Ricky Whittle Interview: American Gods 3.10

American Gods brings its third season to an end not with a whimper, but with a bang. Or rather with the potential sacrifice of its hero Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) at the altar of his father Odin’s (Ian McShane) long-laid plans. While the series has diverged from the img material of Neil Gaiman’s book in many ways, Wednesday using his own death as a way to gain power is a plot point straight from the classic novel.

The goddess Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) and Shadow’s ex-wife Laura (Emily Browning) were rushing to his aid when the credits rolled, but the fate of both the demigod and the show hang in the balance. With one season left to conclude the admittedly rocky journey, fans wait with bated breath to find out whether Starz will renew the series for a final time.

Star Ricky Whittle sat down with Screen Rant to break down the physically exhausting work he did on “Tears of the Wrath-Bearing Tree,” the ways Shadow’s path has intertwined with Bilquis and Laura’s, and his own hope for a a fourth season

Shadow goes through the wringer in the finale. How did you prepare for that physically?

Ricky Whittle: I’ve spoken about the physicality before whenever someone’s shirtless in a scene. They definitely tend to get a little bit stricter on the old nutrition and diet, and now water manipulation comes into play and you start dehydrating yourself.

It was a two-pronged attack for those scenes, whereby Shadow was really suffering going through it. It helps me that I’ve done it in the past as well, when Shadow was being tortured in season 2. I’d dehydrate myself and not drink any water the whole day, and I’d start to get a little bit fuzzy and, which helps with the method of it all. You start to feel you’re able to tap into things that you might not have if you were at 100%. Physically, you look a lot more shredded, because there’s a lack of water in your body that helps for the visuals. But mentally, it really does help you tap into the exhaustion that Shadow was going through in that moment, and the suffering that he was going through.

It was really tough, because it was quite the harness to get into that. Once you’re up there, you’re up there. They kept saying, “We can take you in and out,” but it takes a lot of time. Being a team player, I’m like, “Keep me up there.” So, was hanging around in trees for hours and hours.

But the worst one was actually the fact that we filmed in Toronto during the winter, and I’m wearing a Tarzan sarong in the middle of winter as they hoist me up into a tree. I can’t lie, that’s probably the coldest I’ve ever been. There was no acting there; I was shivering for real, and I could see my breath. That’s not CGI; it was brutal. My head was freezing on my head, I could feel the icicles in my nostrils, and there’s me just in a little hand towel wrapped around my midriff suspended in the tree with my arms tied up. It’s not even like I can hold myself to keep warm or rub my eyes. So, it was pretty physical.

But I think the visuals were great. It’s such an important part of the book, and it’s really great to go back to those moments, and back to give not just lovers of the show who’ve never read the book but also book fans who really love those moments that we’re able to bring to screen.

It’s so impressive how they are able to stretch the book’s 300 pages into three seasons, bringing those iconic moments as well as delving into characters and emotional beats that we wouldn’t have experienced in the book.

Ricky Whittle: Yeah, I think because we’re always in the head of Shadow Moon in the book, you don’t have as much of a connection with the other characters. We’re able to really expand upon them and give them their own life in the show, so that you engage and care more about Laura Moon, Bilquis, Tech Boy and Salim. It’s a way of making the audience want something for each character.

As we continue down the same story as the book, which is Shadow’s story, we just care more about what’s happening around him as well. Everyone’s journey is really important, and as we move towards the end of season three and into a season four, everyone’s paths are slowly merging towards each other, which is very exciting for us.

It’s so interesting to see Laura and Shadow’s destinies merge once again after having diverged so much. What is it like coming back together with Emily at the end of this season?

Ricky Whittle: It’s one of those fun things in a TV show, where you find out that things are just planned out. And it really is beautiful that the two have always been connected, and they were almost destined to be together; to not be together; to face this destiny together as two parts of a whole. When we first met the two, you couldn’t have thought of two more opposite polars who just do not belong together. I feel that as the two have drifted apart and gone on their separate ways, they’ve both grown and evolved personally, which has helped their relationship.

We saw them meet again in Episode 5, when Laura was like, “I’m gonna kill him,” and he’s like, “Well, he’s my dad.” And Laura’s like, “Wow, that’s tough. I’m still gonna kill him.” It’s this great relationship and chemistry that myself and Emily have. Filming that in real life, myself and Emily can’t look each other in the eye seriously like that for longer than five seconds without bursting into laughter. We’re children, but it’s that chemistry off-camera that translates on camera behind our eyes. Even though we’re talking about tough stuff, and we have a difference of opinion, you see that chemistry that we have off-camera really play between our eyes. And it plays into the fact that Shadow and Laura have this history. They really care about each other – they genuinely do – and it’s nice to see those paths twist as they realize that they’re both so important to the future of the world. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

The interesting thing that Charles Eglee has played out is that , as they’re moving forward, Shadow’s the feminine energy and Laura’s the masculine energy, which is really intriguing and interesting as well. They both play the opposites of what you would expect: this big, macho male lead is actually the feminine energy, being guided kind of by all these feminine ancestors from his mother’s side and raised by the Orisha. Emily, playing Laura, is this badass masculine character who just doesn’t take any crap from anyone.

Now that she’s found herself and realized that maybe her whole life wasn’t her fault and God’s been playing with her from the beginning, it’s gonna be interesting seeing those two team up and move forward together. Can they make this all work out? Having known what’s coming up and thinking ahead, I’m so excited for us to be able to finish this story because Laura’s got an incredible story.

I love what you brought up about Shadow representing the feminine energy through the Orisha. What was it like learning about his maternal influences this season, through his dreams and dynamic with Bilquis?

Ricky Whittle: That’s one of the exciting things for me on this show; it’s so diverse. The characters and the cast, and it’s mirrored in the writing room, are just full of so much representation and diversity, which is obviously very important nowadays. Everyone has a voice, and everyone needs to see themselves on screen; they need to have representation and need to hear their voices.

Last season, I learned about the indigenous people and native culture through Devery Jacobs, who plays Sam Black Crow. I didn’t know about the Orisha until this season, through Charles Eglee and his writing team – Nick Gillie actually introduced me to the Orisha during a one man show that he did here in LA called Goddess Black, which was beautiful. It blew my mind to the point where I finished it, then texted Yetide and said, “Our new writer for season 3 is doing this one man show. You need to come with me to watch this show.”

Because every time you start a show with a different creative team, you get a bit nervous. But as soon as she saw that show, she could not wait to get back for season three, because of the talent of Nick Gillie’s writing. The rest of the team that has been fantastic, and they’ve educated me in the world of Orisha. It’s beautiful and so powerful, and it doesn’t stop in season 3. That’s a thread it’s going to carry on. And it’s very important within his dreams.

Obviously, we know that Shadow was a demigod, and he has various powers that he’s slowly learning. It’s like Superman, or Clark Kent learning he can fly; it doesn’t all come at once, and we don’t have control over it. Whereas now, we’re getting to an accelerator where Shadow is going to learn a lot more a lot quicker. The Orisha are so integral to his power and his background, through the guidance of his ancestors. And Bilquis is a part of that, having found herself after having been defined by the world, and now all of a sudden saying, “This is who I am.”

She looked inside herself, and now refuses to be defined by man or anyone. As soon as she’s found her power, she’s now secure in herself to spread that light and spread that love. And to remind Shadow of where he came from; to encourage Shadow in the ways of the Orisha, and to really lead the people. It was great to realize how this all entwined; that Shadow has been destined to take this path, and Bilquis is destined to make sure that he uses his powers for good and in the right way. She can be so integral to his future, and she already has been in finding Laura and encouraging her to go and find Shadow; in encouraging him to be good to let go of the negativity and hate. She represents rising as a people, saying we is stronger than I.

People are very self-serving and selfish in this world. As much people say, “I’m not racist, I’m not sexist, I’m not a bigot, I’m not xenophobic, homophobic,” they are selfish. They believe that everything is fine unless it affects their pocket. This is a very selfish world, and we will only rise once we all come together as one and realize that everyone’s important, special and unique. We don’t have to fit into everyone’s definitions or into everyone’s belief system, we just need to find our own beliefs and our own strengths that come from within. I love that message that Bilquis and the show are giving, of shining a light on everyone’s beliefs and saying there’s no good or bad, there’s only perspective. Just focus on being the best version of yourself, just as Bilquis has finally become, as Salim has become, as Tech Boy is learning.

Everyone’s on these journeys of self-discovery, and these paths are moving together for a great cliffhanger in season 3.

Speaking of the cliffhanger, we must discuss the deception and disgrace of Odin. How is Shadow processing this betrayal from his father, and the reversal of what he thought could be his destiny?

Ricky Whittle: As Bush famously said, badly. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice… At the end of day, Shadow saw this strange grifter and mysterious con man, so we held him at an arm’s length. He had a wall up, and he didn’t really trust him. But then to find out that he’s your father, and he wasn’t just working in a bowling alley? He could have been there any time. He’s a god. He could have helped you out when your mother passed when you were 15, or when Laura died – never mind finding out that he killed your wife.

All of a sudden your walls go straight up even more so, and it took a whole season for the wall to kind of break down. We’re able to find ways around it by using Cordelia and Demeter to show there was a time when Wednesday was a good guy; when he was full of love. How does a goddess like Demeter, played by the beautiful Blythe Danner, love a man like that? She wouldn’t, so it shows that he was a good man once. Why can’t he be again? And so we slowly saw that armor being chinked away as Shadow thinks maybe he could be a father, maybe he’s not as bad as he’s made out, maybe there is a little bit of hope and light at the end of the tunnel.

That’s just thrown completely back in his face when you realize it was all a long con, and that you were only born to be a sacrifice. It wasn’t even something that he thought of recently. He wanted ultimate power, and your only purpose in his mind and in his life was to be sacrificed to make him more powerful. It’s just brutal. I think it’s relatable for anyone who’s been used and abused in life and in relationships – be it family, partnerships, friends, or whatever that may be. That’s the biggest betrayal of all; when someone’s manipulated and use you in a very horrible way. You actually were caring for the person, you actually gave a damn – and for that to be thrown back in his face is going to go one of two ways.

It’s either going to break Shadow Moon, having finally put his heart on his sleeve again and let his emotion out, or it’s gonna turn him very angry.  We’re going to hopefully reveal which it will be and what would that look like in season 4. What happens when you have a demigod who’s coming into his powers? Who’s learning about his background and getting strength from his ancestors? All of a sudden, that argument’s starting to look a little bit more balanced when you now have an angry demigod coming for you.

It sounds like you’re very confident about season four. Is there any is there official word yet?

Ricky Whittle: No, I don’t know that. There’s no official word at all. It’s like any show, but at the end of the day, the way I put it is that we’ve been very fortunate with Starz and Amazon worldwide backing the show, which is diverse in front of the cameras and in the writing rooms. We’re in a time on social media where companies, networks, and studios are posting black squares, saying they’re going to amplify black and minority voices as well as strong women leaders – I’m all about action over talk. You can be whispering sweet nothings in my ear whilst you stab me between the shoulder blades and put your hand in my wallet. It’s all about action.

For me, what’s better than what Starz in Fremantle are doing to actually facilitate that change. To show action and support this show, which they have done for three seasons now. We’ve got one season left to finish the show, so it’s a no-brainer. Why not finish the story? I feel that shows like American Gods are important. Number one, the story is just fun, and we’re almost there. But secondly, it’s important that everyone sees their face and hears their voices. We’re a show that has led the way visually and spiritually, and that has never shied away from sensitive topics.

You see the beautiful storylines of the LGBTQ community in Salim, and you see this black woman finding herself in Bilquis, and show the strength of the unapologetic Laura Moon, who won’t be dictated to by men and is not ashamed of doing it her way. I think these are just all very powerful messages. Then you have Shadow Moon, this moral compass who thinks of others before himself, and who’s always trying to do the right thing. I just think, in a very negative and very tough world that we’ve had to go through over these last few years, these are great messages to put forward. I think there’s so much positivity, and it’s shining a light and raising awareness about the beauty of everyone’s differences.

The message of the we over the I shows that if we all come together, maybe we can make this world a better place. That’s the plan for Shadow Moon, and hopefully we get to see him finish that story.

The third season of American Gods airs on Starz.

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