"If you don't learn from the past, you're condemned to repeat it again," Ricky Whittle, the star of the upcoming Starz series American Gods, tells ET. While the sentiment could easily apply to his onscreen character, Shadow, who after an unexpected early release from prison is recruited by Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) to be the mysterious man's bodyguard as he travels across the U.S., the English actor is actually referring to his time on The CW series The 100, which saw his character (and fan favorite), Lincoln, killed off after two seasons in a controversial exit from the show.
Shortly after the episode aired last year, Whittle spoke out against The 100 creator and showrunner Jason Rothenberg. "[He] abused his position to make my job untenable. What he did was disgusting and he should be ashamed," the actor told The Hollywood Reporter. "He was professionally bullying me, cutting out all the storyline I was supposed to be doing, cutting lines, cutting everything out, trying to make my character and myself as insignificant as possible."
Fed up with where the character was going and the dynamic on set, Whittle asked to be let go. "I took myself out of a negative situation," Whittle tells ET. "I think it was important. I stood up for myself and others. It's something to feel proud of, and it's something I'd do time and time and time again."
Following the accusations, Rothenberg released a short statement to the press: "Ricky Whittle is a talented actor; I appreciate his work on The 100 and wish him all the best moving forward on American Gods." He did not address Whittle's comments directly.
Now that he's removed from the situation, Whittle says it's an incredible shame that his relationship with Rothenberg overshadowed his time on The 100. "For some reason there is a poison in there that just won't go away, unfortunately," he says, adding that the cast and crew are incredibly passionate about their work -- but that everything that happened with the show's creator soured things. "If they ever wanted me to do anything for that show, I would do it because I loved that character and I loved that show and those people, but I will never work for that person [Rothenberg] ever again."
Instead, the actor is taking lessons he learned from that experience to the set of American Gods, where he's found renewed satisfaction in playing Shadow and in the relationship he's forged with co-creators and executive producers Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. "I am now blessed with karma and a situation where that's never going to happen [again]," Whittle says, adding: "I don't think without the darkness you can really appreciate the light. I'm so grateful for the past and having that experience with a disgusting individual because now I'm so happy and I bounce on the way to work."
On the upcoming series, which premieres Sunday, April 30, Whittle finds himself surrounded not only by celebrated names in TV (Fuller is responsible for Pushing Daisies and Hannibal; Green produced Heroes and wrote the upcoming Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049) but an A-list ensemble of actors including McShane, Gillian Anderson, Kristin Chenoweth, Emily Browning, Orlando Jones, Crispin Glover and Pablo Schreiber.
"All of a sudden, it started to snowball," Whittle says of the show, which first came to his attention on social media when Starz put out a call to fans for suggestions (#CastingShadow) and they responded with the actor's name. Whittle was the first to get cast and was followed by McShane, an idol of his growing up, and then soon after, everyone else. "Every time they cast someone, it was a gift for me, personally."
Another gift is Shadow. Initially drawn to his strength, Whittle found himself having to work backward to create the character. "We knew where we wanted him to be," the actor says, but when audiences first meet Shadow, "he's a shell of man … but he goes on and moves forward." Having experienced loss in his own life, Whittle brought a real emotion to Shadow, as he mourns for the death of his wife (Browning) at the onset of the series. And there's no ignoring the similarities to Lincoln. Despite the very different settings and stories, both are strong yet stoic. Both are morally good people. And it's something that the actor sees in both characters.
"I often joke that Lincoln died and became an American god," Whittle says, perhaps in more ways than one.