America was missing out on Ricky Whittle for years! Known to Brits for his soap hunk role as Hollyoaks‘ Calvin and now spreading his charm to America, the actor/model debuted to USA female fans on the VH1 show Single Ladies. This year, he appeared in the Sundance festival’s Austenland, co-written and directed by Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jerusha Hess and produced by Twilight‘s Stephanie Meyer.
Please describe your role in Austenland and the experience of filming with superb actors like Keri Russell and Jennifer Coolidge! This is so exciting for America, first with “Single Ladies” and now the film, to finally get to see what they’ve been missing out on while you were solely working in the UK.
Ha, ha…yeah it has been a strange experience going from being a known working actor for several years in the UK to completely starting again in American. But the journey so far has been a great one. To book a feature film so soon after moving from the UK is a great achievement; for it to be selected for Sundance Film Festival is another; and for it to make the waves it has and be bought up almost instantly in a bidding war is fantastic! I really feel blessed to have been a part of it and look forward to its release this summer. I play ‘Captain George East,’ an employee of Jane Seymour’s character and ‘Madame of Austenland,’ hired to romance the women of the resort. A vain, wannabe actor and Casanova, he flits to and from the various women in the film. He sees them as prey and very much enjoys his role of captain returning from the seas of the Caribbean as he tries to work his way into the women’s hearts. This was my first dip into comedy and wow talk about being thrown in at the deep end. To work with firstly our hilarious actors, director Jerusha Hess was an honor. She would say you know the script and story now go and play. Now to say that to the comedic mind of Jennifer Coolidge is crazy as she took the script and knocked it out of the park. She is magnificent in this and I learnt so much watching her work. I keep saying it was my finest performance working opposite her to try and not laugh at her deliveries and improv. As for Keri, she was a delight…a real leading lady with time for everyone. In a set where chaos and comedy ran riot she was able to create a character with charm, growth and innocence…a beautiful woman inside and out.
The film centers around a woman’s obsession with the Darcy character from “Pride and Prejudice.” Have you, in a more sane way, ever been obsessed with a fictional character? What about film or TV – what inspires you to the brink of (positive) obsession?
Ha, ha, ha…heck yeah! Pamela Anderson on “Baywatch,” every boys dream! The amount of slow motion running day dreams I’d have at school about that woman. Nothing sane about it, I was obsessed…ha! And don’t get it wrong, “Austenland” may seem far- fetched as a resort destination; I would have saved all my pennies to book myself into a “Baywatch” themed resort…good times!! I thought I would have grown out of it, but met her when we were guests on a TV show and I felt like I was in “Wayne’s World.” She walked in slow-motion, I could hear music, her hair blew in an imaginary wind (we were inside a studio)…I instantly resorted back to a love struck teen. It’s those iconic once in a life time roles that inspire me. To create a character that is so well known and loved for whatever reason be it, Pamela in a bathing suit, a villain we all love to hate, half of a couple we all scream at the TV to just kiss and get married but never do…those roles that reach people. Those are the roles I like to watch and to play…ones that create discussion the next day at work with friends. As an actor you don’t want to be known as that character your whole career. You usually aim for diversity, but to go your whole career knowing you really reached people with a role, that’s the aim.
How is working in America different than back home? And…have you found out yet how both men and women love UK accents? It’s so funny to see how people turn around in California with mouths open once they hear it!
Ha, ha! It’s hilarious and I find myself speaking louder and even more English if possible…haha. It works both ways. You guys love our accents but at the same time I love the American accent. Wow, especially those Southern accents. I hear that and I’m done! I can’t go to Texas for fear of marrying a cowgirl within the week! I could listen to you guys all day. I guess that’s why I’m constantly chatting to people, that mutual love. It’s the same on set. The sets here are so warm and friendly; a real family atmosphere yet very professional and efficient. I’d say the UK sets have more banter with each other or maybe that’s just because I’d been there longer. I’m a prankster, so would often setup other cast members and have a lot of fun. Here I’d say I’m more focused though. Don’t get it wrong…I’m always having fun. The pranks will come, Muwhahahaha!!
Realizing many Brits love our American soaps, it’s vice versa for lots of us here! We love any opportunity to catch UK soaps and dramas, and OK, some things we probably shouldn’t watch like “The Only Way Is Essex.” *blushing with great shame how I admitted that…* How has having a soap acting background prepared you for other genres of work, such as film?
I’m shocked you even know what that terrible show is. I’m embarrassed for you, haha! Soap in the UK anyway… I wouldn’t know about here as I’ve not experienced, it is very quick. You have so many pages and scenes to shoot in a day that you have to be on it. You have to prepare as you will rock back-and-forth in the script and rarely shoot chronologically, so you need to know where your characters head is at and where you’ve come from. You have to earn dramatic pauses and thought processes. It needs to be snappy as they only have 25-minutes to tell various stories and you can’t dwell on dialogue, so when I came to film, it gave me so much freedom to truly express my dialogue. It allows you to relax in film. Sometime you feel you rush in TV. Films though still having to flow, can make more of the dialogue…it also prepped me for script changes and be ready for anything a script writer or producer can throw at me. A soap I was in, my character had been through every emotion going, so if a producer was to say to me now, “Okay, your character is to be shot after impregnating your wife’s cousin at your second wedding to your ex-wife whilst having an affair with your new wife’s sister hiding the fact that you killed someone who didn’t actually die.” I could say, “Done it.” I feel comfortable with any scenario a role demands.
When you were a little kid, what was it like living in different parts of the world as your father moved around with the Royal Air Force? What about those experiences has shaped you as an adult and as a performer?
It was all I knew. I have friends who grew up in the same town or city their whole lives with the same friends they went to kindergarten with who feel sorry for me as I had to say bye to my friends every 3 years and move to different Air Force bases and schools across the world. And sometimes yeah, I think, “what would my life be like if I stayed in one place.” Sometimes I get jealous of the bonds and history people have, but at the same time I’ve travelled the world. A lot of my friends back home in the UK haven’t. They don’t know what’s out there. I was blessed as a child to experience so many different cultures and learnt so much from the various people I met throughout my life in different countries. I feel it made me very outgoing and grateful for who I am, what I have and have achieved. It made me a strong person who isn’t afraid to just start again in America; to leave everything and everyone he knows behind to chase his dreams. It gave me the hunger to want a better life. I’m grateful for everything I have and achieved, but satisfaction is the death of desire and I will always strive to better myself and situation.
You were forced to quit football, or as we call it here, soccer, when you were injured. Fortunately, this didn’t hurt you much when you earned a Reebok modeling campaign…and today, you seem to be doing really well in the end. What can you tell people about struggles and how you must always think positively?
I don’t want to sound like a fortune-cookie, but positivity breeds positivity and what’s meant to be will be. We can’t control all aspects of our lives, but happiness is a choice. I choose to be happy and feel that because I make this positive decision regarding my life…both personal and professional…it attracts positive things. The mind is an incredible tool and it was my belief despite doctors saying I wouldn’t play sport again or walk straight that helped me make a full recovery. I was strong in mind and refused to allow someone to tell me how I was going to live the rest of my life. I made a choice; I wanted to play sports again. To do that I had to get up, stop feeling sorry for myself and work at it. Some people dream about doing it, others talk about doing it, just get up and do it…make it happen.
I really admire your fitness. Do you still do any old football workouts? Is there anything you can share with us? What about something women can benefit from too? What about anything you learned from “Strictly Come Dancing?”
I still play soccer here in LA and when toning for filming I merely up my cardio and lower my carbohydrate intake while eating protein every two hours. It speeds up my metabolism and when you have less to no carbs to burn, your body goes after the fat cells. During “Strictly” I learnt how important diet is and the energy different foods can give us. I also learnt that exercise can be fun. When competing in “Strictly Come Dancing” I became so fit and burnt so much fat that I told people to forget their diets and hours staring at the gym wall…eat what you want and just dance every week. I was always so into getting the routine right that I didn’t notice I’d been dancing and burning calories for two hours or more. When on a treadmill, you constantly look at your time left etc. When dancing, you’re having fun, it’s social, you’re learning a new skill and the final bonus your burning fat.
The photo shoots really showcase this aspect of you, but what stood out to me was how great you did looking carefree yet sexy and smart in a business suit. Do you intend to do any more modeling? What is your intention, apart from acting, as well as your master plan to take over America and be at once, in the pages of Vogue and on our movie screens…
I do shoots here and there still for various publications. It’s also a great thing to show the grandkids when I’m older. I can say to them, “hey check out grandpa when I was your age,” giving them a knowing wink…haha. I shoot a calendar every year that goes on sale across Europe and online. People used to ask why not release one, so I thought why not and I’m on my third year in a row. I still find it strangely surreal that people have my pictures on their walls, but very flattered. First teenagers walls…then hopefully tomorrow the front cover of Vogue..haha. Maybe when my first feature comes out this summer! I was very blessed to be a part of the romantic comedy, “Austenland” produced by Stephenie Meyer (Twilight creator) and Jerusha & Jared Hess (Napoleon dynamite producers) which was described recently as the breakout hit of Sundance Film Festival. It stars Oscar winner Bret Mckenzie, Keri russel, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, James Callis, Georgia King and Jane Seymour. Lots of romantic fun, laughs and craziness, so watch out for that this summer in movie theaters across the country!