When it comes to having work you enjoy doing, the British athlete-turned-actor Ricky Whittle is one of the lucky ones. Known for his roles on The CW’s The 100 and ABC’s Mistresses, Whittle is excited for the world to see his next role as Shadow Moon in American Gods, the TV adaptation of the sci-fi novel written by Neil Gaiman. But all dreams—and careers—start somewhere.
“I feel we have all been actors at some point, be it as a kid growing up playing Cowboys and Indians or telling your mother you didn’t steal the cookies from the cookie jar, knowing full well you did,” said Whittle. “So I feel like the actor [in me] has always been there.”
Growing up as an athlete whose father was in the Royal Air Force, Whittle easily harnessed the discipline to cope with the repetitive nature of acting and the ability to manage the nomadic lifestyle of the acting industry. “The hardest thing was just starting a new career in an industry of ‘no’s,’” Whittle explained, “but with the determination and positive mindset I’ve taken from sports, the word ‘no’ was never an option and it was never going to stop me for long.”
Confirming reports of leaving his role as Lincoln on The 100 due to bullying, Whittle didn’t let that setback get the better of him. “[I learned] that it’s always darkest before the dawn and karma prevails. [That experience] proved to me that good things happen to good people, and I will always be grateful for it,” he said. “It helped me grow and realize how strong I could be.”
He credited childhood lessons to his ability to surround himself with positivity and remove negativity no matter what. “Since I was a child, my parents have always told me to stand up for what I believe in for myself and others and that’s just what I did. I will never let anybody treat me badly, no matter who they are.” He continued by saying, “A ship only sinks when you let water in. Continue to work hard, keep smiling, and wait for that little bit of luck and take those chances when they come.”
That kind of discipline and motivation was exactly what Whittle channeled for his new role as Shadow Moon in the series American Gods. Whittle plays an ex-con released two days early from prison after the tragic death of his wife Laura, played by Emily Browning. “It was both physically and mentally challenging as I had to put on 35 pounds to give Shadow the large frame described in the book,” he explained. “Training two to four hours a day and eating over 4,000 calories per day was intense and draining, but required to gain such a large amount of weight so quickly.”
Although a challenge, Whittle expressed his excitement for the audience to experience his journey through Shadow’s eyes. “It is my responsibility to inform the audience as to how they should feel throughout [the scenes]. I allow them to feel calm, fear, confusion, and laughter, so I have to be engaged and present through every moment,” he said. “He’s a shadow of the man he was and a shadow of the man he needs to become. He’s broken and empty when Ian McShane’s [character] Mr. Wednesday takes him under his wing, and his world is flipped upside down. He’s not a believer and has to wonder, as an intelligent, logical thinking man: is the world crazy or is he?”
Since I was a child, my parents have always told me to stand up for what I believe in for myself and others and that’s just what I did.
Whittle admits that he’s an all-or-nothing kind of guy, but when he’s not “on,” you can catch him venturing out on his own adventures—on his Harley Davidson, to be specific. “As filming is usually so intense, when I get home, I like to just relax, follow my team [Manchester United], and sit on the beach back home in California and enjoy the quiet sunsets and the sea. I like to disappear,” he said. “I’m a huge adrenaline junkie; I have a racing license, so I like to hit the track. I’m also a qualified skydiver, so I definitely enjoy throwing myself out of perfectly good airplanes.”
But don’t put him in the category of “daredevil” just yet. The actor has deeper passions in life. “Aside from jumping out of planes and racing cars, I’d like to push ahead with some causes that I’m passionate about, such as bullying, the world’s youth, and animals.”
Contrary to the perceived glitz and glam of Hollywood, Whittle has bigger plans for his fame. “I just want to continue to wake up happy on Monday mornings. If you hate Mondays, you hate your job. I love what I do and just want to continue working with great people on great projects such as American Gods,” he said. “It’s such a huge project that one hopes Shadow will become [as much of] an iconic TV character as he is in the book world. [This] will allow me to just enjoy experimenting with other roles in film: Action, Romance, Comedy, and Drama. I just want to enjoy versatility and roles that challenge me in different ways.”
Although he has big plans to further his career and challenge himself, Whittle has found his own challenges within the entertainment industry. “It’s made me less trusting of people. It’s hard to find people who are in it for the right reasons,” he said. “Everyone has an agenda, so when I find good people, I like to hang onto them. They shine like beacons. It’s also given me a position of responsibility and a duty to further live a good life.”
He continued, “Young eyes are watching, and it’s our duty when in the public eye to not lead them astray and provide a good role model.”
While trying to live his life as good and as honest as possible, Whittle acknowledges his faults and believes that everything happens for a reason. “I’m only here as a result of the culmination of all my good and bad decisions together,” he said. “I’m happy with how I’ve lived my life and I say I live my life like my mum is watching and I don’t want to disappoint her.”
His humble nature and self-awareness help him create a sense of comradery between himself and his fans, even in the most uncomfortable situations, especially when it comes to sex appeal and embarrassing moments. Nominated as Sexiest Male four years in a row at the British Soap Awards, the actor admits, “I have a little body dysmorphia, so I don’t actually enjoy pictures of myself. It’s always an honor to be put in those categories, but I attribute it to self-confidence over actual looks,” he explained. “I know I’m young, athletic, and enjoying my career, so put it down to the package. I think sexy comes from within; belief and being comfortable in your skin shines through. I love seeing that in others.”
As for embarrassing moments, the TV star doesn’t get embarrassed too often in life, but one time he misjudged the location of the camera while on set. “I turned suddenly and walked headfirst into the lens. It felt like a right hook from Mike Tyson. I had a slight squint for the rest of the scene,” he said.
Through all the challenges, bruises, and all, Whittle is looking forward to how American Gods will be received by the fans of the book. “It’s going to be exciting to see the reaction from Neil Gaiman’s fans,” he said. “I feel newcomers to his work will just love the show and have their minds blown by something that has never been seen before on television. It will be exciting to see hardcore fans as they have envisaged an adaption for 16 years, but if Neil Gaiman is excited by it, then I’m confident they will love it, too. There’s so much to look forward to as we begin this incredible journey.”
So what’s Whittle’s key to success? “Hunger to be better and to provide for my family, and the joy I feel when proving haters or doubters wrong,” he said. “They hate when you are happy and successful, so I love to inform them of how good life is.”
You can catch the season premiere of American Gods on Starz on Sunday, April 30, 2017 at 9:00pm ET/PT.
See more exclusive photos in our April/May 2017 issue of Cliché Magazine.
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Ricky Whittle is Gearing Up for the New Starz Series ‘American Gods’ // Photographer: Quavondo, Assistant: Johnny Martini, Grooming: Ieva Radina, Stylist: Yesenia Cuevas, Retoucher: Katja de Bruijn