Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known to many fans as Mr. Eko from J.J. Abrams's Lost, is a really bad guy.
Actually, he isn't, but the soft-spoken, easy-to-laugh actor doesn't want anyone to know that in 2013, as he takes on a trio of mustache-twirling villains in the comic book adaptations Bullet to the Head (out next week) and Thor: the Dark World, plus The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, a smaller, character-driven drama in which he stars with Captain America: The Winter Soldier's Anthony Mackie.
The actor, who plays Morel in Walter Hill's Sylvester Stallone comic book film Bullet to the Head, joined ComicBook.com to discuss his role in not only that film, but the others as well...and about the surreality of going from fighting gods in Iceland to chasing truants in Brooklyn.
ComicBook.com: With Bullet to the Head, was it something that you pursued, or did the filmmakers bring it to you?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: It's the normal process; there's interest and you go in and then you read for the part. I did the usual--I went in, I read and the producers and director responded to it immediately and I got the role.
ComicBook.com: Were you familiar with the graphic novel before you went in to read?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: No, I wasn't.
ComicBook.com: I would think Bullet to the Head is a perfect storm--you get to play with a great cast and a lot of promise but it's not a $200 million movie where you're under the constant microscope. Is it nice to work on these mid-budget projects where you're not spending every waking moment being molested by the press?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: Well, you know, a bit of press molestation is always a bit useful, but the truth is, yeah. It's a smaller film and I was definitely intrigued by working with both Stallone and Walter Hill--both of whom are legendary. Walter's vision and take on a modern throwback action-packed movie was something that really intrigued me. These guys are old school but they deliver in a contemporary way and it's very no-nonsense.
It was a really enjoyable process to work alongside Walter Hill and Stallone because they were very keen to develop a multi-layered and textured character. Certainly with Morel, they were not interested in a stereotype which is why I think they cast me. We made the character originally African who moved to America--and we made him a cripple, which automatically gives him multi-layered dimensions. I think that's what they were looking for in a high-impact action film.
When you watch the movie, you'll see even though there's a lot going on with action and shooting, each character has his own true arc. You get to feel them within that ninety minutes, which I think is a real accomplishment for that genre.
ComicBook.com: Stallone, obviously, has been doing a lot of this type of movie. Was it nice to work with someone who's so already in his wheel house?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: As an actor, you just assume the character, really. That's your job--you get in there and you play the character so be it within whatever genre, that's your job, to get in and play that character.
Yeah, it helps that somebody is very experienced within that genre but it is another day in the office for an actor--and a good day in the office, I will say that.
ComicBook.com: What's your day in the office like with The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: Basically, the story is very different from the movies that you're about to see come out this year, from Thor 2, from Bullet to the Head. They're the biggest tentpole movie you can have and the high-impact action and this is a really sweet, endearing story of survival and friendship within Brooklyn.
It follows two kids who are basically homeless and how they survive in the hot Brooklyn summer. I play an enforcement officer who is bent upon taking stray kids off the street for their own good and putting them in homes. He's ruthless about that, but his means are justified by his very well-intended ends.
It's a beautiful, redeeming story because you see with these two kids, the characters they meet in their journey of survival. It's one of those stories that I think is going to tug on the heartstrings.
ComicBook.com: Is it a nice palette-cleanse in between all the explosions and mayhem to do a quiet, thoughtful drama where you don't have to spend hours in makeup getting to be a Dark Elf?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: [Laughs] Well, we love all of them but I think balance is crucial in your career, and as an actor who enjoys acting--I mean, you act in all of them but definitely the simpler stories and the heart to heart relationships with characters is always gratifying. Also, I always love to shoot in New York so if I get an opportunity to shoot in New York in the summer, I'll always take it.
ComicBook.com: I always have a hard time wrapping my head around going from Thor, where everybody’s wearing something that takes an hour and a half to put on, versus something like The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, where you can basically wear your street clothes in. Is there an adjustment to your mentality, when you’re acting for a full day as opposed to all the prep time when you’re working on something like Thor?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: [Laughs] Yeah, there is a difference. Really, I play two characters, sometimes in the same day, so it wouldn’t just be an hour and a half; sometimes it was four or five hours in makeup. But that’s all part of the process and I think that process informs the performance.
Ultimately, when you get in front of the camera, it comes down to the same thing. I mean, yes you will have spectacular outfits on, and maybe ingenious prosthetics but when you do look into the eyes of the other characters, be they aliens or superheroes, you are going to be relating to them as an actor. So the job is the same, the process may be different, and it is a bit surreal.
You know, we were out in Iceland on these black volcanic mountains, and it’s spectacular, and then you’re in Brooklyn, in the ghetto, and those are distinctly different. And you enjoy both of them–I enjoy both of them–but yeah, there is an adjustment. The thing about doing a Mister and Pete, or even a Bullet to the Head is it’s grounding.
It’s very grounding and it reminds you of why you do your craft–as well as Thor, to be honest, because I don’t know an actor who wouldn’t say they would enjoy doing a Marvel movie. It’s the height of the experience of performing, really. As a boy, as a man, you always dream about superheroes, action heroes, supervillains. To get to be able to perform them, or even two of them is great.
Yes, you’re right–it’s extremely different and sometimes surreal being in the mountains of Iceland and then in the ghettos of Brooklyn…but I think that balance adds for not only a healthy lifestyle but career, and it’s grounding.
ComicBook.com: Did you have any words for your co-star, Anthony Mackie, on that? You were already dealing with Marvel when you were shooting, but obviously he still hasn’t started shooting Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: It’s funny–when we were working on Mister and Pete, I was already prepping for Thor so I hadn’t known about Anthony’s involvement at that time but all I can say is, he’s in very good hands and he’s an extremely accomplished actor. They certainly wouldn’t have chosen him if he didn’t know how to do the job so I think they’re both in good hands and I would just say enjoy the process; it’s just great fun.
ComicBook.com: With Bullet to the Head, you have a comic that's a lot less recognizable here in the States than is something like Thor--so do you think that helps in the adaptation process, in terms of cutting the likelihood of getting one of those 1,500-word screeds from fans who don't like a costume design or something?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: That's a good question. I think that with all adaptations there's a certain amount of creative license that the creators have.
Certainly that it is perhaps not as fully well-known in the States gives you more license, but I think really this is a Stallone movie that pays homage to the book and I think both fans should be happy with it. Walter Hill brings that nostalgic, throwback feel that the book has and Stallone is bringing not only the throwback but the contemporary, hit-'em-hard action and I think the combo will make both fans happy.
ComicBook.com: Now, for we comic book fans still somewhat scarred by Judge Dredd, this is the first comic book movie Sly has done since. Now, I'm wearing a Rocky sweatshirt as I say this, so it's meant with all possible due respect, but...can we exhale?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: I think he's at his peak, to be honest. he's coming off the success of The Expendables. He's never been stronger, he looks absolutely phenomenal and he's just on his game, man. I think you're going to be happy. I don't think you need to worry; he will deliver Stallone as he always does.
ComicBook.com: I was hoping you could clarify something for me; when I talked to Tom Hiddleston, he told me that he’s signed for like five movies or something; is that something normal that you all have to do as the price of admission into the Marvel Universe?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: I think it all depends on the character. You never know what will become of what character–nobody ever really dies. I think that’s all I can really say; it depends on the character you’re playing.
ComicBook.com: We were just hoping to see whether you thought Kurse might come back or whether Black Panther is still in your future.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: I think my answer to that is that I’m just happy to be in business with Marvel and looking forward to continuing the relationship.
ComicBook.com: And is it a really interesting working environment? I mean, you can find yourself just surrounded in the Marvel Universe now with Academy Award-caliber actors, with actors who are the top-grossing actors of the last decade.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: Yeah, I mean look: I can recall the scene. I’m in the scene and Renee Russo is in my arms or beside me and I’m facing Anthony Hopkins and Chris Hemsworth and Chris Eccleston–and just about every great actor within that genre is in the room and you just realize it’s a great privilege and honor. To be opposite Anthony Hopkins and to watch him work is just…amazing.
And you’re right–Marvel has really pushed the bar with regard to tentpole movies and the caliber of actors that they put inside of them. I think that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of these movies. From Iron Man, what Robert Downey was able to do with the Iron Man character and particularly Thor, which is more thespian-oriented, right from the onset of Kenneth Branagh directing it. You’ll find that even more so–you know, Tom Hiddleston did an amazing job with Loki. These are stand-out performances and classic, classy actors.
So the genre is what it is–you’re acting with some of the best actors in the game at the moment and that’s always a great thing. The fact that you’re among them says a lot for your own career, so I’m absolutely privileged and honored to be a part of that, and working opposite Mr. Hopkins, I’m really enjoying that.
ComicBook.com: And Alan Taylor’s approach is more the Christopher Nolan thing of a lot of practical photography–so when you sign on for this movie, you know you’re going to be talking to people instead of inserted via green screen ten months later.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: I think that’s the most exciting part about it–the fact that you’re going to be rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty. As an actor, that’s what turns you on. That’s what we did, is put on those costumes and we went for it, toe to toe, pound for pound, including those choreographed fights. It wasn’t blue or green screen–they obviously need a certain amount of that but there was a lot of stuff that we–that I certainly did. I pretty much did everything myself. Obviously the dangerous stunts were done by stuntmen but I enjoyed the process of choreographing the fights; that was fun.
ComicBook.com: But you didn't get to do that with Morel, right? I mean, from what I understand you're not going toe-to-toe with Stallone...!
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: Well, no. He's more of the brains. That's why it was really interesting to play this type of character because he gets down, makes all the decisions. he's the plotter, the manipulator, the master of ceremony, really; he really does orchestrate the criminal activity and it all leads to him. So he's really the brains to this operation.
Talking of physical activity, we had him impaired with a disability, but his character is so formidable that he does not let that in any way, shape or form disable him. In fact, it pushes him harder to be more of a normal guy. It's very, very different from the Thor characters and the Mister and Pete characters--he's the brains, not a brawn.
Photo at top courtesy of Dave Wise Photography