Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje Talks Killer Elite
An Interview with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
By Wilson Morales
September 20, 2011
Though many of his films of late involves of a lot of action, including his latest, ‘Killer Elite,’ some may find it intriguing that Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s character isn’t really in the thick of the scenes, but still plays an important part of the story.
“Killer Elite,” which is based on a true story, races across the globe from Australia to Paris, London and the Middle East in the action-packed account of an ex-special ops agent (Jason Statham), who is lured out of retirement to rescue his mentor (Robert De Niro). To make the rescue, he must complete a near-impossible mission of killing three tough-as-nails assassins with a cunning leader (Clive Owen).
For Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who’s best known for his roles as Mr. Eko on ‘Lost,’ Simon Adebisi on the HBO series ‘Oz,’ Nykwana Wombosi in ‘The Bourne Identity,’ and Heavy Duty in ‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,‘ the opportunity to show more acting than action was more appealing to be in the film as well as working with some well talent individuals.
In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Akinnuoye-Agbaje talks about his role in the film and working the actors, not returning to the G.I Joe sequel, and his latest projects, including ‘The Thing‘ remake and working with Sylvester Stallone in another film.
In a film that stars Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, and Clive Owen, how did you become to be part of the group?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: First of all, the company of names you mentioned is one of them. Starting with Mr. De Niro, and Jason, who I admire a lot because we’re from the same background; and Clive, whose I also admire and wanted to be in scenes with. So, that was a huge part. The other thing was the character was an interesting deviation from what I normally play. I’m normally associated with playing the heavy and here was a character who’s very the string puller from behind the scenes and he’s running these guys for political and financial gains.
Yes, it’s a rarity that in this heavy testosterone film, you’re not involved in so much of the action.
AAA: Yes, I’ve had a few comments about that and it would have been nice but ultimately I felt that this guy I play is extremely smart and playing everybody else against each other. If anything he’s running the whole schematic club. He’s playing politicians against mercenaries, mercenaries against mercenaries, and then he’s getting paid out of it. To me, textually, he’s a very interesting character. He has no loyalty to anything other than his wallet. He would trade anybody for anything for a buck. That’s all that matters for him. It’s a money business. It’s also a role you don’t often see a black guy playing. While the action is going on around him, he’s the one setting up the moves. You really don’t know if he’s on Danny’s (played by Statham) side or not.
How was working with Jason?
AAA: Jason’s great. It was my first time working with him and his intensity and professionalism with regard to the action scenes is phenomenal. He performs at the highest level. He sets the bar for the scene and you come in, do the work, and I loved it.
How was working and learning from De Niro?
AAA: Doing a scene with Mr. De Niro was another treat to this project. For the final scene, we shot quite a bit of it, and what is edited is less than what we did. The scene was bigger and it also included Jason at one point. It was great to work with De Niro because he has a different technique to working. You come into this film with all your guns blazing and sit firmly in the pocket of your character and hope you can go toe to toe with this legend. When you work with him, you see first hand why and how he got to be this iconic person and you raise your own game.
This is the second film that you and Clive have been since ‘The Bourne Identity.’ Did you catch up on old times?
AAA: Last week, I was in London where it was just the two of us at a screening of the movie for the first time. That was the first time I actually got to meet him, when we were watching the film. We both expressed that it was nice to meet each other after being in two movies together and never working with each other. He’s a very cool guy and I like his work and his performance. It’s just good company to be in.
You’ve got a slew of projects coming up, including your next film “The Thing.” What’s it feel like to create something that people feel like they already know?
AAA: This isn’t the first time I’ve done that. There was “G.I. Joe,” where there were definitely audience expectations. It’s kind of exciting dealing with a cult following. “The Thing” is definitely a prequel, and it has a more, clear license to expand the concept. It’s always good to be part of an American cult classic; it’s just a lot of fun. I was just happy to be part of it. To be honest, I’m not really a huge fan of the horror genre, but what struck me about why I like this film and John Carpenter’s original is that it’s not really a straight horror; it’s more of a horror-thriller, the intelligent man’s horror film. You sort of had to figure out who was who, “Is it him? Is it him?” The suspense element was really dramatic, and we actually shot it like a drama. The horror element was shot in the last three-weeks of the movie. It was a lot of fun.
What’s your role in the movie?
AAA: I play the character Derek Jameson, who’s a co-pilot with Carter, played by Joel Edgerton. They are basically ex-Vietnam vets who set up a ferrying operation in the Antarctic to certain bases. This group of archaeologists, we ferry them and it’s just one of those jobs. He’s an American guy who’s a bit of the soul of the film. He’s got a sense of humor, a very loyal guy. It’s just him and his buddy doing their thing. They came out of the army and didn’t fit into normal society, so they set up shop on the perimeters and do their thing. They’ve gone through battle and seen a lot, so they have to do something off the cuff.
Were you asked to come back to “G.I. Joe 2″ or did they just decide to go with entirely different characters?
AAA: To be quite honest with you, I had other movies going before they got it into production. Whether I was asked or not I couldn’t even do it, I was shooting two other movies. I was kind of looking forward to doing the movie I was shooting; I didn’t want to be tied up doing something I’d done already. I was quite happy to be shooting with Stallone. It’s a more interesting character for me to play, more challenging. Plus, I had a lot of fun working with Stephen Sommers on the last “G.I. Joe,” I had a good ride on that and I wanted to just move forward. I really didn’t get into it. It worked out the way it did because I had a scheduling and they changed the whole set up of it as well. Ironically we were both shooting in New Orleans at the same time, when I was shooting “Bullet to the Head” with Stallone. Heavy Duty was a bit of fun, but I didn’t want to get tied up in one franchise because there are a couple other superhero comic books I want to get into. It worked out quite nice that it was a one-shot.
Stallone’s movie is another high-action film. What’s your role in that movie?
AAA: In “Bullet to the Head” I play the main villain, something away from what you may have seen me do before. He’s the guy running the show. Walter Hill, who’s a legendary director, spent a lot of time looking for a different take, very inspired by older movies. We made this guy a cripple, he’s this guy who came from Africa and moved to America and he’s very, very intelligent and pulling off all these big scams involving property in New Orleans; similar to “Killer Elite,” in which he has this army of people doing all his dirty work. He’s one of these untouchables, and one of the people at the top who they can’t reach. There’s a double cross and they go after the people that did it, and eventually leads to me. I’m in the traditional showdown at the end between the baddie and the goodie. There are a lot of really juicy characters in it. Christian Slater‘s in it, who I had a lot of fun working with. Jason Mamoa, all these guys are in it and working for me. As the title suggests, you know what to expect from that.
At the end of the day, do you have an appreciation for the action genre?
AAA: Yeah, I think it’s mutual I think the action genre has a great appreciation of my work too. I obviously get a lot of work in that genre because I’m a physical guy. It works. What’s interesting is in these action movies I’m playing actual characters, not one-note good or bad guys. I’m still getting to actually act in these movies, which is really a delight. To be able to perform on such a big stage and still be able to act is a treat. There’s another film I did called “Best Laid Plans” which I’m particularly proud of. That and Sylvester Stallone’s movie have been the most challenging, particularly “Plans” where I play a 37-year-old man with a 7-year-old mentality. For me it shows the type of actor I’d like to be. There’s a lot of depth to this character, he tugs at your heartstrings, and you go places you normally wouldn’t want to go. Very tortured guy, but very lucky. It’s a very beautiful story with Stephen Graham who’s a fantastic British actor on “Boardwalk Empire.” That’s why I’m never perturbed about not being in action. When you look at all the movies each of them show different elements. When you look at me in “Strike Back,” a new Cinemax show, that’s all delicious, glorious action in there. I’m killing, shooting, raping, and chopping ears. Then you see this very complex, sensual, loving character in “Best Laid Plans” it just demonstrates the range of the artist I want to be known as.