave me that belief and inspiration, I hope I can pass on that torch too.

How would you describe yourself in your own words?

I would like to think I’m a good person. Fun loving, outgoing though private, honest, ambitious, loyal and considerate. A British gentleman with a dark side!