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August 2009
Exclusive Interview with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Exclusive Interview with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
By Wilson Morales

August 4, 2009

From his days on HBO's Oz as criminal Simon Adebisi to his role on ABC's Lost as Mr. Eko, British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has played some memorable roles on the small screen. The London native and descendant of Nigerian parents is about to receive another fanbase from his next big screen role. He will be playing weapons expert Heavy Duty in the comic book adaptation of 'G.I Joe: The Rise of the Cobra.'

Directed by Stephen Sommers and co-starring Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Ray Park, Rachel Nichols, Said Taghmaoui, and Marlon Wayans, the film is a modern telling of the 'G.I. Joe vs. Cobra' storyline and its compelling characters that Hasbro created 25 years ago from the toy franchise and cartoon series.

In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Akinnuoye-Agbaje speaks about his character in the film as well, working with Sommers again, and his recent revelation that he may play the superhero Black Panther in a big screen film.

How did you get attached to the film?

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: I had worked with Stephen Sommers on 'The Mummy Returns' and he basically called me up, took me to dinner and said, 'How would you like to get fit and play this role?' He said the role was Heavy Duty in 'G.I Joe.' I just said, 'Is that a spin-off from 'G.I Jane?' I grew up in London and you didn't have much awareness of the cult phenomenon that it is. He had to clue me in and showed me some of the videos and comics and once I saw what the phenomenon was about, I was excited to be part of the film. I also had the opportunity to twist it, change it, and tweak it a little bit, and make him British because they were making an adaptation and making the group an international outfit. Having Heavy Duty speak with a British voice, which is my native tongue, it was a good fit. It was an honor and privilege to be here.

What was it from the comics and videos that got you to say yes to doing the film?

AAA: It was the cartoons. The story is similar to the cartoons I watched and also the action figures and stuff like that. Because I worked with Stephen previously, he had a vision of how he wanted this franchise to go and I really enjoyed my experience with him. He brings a childlike energy to the set. Although it's a rigorous hard shoot with these blockbusters, with him, you actually get to play and enjoy yourself. When he showed me the size of the gun that I would be working with, I said it was a done deal.

How did you prepare yourself physically for the role?

AAA: Again, I know Stephen's work orders and he's very strict about actors being physically fit, so we all signed up for this six week training course with this outfit called Epoch, who were also responsible for the look in '300.' We did two workouts a day, morning and evening, and fight training, and if we were good boys and girls, we got to play with the toys, which meant going off to the shooting range and firing off some shots. It was a lot of fun.

What was your experience like with the guns you worked with?

AAA: To be honest, it's a kid's dream. I was on a helicopter and I had it around my hip like a pistol. It fires 600 rounds a second. Once you press that trigger, the higher that you get, the adrenaline rush stays with you for another half hour afterwards. That was the highlight of my day. Just to gear up and go shoot with that. It took a good 20 minutes just to reload it. You had to get the shoot right the first time because of the time it took to get more ammo. I haven't played with guns in my career because I'm actually quite shy of them. I'm not that into it, but this is a character that demanded that. This is what his expertise is in, and so I immersed myself in it. Heavy Duty has this bracelet that is made from the shells of bullets and wears an earring that is a torpedo. I saw the envy of the actors' faces. They wished they were in my position.

How was working with the cast?

AAA: The training that we did go us to bond and get to know each other, and of course traveling from continent to continent was really cool. It was a lot of fun and a lot of jokes on set and off set and it's as you saw it. The energy that you see onscreen is what was createdon the set and it leaked on the film. Stephen likes to work with people that he likes because it's a hard job and five scenes shot simultaneously with eight or nine cameras can be daunting. The moment you sign on, it's a fast ride. It looks glamorous and fast paced, but for the actors, you have to be on the ball. Because of all the stunts and the explosions, you really have to be focuses because any slips up can be fatal. It was a blast to be with the cast.

Was it comfortable wearing the uniform?

AAA: The uniforms are good. They are sexy. If you are going to act in one of these films, this is how you want to do it. The production team went all out on not only on the gadgets, but the toys and the outfits. They just look fantastic; from the hair styles right down to the boots and watches and leather jackets. It's all sexy.

Are you signed on for a sequel?

AAA: Yes. We all signed on for a trilogy actually. Ultimately, that depends on you guys and how it does at the box office. I think you will love this, whether I'm in it or not. This is a dam good film.

From your work on HBO's Oz, ABC's Lost, and including this film, you've been part of some projects that has a lot of fan base, and most recently, there's been talk that you are lining up to play the superhero Black Panther on the big screen. Care to talk about that?

AAA: The characters I've created have been iconic from Adebisi from 'Oz,' and Mr. Eko from 'Lost' and I've always had a passion to play a superhero, and now it appears to becoming real. We're in talks with Marvel to playing one of my favorite superheroes, which is obviously Black Panther. There is truth to that, the fact that we are talking. It would be a boyhood dream to have that materialized. I was at Comic Con this year and the timing for such a character to come to life couldn't be more appropriate. I would love to be the one to wear the suit and go out and represent.

Is John Singleton still attached to direct the film?

AAA: I don't know at the moment. I don't believe so. All I know is that the rights have reverted back to Marvel and that it's now up for grabs and I'm doing the grabbing.

Most of the comic book films we've seen have thrown in something different than what was written in the comics. What would you like to see done with Black Panther if the same pattern takes place?

AAA: It dependson how the film is package with the director that comes onboard. For me, I would infuse it with the same intense reality. Yes, it's a comic, but to able to make him relatable by the ordinary man as well as make him superhuman, I'd like to convey an element of him that is real and raw; the same rawness that you saw in Adebisi, Mr. Eko or Majestic from 'Get Rich or Die Tryin'.' I can make this guy real. He's a panther, which is based upon an animal, a proud animal. I would bring some elements from my culture, which is Nigeria. I'm from an area which is known for its regality. In fact, my name, Adewale, means the crown has come home, the crown is here. Together, with that rawness, and the regality because he is an African prince, I would love to bring out the cultural elements of my background to it.

What else is on your plate?

AAA: I just finished a guest episode on TV's Monk recently. It was good to work with Tony Shalhoub, a really nice comedian. I think the episode airs the same day as the movie release. It may be an Adewale day. I'm still looking at projects. Nothing is confirmed as of yet, but it looks likely that something will be set in the next couple of weeks.

Why should anyone see 'G.I Joe?'

AAA: It's the end of the summer, and if you want to end out the summer with the biggest blast, we have the save the best for last. It you want to take one big, high octane joyride beforeyou get back to reality, go to school, or do whatever you need to do, this is it. Strap on your seatbelts and off you go.

G.I JOE: RISE OF THE COBRA opens on August 7, 2009



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