Saturday, September 24, 2011

Interview with British Nigerian Hollywood actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje may just be the most badass actor in Hollywood. To "Oz" fans, he's gang leader Simon Adebisi. To "Lost" fans, he's former war lord turned man of god, Mr. Eko. And if you sat through rapper 50 Cent's acting debut, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," he's the twisted drug lord Majestic.

In his latest television stint on Cinemax's explosive new show "Strike Back," Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays a brutal militia leader named Tahir, who holds an innocent aid worker hostage in the Sudan.

Tahir shows little mercy to those who disobey his leadership. For as uncompromising and brutal as Tahir seems, Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who also learned Arabic for the project, was drawn to the project because of the character's many dimensions.

"It's such a rich character," Akinnuoye-Agbaje told The Huffington Post. "This character has many layers. He's a man of absolutely uncompromising principles, and what was intriguing to me was what would drive a person to such extremes?

I was interested in exploring what his motivation was, and why he was committing such seemingly heinous crimes. And then finding out that there was a real, substantive purpose behind it was really intriguing to me.

Nobody is good or bad. Everybody has shades of both, and he is a character who's got both, and he's just extreme in both. He's fighting for a cause. He seems to be an old vestige of a warrior."

Judging from his credits, Akinnuoye-Agbaje walks the line between good and evil quite often, giving seemingly twisted characters emotional depth and understanding.

"Multifaceted and textured characters are always more intriguing to me," said the actor. "You never really just want to play one note. It becomes a bit monotone and boring. I think the most appealing characters for the audience are the ones that you never know whether to root for them or whether to hate them.

That's what keeps people drawn to their television sets. As with Eko, as with Majestic, as with Adebisi, these are characters that you want to hate, but there's a part of them that you secretly want to root for, and that part is called humanity."

Akinnuoye-Agbaje has the ability to give a voice to certain tormented and twisted characters that other actors would shy away from -- such as Tahir and Adebisi -- which is what makes his portrayal of such characters so endearing and authentic.

Yet, he's proven that he can play tortured and twisted quite well, but what about playing someone, well, more normal? In the star-studded "Killer Elite," coming out this fall and starring Robert De Niro, Clive Owen and Jason Statham, Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays Agent, someone who's not a drug lord, criminal or militia leader in the Sudan.

"For the first time really, I played a British character in a shirt and tie," laughed the British-born actor. "He's more behind-the-scenes and pulling the strings, so that was really interesting for me. I also have another film coming out this fall, called 'Best Laid Plans,' and it's a British modern adaptation of 'Of Mice and Men.'

I play the character Lenny, and he's a 37-year-old man with a 7-year-old mentality. And it was a challenge for me, and it was a very tricky task, but that's the rewarding part of what I do -- the exploration of different personalities, traits and characters. Ultimately, you have to just take the plunge and follow your instincts on these characters."

By taking the plunge, Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays bad like no one else -- with vulnerability and depth -- and sometimes, these tormented and twisted characters tend to go against his Buddhist faith. The actor admitted that he had to chant more than usual while playing the brutal Majestic in "Get Rich or Die Tryin'."

"Sometimes I do question it because if you do your job well, the public will associate you with that person," said Akinnuoye-Agbaje, "But then I have to take a step back from it and say, this is my job, this is what I do.

I'm here to play certain characters and give them a voice that they might not have had. That's my job, and like it or not, that's what I'm here to do."

This Day

Related story: Video interview with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

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