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June 20th, 2018

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje Interview, The Thing

When a Norwegian research team in the remote Antarctica stumbles across a creature buried in the ice, they assume it’s an organism that died eons ago. But they’re in for a terrifying surprise when they perform a simple experiment that inadvertently frees the thing from its frozen prison. Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) must join forces with the expedition’s helicopter pilots, Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), to keep it from killing everyone and anything it encounters as the parasite suddenly mimics anything it touches, pitting human against human as it fights to survive and flourish.

MoviesOnline sat down with British-Nigerian actor and “Lost” favorite, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, at a roundtable interview in Los Angeles to talk about “The Thing” and what it was like to play a good guy for a change. He told us how much he enjoyed shooting the scene where they battle the two-headed alien monster that’s one of the scariest creatures in the movie and why he was disappointed his character didn’t get one of those super gruesome alien monster transformations. He also revealed the special relationship he shared at an early age with his Nigerian grandmother whose love of movies had a profound influence on his life and career.
Q: What was the most fun you had shooting the movie?
AA-A: I suppose it’s the scene where it breaks out. That’s fun because it’s a good moment in the movie. The boo and it’s all about me and The Thing so that was fun. Also, when we’re trying to kill The Thing and it turns into Eric’s face. That’s nasty. It was fun because all of the actors, we don’t always work on the same days, and we were all in that scene and all hell’s breaking loose. People getting killed and stabbed and two faces are breaking out and then arms are coming off and going under. So it was all happening and we were shooting all of that with about five cameras going on and then we’re diving under. That’s real acting. That’s what you get in it for.

Q: Did it feel like a stage there?

AA-A: It did, and Matthijs shot it almost like real for reality. He didn’t want to stop and go “Okay now, we’re going to do your over and your over.” He wanted the real reactions from everyone so we had cameras coming from everywhere. Sometimes you just didn’t know. You’d bang your head and realize oh, that’s a camera. Film my good side! It was really nice shooting like that and it was just fun to be in the scene with all the actors and all the creatures – blood spurting, people screaming, glass smashing. We’re doing a horror movie!

Q: Did you audition or did they just come to you and say “Look, we think this would be the perfect role for you”?

AA-A: That’s how it happened. The producers were fans of my work from “Lost,” “Oz” and some of the other movies I’ve done. They just said hey, we want to work with you and we see you playing this role. And that’s really how it went. I read it and I obviously knew the movie, the John Carpenter original. When they told me it was a prequel, that’s when I got really interested as well. And then, 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 a bit more license to put our own stamp on it. But you still had a shepherding because David Foster was the original producer so you knew that it would be guided in the right direction. It was a lot of ticks, man.

Q: Did you go back to the Howard Hawks movie too for inspiration?
AA-A: Oh no, that was a bit before my time. I just stuck with the 80s version. I mean, I did see it, but in doing the research, I just stuck with that because we were kicking off the story from there really.


Q: What was it like working with Joel Edgerton?

AA-A: It was fun, man. I mean, I’m British and Joel’s Australian so there was an immediate synergy there. It’s always interesting when you do these movies and you’re supposed to be buddies. You’ve got to bond and you save each other’s lives and you’ve known each other 20 years. I’ve never met the guy. But it was really easy because he’s just a very likeable guy and we were living next door to each other and we hung out together. He’s a guy’s guy and I’m a guy’s guy and those were 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, as I am myself, and we just fed off of each other. It was a lot of fun. He’s a good actor.

Q: When you say Method and you both have an American accent, do you stay in that character or do you go back to your normal accent between scenes?
AA-A: That’s funny! Well ironically I don’t think there was an American in this movie, was there? Mary’s a Canadian originally and the two playing Americans, one’s British-Nigerian and then the other one is Australian. We had to stay in the pocket of those characters out of necessity. So yeah, 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 situation. But it was fun. I mean, it’s not my first one. I’ve played quite a few roles like that and it was one of the reasons I chose the role as well because I’d done four movies that year and they were all different – British in “Killer Elite” and I just did one with Stallone, “Bullet to the Head,” where I was a real, real nasty guy. Here’s 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. I was itching to kick some butt but then I’d go no, no, you’re the nice guy here. You have to pull it back, you know. He’s just a nice guy, a loyal guy. I think that’s the element because the movie really touches on human nature, about trust. You can be somebody’s best buddy but if you’re The Thing, everybody’s like “Is it you? Is it you?” and you see where your loyalties lie. This guy is really about loyalty because there’s a point in the movie where you see they turn back and go back to the base and he’s like “Hey, let’s get out of here” and his friend who he’s been in the Army with decides he’s going back and then I fought with him. There could have been a fight up there and I’d say I’m not going back, but ultimately he’s going to go with his friend. Silly man.

Q: Speaking of Method acting, did you do any helicopter flight training?

AA-A: No. We did have a professional pilot there who showed us the knobs and switches to turn so we didn’t look like total jokes. I suppose the fun part is the helicopter was on a string so it went up and down so we got to feel like we were tough guys. It was boys’ time, you know. But we didn’t actually go anywhere, no.

Q: You didn’t start out wanting to be an actor. Don’t you have a law degree?
AA-A: Yeah, two actually.
Q: That’s actually a very good thing to have when you’re an actor.

AA-A: It’s a good thing to have in life.

Q: What was the moment you knew you wanted to be an actor? Was it the “Congo” role that made you decide that was what you wanted to do?

AA-A: 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. What she would do is 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 and 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,” and 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 make-up. Another one was doing his shirt. One was doing his hair. One gave him coffee and the other one was reading his lines. And that’s when I said I can do this. And also, I’d say the sum total of my life — the law and the hard upbringing 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 down characters and scripts, so it was a natural progression even unbeknownst to me. When I made the first movie, that was it. It made sense.

Q: Did your grandmother live long enough to see you turn into an actor?
AA-A: She did. Just as I started, she passed away. She was a huge fan and that was the only thing that changed her mien. She was very stern, but she used to cry when she watched these films. I was fascinated how that could change her into a human. And then, as soon as the film finished, she was right back to [being stern]. For an hour or an hour and a half, she would become this angelic child just crying in front of these movies and then she’d turn into a right bitch. It helped us bond though. We had a real relationship there.

Q: Is the puppetry on set a lot better because you can react to something?
AA-A: Oh yeah.
Q: What was the scariest creature that they made for the movie?

AA-A: The scariest by far is the two-headed one with Eric and they made that. That was the prosthetic creature automated. It crawls around, blood spurts out. It screamed. It was nasty. Honestly, and I’m a big guy and I’ve got thick skin, but that was just horrific. It was just nasty. I remember the day that we unveiled it and we used it, and to see it moving and contorting, it really informs the performance first of all. It’s better than seeing a green screen and standing. “Now an arm is falling off. Ahhh!” When the arm is coming off and the tentacles are moving and then the blood spurts out, you’re like “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I think that was one of the comments I had in the movie and I said “You’ve got to be kidding me!” and they kept it in because it’s real. I mean, an arm falls off, what would you do? If you bring in a guy and his arm falls off in your hand, I mean, a lot of times you’re speechless because of the increduality of the moment. You’re just like nah, this is not real! But it’s this arm and then it sticks on the guy’s face, that was probably one of the scariest moments, and we did that a few times and he was really screaming and then blood was spurting out. There was no shortage of blood on that set.

Q: Did you have any nightmares?
AA-A: Oh c’mon, guys!
Q: Were you disappointed you didn’t get one of those super gruesome alien monster transformations?
AA-A: Well yeah, of course. You want the three-headed Jameson, don’t you? You know you’re servicing the story at the end. I had a pistol. What can I say? I was the good guy. I was the nice guy. I was just glad I had three other movies that showed me being a bad guy. This is the nice guy role I played. But sure, you want that, don’t you? I shot it a few times. But I try to represent for my demographic. Take that! And take that! Oh God, I’m bad. Whatcha gonna do, man? I heard somewhere that there’s a meter for African Americans for how long they last in the movies. I think I’ve inched it forward a few scenes.

Q: There was a fake out but you weren’t going to go with the cliche.
AA-A: Well that’s just to tease you a little bit. I got you! It’s alive!

Q: How 80s was this movie?
AA-A: I do have to say they were very meticulous with the detail. The set directors are brilliant because we did shoot it in Spring so they recreated all the snow and everything. And just the designs, it was brilliant. It was really well done. The moment you step on the set, you felt you were in the 80s. So that was always good and they were playing really tacky 80s songs as well. It was cool. But I think it’s a good movie regardless of if I’ve got three heads. I think it’s smart and sometimes it’s hard as an actor because your ego wants a certain thing but you have to service a story, and when you see the whole story come together, I look back and say that’s a good movie. It’s a scary movie and it hits its mark so I’m proud of that. And, you know, I get my residuals so… Don’t quote that!

Q: There’s a portion of the movie where we don’t know what’s happened to you after the helicopter crash. Did you and Joel sit around and say “I think this is what happened! I think we did this and this is how we got back.”

AA-A: Actually I went to France. I had two weeks off. You see it’s quite a complicated little thing, because initially reading the script I thought oh God, is that how I died? But then, it’s an interesting element when you do come back because again you’re like well they’ve got to be aliens because number one they were on the helicopter with it and number two there’s no human that would be able to withstand that journey. To me, that was the interesting dynamic. Are they or aren’t they? We didn’t know which one. I’m like “It’s you! You’re definitely an alien.” I looked a bit like an alien though when I got back in that snow. You see me and I was all white. I’m quite the heathen.
Q: You said they were playing cheesy 80s music. Which songs were the cheesiest?
AA-A: They were playing some Norwegian stuff, man. It wasn’t healthy. They were really getting off on some Norwegian do your thing kind of thing. Alright, cool. But it was great. There’s a great scene in the movie when we’re all in that camp and they’re really getting down to it which apparently was a big hit in Norway. So they were recreating it.
Q: Did you pick up any of the language considering you already speak about seven languages?
AA-A: No, I didn’t. Norwegian still eludes me. That one is quite complicated because of all the tones. No, I think I had my hands full. I was just staying in the American accent. I didn’t need to bring a Norwegian-American into it. No, I didn’t pick up any unfortunately. Maybe next time.
Q: What was your process to develop your American accent?

AA-A: I normally do this. I play the trumpet. You get a certain baritone with the trumpet. It gets you deeper. And I wanted to give them a Southern, little bit generic accent. Whenever I play the trumpet, it allows me to naturally flow into that. I don’t know what it is. It’s that musician, old school kind of American. That’s pretty much what I did. I just was very keen not to make it too specific.

Q: Did you bring your trumpet with you on set?

AA-A: Yup. I take the trumpet everywhere. But it really helps me with American accents. It gives me a very organic baritone that lends to an American accent when I finish playing it. You play it in your trailer because sometimes you are sitting around for a while. That was pretty much it. There was a little nervousness about oh it’s the 80s, but then I thought to myself actually I was around in the 80s. See what I mean? I was in the 80s. What was I doing? I remember when we were creating the character “What did you used to do in the 80s?” “Hold on, I used to wear these and I would never wear those.” It was quite easy because I grew up in the 80s as well.
Q: You’ve done a lot of the action stuff, would you like to do more in this genre? Does the sci fi thing appeal to you?

AA-A: I do like the sci fi mystical element of film. I think there is a definite mystical element in this. I mean, this is a creature from another realm and I love all of that. I’m a very spiritual person and I think it allows you to delve into characters and bring different texture. You certainly have more license to explore in those characters than you would a straight genre action. You’re not going all off on tangents in that but it’s permitted. That’s why shows like “Lost” and all of that resonate because I think a lot of people, there’s a lot of unanswered questions out there that some of us don’t even like to entertain. But to delve into those unknowns, I think that’s what is intriguing. I think that’s why we go to movies to get that little rush. So definitely I look forward to playing horrors, but more in that mystical sci-fi realm. I like that. I think that’s my spiritual home.

“The Thing” opens in theaters on October 14th.


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