Probably best known as Mr. Eko from Lost, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is a British-Nigerian actor with decades of memorable work. None of that could have prepared him for the terror of The Thing.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje is meeting us at The Thing Zone at Universal Studios Park, and it is a fright to witness. After months making the horrifying The Thing and facing that black smoke monster on Lost -- toss in his impressive Hulk-like frame -- and it is easy to see that not much scares the man.
In The Thing, he plays a helicopter pilot charged with taking a team of scientists to the Arctic for what they’ve heard is the discovery of a lifetime. Only thing… what they find may completely destroy the human race. Akinnuoye-Agbaje takes Movie Fanatic inside the moment onscreen where all hell breaks loose. His character, Jameson, has the honor of discovering what they thought was dead frozen in ice, is very much alive.
Movie Fanatic: Was there a favorite scene from The Thing for you to shoot?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: I suppose it’s the scene where it breaks out [laughs]. That’s fun because it’s a good moment in the movie, the boo, and it’s all about me and The Thing. That was fun. And then also where we’re trying to kill The Thing when it turns into Eric’s face. But it was fun because all of the actors -- we don’t always work on the same days -- we were all in that scene and all hell’s breaking loose, people getting killed and stabbed, two faces are breaking out -- arms are coming off. So it was all happening and there were five cameras going on and then we’re all diving. That’s real acting and that’s what you get in it for.
Movie Fanatic: With a cast stuck in a concentrated area, did it feel like a stage play to shoot?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: It did. And Matthijs (van Heijningen Jr., director -- check out our exclusive interview with Matthijs) shot it almost like for reality. He didn’t want to stop, “Okay, now we’re going to do you over, you over.” He wanted real reactions from everyone so we had cameras coming from everywhere… So it was really nice shooting like that and it was just fun to be in a scene with all the actors and all the creatures -- blood spurting, people screaming, glass smashing. We’re doing a horror movie [laughs]!
Movie Fanatic: Were the producers fans of Lost? Did you have to audition?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: Yes, the producers were fans of my work from Lost and some of the other movies I’ve done and said, “Hey, we want to work with you and we see you as playing this role.” And that’s really how it went. I read it and I obviously knew the John Carpenter original. When they told me it was a prequel that’s when I got really interested as well. They told me it was a European director and they hadn’t actually cast big names. I thought that was interesting because then I knew that we were really making a movie. It was a lot of unknowns, so we were really going to create something new here. And the prequel gave us more license to put our own stamp on it. But you still had the shepherding of David Foster who was the original producer, so you knew that it would be guided in the right direction.
Movie Fanatic: What was it like working with co-star Joel Edgerton, last seen killing it in Warrior?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: It was fun. I’m British, Joel’s Australian, so there was immediate synergy there. It’s always interesting when you’re doing these movies and you’re supposed to be buddies. You’ve got to bond and save each other’s lives and you’ve known each other 20 years. I’ve never met the guy [laughs]! But it was really easy because he’s a very likable guy and we were living next door to each other. We hung out together. He’s a guy’s guy and I’m a guy’s guy. And that was like the characters, so I guess the producers figured, “Oh, these guys will get along,” and we did -- lots of jokes, lots of fun. We’ve got the same sort of process, very method. We stay in the pocket of the character and he’s an intense actor, like myself, and we just fit up with each other.
Movie Fanatic: You have an American accent in The Thing, so how did that work for you? Was it difficult?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: Well, ironically, there wasn’t an American in this movie, was there [laughs]? And the two that were playing American, one’s British-Nigerian and the other one’s Australian. So we had to stay in the pocket of those characters out of necessity. We didn’t come out. I think it gave us a certain amount of comfortability knowing that neither of us was American. We’re both in the same shoes. But it was fun. It’s not my first one. I’ve played quite a few roles like that. That was one of the reasons I chose the role as well. I’d done four movies that year and they were all different -- British in Killer Elite, just did one with Stallone -- Bullet to the Head -- where he’s like a real nasty guy. Here [in The Thing] is a guy who’s American and he’s affable. He’s very laid-back and an all-around nice guy which you don’t really see me play. So I thought, “Oh, this is a good side to play.”
Movie Fanatic: Yeah, we don’t get to see you be the nice guy too often…
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: [Laughs] I was itching to kick some butt but I thought, “No, no, no, you’re the nice guy here.” You have to pull it back. He’s a nice guy. He’s a loyal guy. The movie really touches on human nature -- that trust. You could be someone’s best buddy, but if you’re The Thing, everybody’s like, “Is it you? Is it you?” You see where your loyalties lie and this guy is really about loyalty because there’s a point in the movie you see where they turn back and go back to the base. He’s like, “Hey, let’s get out of here.” His friend, who he’s been in the Army with, decides he’s going back and then I fold. There could have been a fight but ultimately he’s going to go with his friend.
Movie Fanatic: Did you do any helicopter training or fight training?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: We did have a professional pilot there who showed us the knobs and switches to turn so we didn’t look like total jerks [laughs]. I suppose the fun part was the helicopter was on a strip so it went up and down. So we got to feel like, “Yeah! Look at this.” [Laughs] It was boys’ time.
Movie Fanatic: You didn’t start out wanting to be an actor and sort of got pulled into it. You have a law degree, right?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: Two actually.
Movie Fanatic: That’s a very good thing to have when you’re an actor.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: [Laughs] It’s a good thing to have in life, mate.
Movie Fanatic: How did you change your course?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: To be honest, I think my initial love and romance with Hollywood and films started earlier as a child. I used to be quite a mischievous child and as a form of punishment, my mother used to send me to sit with my grandmother, who was a real stern grandmother, old-school. And what she would do, she would watch all these black-and-white movies, and make me sit on the floor and watch them with her. Now, for a five or six-year-old child that was just painstaking. But by the time I was seven or eight, I knew every plot, every actor and every movie name and I could have quite intelligent discussions with my grandmother. I think that spawned it. But certainly when I got the first movie, Congo, I was on the set, and I remember it very clearly: I saw one actor and he had about five people around him. One was doing his makeup, one was doing his shirt, one was doing his hair, one gave him coffee and the other one was reading his lines. And I said, “I could do this.” [Laughs] Also, I thought, the sum total of my life, the law, the kind of hard upbringing that I’d had, the experiences, all added up to this profession. Because law is very analytical, you have to be very focused and you have to do that when you’re breaking into characters, and scripts. So it was a natural progression even unbeknownst to me.
Movie Fanatic: Would you like to do more in the horror, sci-fi genre as opposed to action movies?
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: I do like the sci-fi, mystical element of film. I think there is a definite mystical element in this. This is a creature from another realm and I love all of that. I’m a very spiritual person. It allows you to delve into characters and bring different texture. You certainly have more license to explore in those characters than you would in a straight action genre. I look forward to playing in more horror movies, that more mystical and sci-fi realm. I think that’s my home, my spiritual home.