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SYFY WIRE fantasy

American Gods: Ricky Whittle's Shadow demands answers in Season 2

By Bryan Cairns
Shadow Moon, American Gods

War is imminent on American Gods. When the TV series, based on Neil Gaiman's beloved fantasy novel of the same name, returns on March 10, the ancient deities will begin congregating at the House on the Rock, a majestic location featuring a magical carousel. It's Mr. Wednesday's goal to unify the Old Gods for a battle against the younger, upstart New Gods.

Caught in the crossfire is ordinary mortal Shadow, played by Ricky Whittle. An ex-convict with a knack for coin tricks, Shadow's wife had only recently died when Mr. Wednesday hired him as his chauffeur and bodyguard. However, Shadow soon found himself on a bizarre road trip involving gods and trippy phenomena. So far, Shadow — and viewers — know very little about his role in this war. That's all about to change.

Last June on the American Gods set in Toronto, Whittle spoke with SYFY WIRE about Shadow's quest for answers, going from cynic to believer, his topsy-turvy relationship with resurrected wife, Laura, and talking to animals.

When we first met your character, Shadow, he was a broken man. How do you feel he transformed over the first season?

Shadow went from cynic to believer, which is his main thing. He didn't believe in anything. He lost everything. He was broken. He was void of personality, love and emotion. Shadow lost everything that was dear to him. Come Season 2, he's now realizing Laura is actually back from the dead in some form. Is she dead? Is she undead? Whatever she is, Laura is back in his life. Straight away, the one thing that was missing from his life is now around. We can now start to build Shadow's personality back, which is exciting for me as an actor. I get to play with different colors.

He also believes in the world he is in now. For the first season, he was very anxious to figure out whether he was going insane. Shadow didn't understand whether it was real or not real, or whether he was losing his mind. Shadow has really grown a lot in a short space of time. Now, he understands he's in a world full of magic and full of gods. His wife is back in his life. Now, he's starting to put some pieces together. The evolution for Shadow this year is he's going to start to realize that there's a lot of gods and people talking about him, and that there's something special going on with him and why he is special. So, Shadow needs to start piecing together that puzzle.

How does Shadow process coming up against these gods and all the fantastical elements he witnesses this year?

In the books, Shadow takes everything in stride. Nothing really phases him. But in the show, we like to keep it a little more real in the fact that no matter how much you are surrounded by this stuff, you are still going to be in awe and amazed by it. It's still extraordinary circumstances that he's faced with. He will come to terms with the fact there is more than he understands, but he will still be amazed by everything around him.

In Season 1, he was in shock that certain things existed. Even in his dreams, where he sees buffalos walking and talking, it shocked him. He was really scared of these things. This season, now that he's aware of everything in the world, he's very much awake when he has a conversation with a raven, though he is absolutely amazed a bird can talk. Mr. Wednesday had said he had ravens that worked for him. Shadow's accepting the world that he's in, but it's still going to blow his mind… right, left and center.

What does it actually mean for Shadow to become a believer?

First off, I think it is peace of mind for Shadow. He knows he's no longer insane, that everything he saw in Season 1 was real and did actually happen to him. It wasn't just in his head. Even the Laura in the motel, he was never sure that she was actually, genuinely there until she turns up in the finale. So, he's aware of this world and he can be more at ease now that he's not worrying whether he's insane or not.

Being an intelligent guy, Shadow is going to start to figure out whether he belongs in this world. That's very important because it's not by chance that he's a part of this world. That's what we want the audience to figure out along with Shadow. Is there something more to it or not?

Laura was on a quest to find Shadow. Do you feel their reunion was earned or should they have been kept apart a little longer?

It's the whole Ross and Rachel from Friends. Everyone wants Ross and Rachel to be together, so they kept them apart for seven or eight years. But this is just the beginning. We kept them apart, but we expect the show to go for numerous years.

And this is a very complex relationship. Laura may have found him again, but he also told her that he's no longer her puppy. So, Laura has a fight on her hands. She has to try and win back the love of a guy who no longer sees her as he did when she was alive. Laura was very much dead when she was alive. She was closed off to the world and very lacking in emotion. It wasn't until she died that she actually started to live, which was incredible for her character.

Laura now realizes how much she loves Shadow and how much he meant to her. He literally becomes the light of her life. Is that because of her love or she sees something more in Shadow? Whereas, Shadow loved her dearly when she was alive. Then, as soon as he found out she had betrayed him, that she was not as in love as he felt she was and that she was no longer on the pedestal that he had put her on, he has this closure. He doesn't love her the way she wants him to. He loves her, as you do when you are with someone for so long, but I'm not sure whether or not he's in love.

The tables have turned now. Can she win him back? Does she really want him back or does she just want something she can't happen?

Shadow discovered that Mr. Wednesday is actually the god Odin. How does that affect their relationship?

Now that Shadow has realized that Mr. Wednesday is Odin, he has questions, as anyone would when they find out that there are gods, and that you know gods and that you are in the company of a god. You have numerous questions. It's good to see Shadow become proactive this season. He starts to push the envelope. He really starts to badger Mr. Wednesday for answers. He's not prepared to sit back and be brushed off. Shadow wants to know what, where, when and why about everything, about his involvement and what Shadow's part in this is. Why was he hired? He wants to know about where they are going and what they are doing.

Wednesday is a little more open to giving him information and educating him. Their relationship has gotten closer, but it's also a little fractured; Shadow is starting to ask too many questions for Wednesday's liking.

There are a few new players being introduced this season. Who is one of your favorites and how do they interact with Shadow?

My favorite interaction this season is one I think the fans are really going to enjoy. When I traveled the world doing conventions, I asked the fans what their favorite part of the book is and what they are looking forward to seeing.

A lot of things that come up is Sam Crow. We've cast Sam Crow, who is a Native Indian lesbian. We've cast Devery Jacobs, who is Native Indian. Once again, we've kept true to the book, kept true to keeping a beautifully ethnic, diverse cast and a real portrayal of American. She's fantastic and she really brings out a different side to Shadow. We find them on a journey, not unlike Mr. Wednesday and Shadow, in the car. You are going to see a beautiful relationship blossom there because she's an important character for Shadow and she helps evolve Shadow. She's also not a part of this crazy god world. So, for the first time, you are going to see two humans in a car. You are going to see two ethnic characters in a car. You are going to see two people bust each others' balls and grow a bond together.

A lot of the book's fans were expecting Shadow to mingle with a certain talking cat, namely Bast. Were you hoping they would go there?

I was hoping they would go there because I wanted to know how they were going to do it. This season we will go there. There is a cat. This season I feel like Shadow is Dr. Doolittle. There's a talking raven he has a conversation with. Then, there's a cat he gets very close to. It's written very well. Without giving too much away, it's quite comical. A certain moment happens that Shadow is not quite sure if it was real or not. The way it's played afterward is a very comical moment for Shadow. I was excited when that popped up in the script.