Q&A: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Q&A: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

The English actor talks Hollywood and his latest film The Thing.

Published October 12, 2011

Ever since Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's electric performance as Simon Adebsi on the HBO series Oz, the English actor has been a mainstay in television and film.  The London native who was born to Nigerian parents shocked audiences as Mr. Eko in Lost, had Matt Damon on the run in Bourne Identity and is playing opposite Robert De Niro in this year's The Killer Elite.  Not too bad for the charismatic actor who had no formal training and is a lawyer turned model turned thespian. 


On Friday,The Thing opens in theaters, which includes Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Derek Jameson, an American helicopter co-pilot caught up in the horror of a killer alien.  In his first interview with BET.com, he sounded off on working with a young Mary J. Blige, his unforgettable character in Oz, being Black and English in Hollywood, and more.


There is a stigma to all of these horror remakes in the past few years.  What was your reaction to The Thing going the route of a prequel?
I thought it was smart.  There's always some trepidation about doing a remake, especially one that is so loved by fans.  The thing that alleviated my anxiety was that it was a prequel.  That gives us creative license to put our own stamp on it.  And, the way they were going with it -- it's a European first-time director, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.  They didn’t cast humongous Hollywood names so you knew that it was going to be a different angle and that they were going to pay attention to the story.

You are the only Black actor in the cast.  Is that a good or a bad thing to be the only Black actor on set?

It's a good thing in one sense because it's just me. [Laughs]  That means you are representing that demographic.  You get a certain amount of play in the movie.  Obviously, the downside, you would like to see a more diverse cast.  You'd like to see more Black characters in a movie.  For me, stepping onto the movie, it's work as usual but it is always a little bit strange being the only one.  It's always nice to see your own people around and makes it you feel comfortable.  But, ultimately, when I go into a movie I go in as a character and that's who I am for the moment I'm on it until the moment I leave.  A lot of times I don't have time to think about it, but when I step back and think -- it's a good thing, I'm glad I am that only guy in it!

We're glad you were in it!
Yeah! [Laughs]

Is there any camaraderie from Black actors across the pond -- Idris Elba, Thandie Newton, you?

Definitely!  For me, my career started quite different from the actors you mentioned.  I was a lawyer who did some modeling and then got into acting through that.  My training, I'd like to call it the rough and dirty route, it was more learning on my feet.  I didn't know a lot of actors.  My career started in the States.  However, I've worked with a lot -- it's a community and it's a very small one.  It's smaller for Black guys and it's smaller for Black English guys.  I wouldn't say we hang out and drink beers, but we definitely know each other.

Simon Adebsi from Oz is such an iconic character and the fan base of that show crosses many groups.  What has been your strangest interaction with an Oz fan?

[Laughs] Standing in the DMV and somebody coming up to me with a very deep voice saying, "That was real."  I looked around and There was this dude, about 6'5" and he said, "Yeah that happened to me."  He told me one of the scenes were the guy got raped that it happens all the time.  He said that happened to him -- that was very eerie. 

Was the Adebsi hat your choice?
Yes! [Laughs] That's how I grew up, wearing my hat.  The idea was the further the tilt, the badder you are.  If you could hang the tilt on the back of your head, right on the corner and you could still roll -- you were the baddest cat. 

What's in your iPod?

It's very eclectic.  You can catch me listening to everything from hip-hop, reggae, afro-beat -- Fela Kuti.  That's what I grew up on.  I play a little bit of music myself.  In fact, music is my first passion.  That's what I thought would really take me to where I am now.

Do you have any reflections on working with Mary J. Blige on the "Love No Limit" video?
She was very down to earth.  We were both young -- I think Puffy was directing the video.  It was an exciting time and that was the famous What's the 411? album. It was really the beginning of the fusion of R&B and hip-hop.  That was the diamond album that really cornered it.  It was more like work as usual, playing the leading man.  I remember she was a little nervous, but when we got into we had fun.  We didn't want to leave the set.

Are you in a relationship or just focused on your career?

I'm single.  I'm focused on my career, but I could always focus on other things too! [Laughs] If it's the right thing, believe me, my focus could be expanded.  But right now I'm very single. 

Why should the BET.com audience go see The Thing on Friday?

It's an event movie.  It's a Halloween movie.  If you want to get your spook on, there is no better way to do it.  Also, the mind game -- the thing assumes the human body to exist so you don't know who it's in.  If you want that scare factor this is it. 


(Photo:  Universal Pictures)

Written by Clay Cane


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