Shadow Moon is the protagonist of American Gods, of course, but he is also its soul. He’s at the center of the drama, the center of many plans, but he’s also someone who's constantly looking to find himself. Much like America itself, Shadow is always changing and often needs to grow when he least expects it. This is something Ricky Whittle, the actor behind Shadow, is very much aware of as the series (based on the book by Neil Gaiman) returns for Season 3, and according to Whittle, teases out Season 4.
How has American Gods, having first aired in 2017, reinvented itself yet again? How has Whittle mapped out this part of Shadow’s life? Is Shadow’s journey of discovery emblematic of America itself? SYFY WIRE spoke with Whittle about all of this and much more before the season's Jan. 10 premiere.
This season differentiates itself from the start, a little more like Season 1, less like Season 2, but also its own thing. It feels like this show is always adapting.
Very much so. Things are very different, and to me Season 3 is a completely different season still to the previous two — but very much so a huge return to form of Season 1, which was a great foundation for us. Season 2 became more of an eccentric treasure hunt, finding bits of gold here and there, but kind of a little bit all over the place. What Season 3 is, it’s just this murder mystery, which is just so... for us as an actor, it was just really efficient. They had time before the season started to really formulate this season and to figure out what the story arcs were and they were able to kind of arc the story throughout Season 3 and into Season 4.
When we catch up with Shadow, he's rejected his destiny, he's rejected Wednesday, and then he gets back in the mix fairly quickly. Wednesday is definitely rigging the game here but do you think there's a part of Shadow that wants to get back in this game?
To be honest, I don't think so, not at all. Not when we first find him, because I just don't think he knows who he is. It’s a journey of self-discovery right now, he’s got to figure out who he is, and now that he knows he's a god, what he is. What kind of god he wants to be. We find him and he's in hiding from the police and the FBI. He’s grown his hair out, his beard out, he’s changed his name, because this is all Wednesday's fault. Wednesday brought this to his door. Wednesday is kind of like the root of everything that has gone wrong with Shadow.
So yes, he... not necessarily follows Wednesday, but follows his advice. He's very much his own man this season, and the power struggle will definitely flip more in Shadow’s favor. He's got a lot of growing to do this year, but at least he's doing it on his own terms and his own pace... he really starts to take control, which was exciting to play.
At one point, he asks Wednesday if he's a god. Do you think there's a part of him that wants to be? That wants to be worshipped?
I think that's kind of the whole show in general to be honest. It’s always about worship, not being forgotten. I think anyone can relate to that in the world. Why do we watch American Gods, why do we watch Avengers, and all these kind of movies of magic and stuff that is not too tangible? Because we want to believe in the magic, we want to believe in things that are impossible [but] can be done. This is his destiny and there's only so long you can run away from it before it will eventually find you.
How much is Shadow's search for destiny and identity emblematic of America itself?
It’s that inability to look at one’s self. I think that's mirrored in this country. Everyone’s too afraid to look at America for what it truly is. You’ve set the narrative, you've decided that this is who you are, this is who Shadow is, and then all of a sudden you've had your eyes opened to this world of truth. Same as in Lakeside, this beautiful, wonderful town on the surface, but if you look at the dark underbelly there is so much more going on. I think that's very much mirrored in today's society in America, where America and its citizens believe it's a land of the free and this and that, but to be quite honest, America was never truly free. The last time America was truly free was before "Americans" got there.
This is a country full of mass incarceration, a land that we’ve taken from Native Americans, it’s a country full of immigrants which still has the cheek to deny immigrants from coming in.
That's the true beauty of this country. The fact that it's not just one thing, it’s an amalgamation. For me, the sooner America starts to take it’s negatives as well as it’s positives, it’s always pushing “America's the greatest this in the world, the greatest that in the world.” Well, you know what? You have to also accept your flaws. You have to accept that there is systemic racism, there’s homophobia, xenophobia. Until you accept that, and then not just talk about it but create some action and try to right this dark underbelly and actually approach these problems, you can't truly move forward.
I feel that's where kind of where Shadow is. He believed in one thing, and until he figures himself out and he's fully himself... you can’t move forward until you complete yourself. You have to make sure that you're secure and that you're strong before you can move forward, and then in this world of gods and Lakeside, fix yourself. Once you’ve fixed yourself, fix other people. Because that's what we're pushing in Season 3, is the power of the “we” over the “I.” It's only when we all come together can we truly become something great and move forward positively. Until that happens, everyone's just playing their own game, playing their own story. Divided we fall, unfortunately. I feel that that's never been more relevant than right now.
American Gods returns to STARZ for Season 3 on Jan. 10. Same soul, different chassis.