When asked about the evolution of American Gods from Shadow and Wednesday on the road to the more hidebound setting of Lakeside, Ricky Whittle makes no secret of his feelings about American Gods season 3’s bold change in scenery.
“This is my favorite part of the book. I’ve always been looking forward to doing this,” Whittle tells Den of Geek.
In a sense, if you are hiding from the world, there is no better place to do it than Lakeside, which is as far out in the middle of nowhere as can be managed by someone in the modern world. There is no radio or television station; only a local newspaper. There are no megastores or malls; only a general store. There is no fast food; only a beloved local diner with famous, addictive Cornish pasties.
Lakeside is a significant change in the story of Shadow Moon. Rather than staying on the road with Wednesday, traveling across America and meeting Gods, Shadow settles in for a very long winter in a strange little town, walking away from Odin’s revelations and washing his hands of the war. On the surface, Lakeside, Minnesota (played by Toronto, Canada) is a frosty Americana of friendly people unbothered by the troubles of the outside world. Under the surface, things are never what they seem; Shadow is pulled into a mystery that has repercussions throughout the American Gods universe. One of the fan-favorite sections of Neil Gaiman’s book is now coming into play.
Regardless of the lack of comfort provided by shooting outdoors in Canada in winter, Lakeside as a setting does offer something more valuable than the contents of Hinzelmann’s General Store or the clunkers at the bottom of the lake to Shadow Moon a.k.a. Mike Ainsel. Rest. Rest, and a chance to work through the information that Shadow learns over the course of two packed seasons.
“There’s a lot on Shadow’s mind. He’s been given a whole sack full of information that he’s got to process now. His first decision was he’s done. He was always being attacked, one way or another. We found out in season two that his mother died from cancer when he was 15. He never grew up with a father. Then we find out that Wednesday killed Laura. Wednesday wasn’t working in the local store, the local bowling alley. He’s a God. He’s Odin. He could have changed his life at any time. That’s a lot sitting with Shadow right now.”
For Shadow, Lakeside offers more than just breathing room and a chance to process information, it is a chance for Shadow to have the only thing he has ever really wanted, from the time he was a teenager.
“Shadow is more than happy to live a normal life. That’s all he’s ever really truly wanted. We find Shadow, beginning of season three, he’s grown his hair and his beard out. He’s hiding from the FBI, the police, the authorities. He’s changed his name. He’s Mike Ainsel. He’s working in a factory. He’s got his eyes on a local girl. Because that’s all he ever truly has wanted is to live that normal life after being pounded constantly by the universe.”
With Lakeside, Shadow gets a chance to indulge in a little normal life cosplay and pretend he’s just like everyone else. American Gods gets a chance to clear up lingering production issues and settle down after three seasons of instability behind the scenes. For both Shadow and the show, the timing for Lakeside could not be better.
“Shadow is kind of left with no other choices, to be honest. We are starting to head into our very first winter on the show, all other routes are snowed in, and he is left with this quaint little town that he heads to and starts to fall for, because it’s full of humans. This is the first time that we have seen Shadow, in the story, surrounded by humans and not gods. He’s always been the last person in the room to know what’s going on. Here, we find him in a town where he actually knows more than everybody else.”
A place for Shadow Moon, the universe’s punching bag, to catch his breath, make some normal friends, and avoid the world that his father introduced him to? If that sounds too good to be true, that’s because, as Whittle puts it several times in his interview, “this is American Gods, and Shadow’s not allowed to be happy.” On its surface, like the lake itself, Lakeside is calm, placid, and beautiful. Under the ice, however, there is something more going on there.
“There is a dark underbelly, and unfortunately for him, things take a turn,” Whittle says. “The only thing that has changed in the town is there is a new guy. So all the questions and heads start to turn towards Shadow as they start to think that he’s maybe hiding something. Unfortunately, for Shadow, it’s a lot bigger than what they think. So the walls are closing in on Shadow. Again, he finds himself trying to hide information from people he cares about.”
A man with secrets, and a town with secrets. Lakeside slows things down for American Gods, and allows the performer, and the viewer, more opportunities to explore the material and the psychology behind the characters themselves. For once, the mystery is not directly around Shadow, but outside of him, and that gives both the character and Ricky Whittle a chance to be more actively involved in things.
“Shadow really grows in this season. You really start to see him grow into his position as he starts to decide what kind of god and person he wants to be in this world,” Whittle says.
It is all part of a larger season 3 narrative of self-discovery, both for Shadow and for the other characters involved in the storyline. Everyone is getting a break from the war, at least for a bit, to focus on themselves and their own needs while Wednesday politics in the background. Old One-Eyed’s work isn’t done, not by a longshot, but wars are fought with bodies and resources, and while World is in disarray, Odin has an opportunity to go to work and the gods, both old and new, are given a chance to figure out their place once more.
More than just a chance to breathe and learn, Lakeside will have major implications for the non-Shadow gods on the show.
“Lakeside is almost as if it has been put in a little time capsule and kept away from Tech Boy’s influence,” Technically Boy actor Bruce Langley says. “It’s not impossible for him to get on in there, but it is a lot harder.”
“I’m so excited for Lakeside. I know as any fan of the book probably is,” says Yetide Badaki when asked about Lakeside’s importance to Season 3. “We see these different characters go through journeys of self-discovery. We see that happen for Salim. We see it happen for Laura Moon. We see it happen for Technical Boy. We see it happen for Cordelia, played by the lovely Ashley Reyes. And we see Shadow Moon, not only having this moment of self-discovery, but we’re also seeing him find this whole new agency within him. It’s fascinating to see that the more all of these people learn about themselves, the more they see how interconnected they are.”
Everyone interviewed—regardless of their connection to Lakeside as a plotline in American Gods—is excited to see it brought to life on screen. The enthusiasm the actors have for Neil Gaiman’s twist into mystery is infectious. Langley and Badaki both expressed excitement for that change, but no one seems as happy about it as Whittle. Lakeside as a mystery hangs solely on the broad shoulders of Shadow Moon.
“It didn’t disappoint. It really is my favorite season so far, because it’s Lakeside. It’s my favorite part of the book. It’s where the story really starts to ramp up. So I loved it. I had a great time,” Whittle enthuses. “The show, as always, looks incredible. It has always had that incredible rich tone and stunning look that I have never seen on any other show. It’s just a completely different look this season, very Fargo. Every episode gives you a different feel, a different story, a different moment. This season really is taken to a different level thanks to Mother Nature.”
That enthusiasm for the setting and the story would definitely help keep any actor motivated and engaged with the material. However, there was one thing that neither Ricky Whittle nor Shadow were properly prepared for, and that’s the effect Mother Nature would have on all aspects of the production. Shooting in winter in Toronto, Canada, is an entirely new experience for the actor playing Shadow Moon.
“Winter in Manchester is pretty tough. It is the worst experience I’ve ever felt in my life. There were takes that I had to redo because my mouth wouldn’t open because it was so frozen. I had icicles on my eyelashes, in my beard, and in my hair. Don’t get me wrong, our makeup and hair department is incredible. They should be receiving awards for what they have done over these past two seasons. But everything you see on screen, if Shadow looks cold, it’s because Ricky is freezing. That is all natural. I’m Daniel Day Lewis. I am method as hell.”