The Thing, a prelude to the 1982 classic from John Carpenter, follows a team at an isolated outpost in Antarctica, who discover an alien creature unearthed by a crew of international scientists. Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) are American helicopter pilots and friends, who service the camp with supplies and transport personnel. On one such run, they find themselves fighting for their lives, as a parasite with the ability to turn itself into an exact replica of any living being begins making its way through the team, and no one knows who they can trust.
To promote the film, British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje spoke to Collider for this exclusive phone interview about being attracted to the suspense-thriller aspect of the story, his desire to play an all-around nice guy, how much fun he had working with the repulsive creatures, and how he enjoying being the film’s comic relief. He also talked about facing off against Sylvester Stallone in the upcoming feature Bullet in the Head, and his desire to keep people guessing with the roles he continues to play. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ADEWALE AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: What I like about the Carpenter take on The Thing is the fact that it just has so much suspense. It seemed like a different story, with the horror elements. Those films that really speak to the primal fear that we, as human beings, have about the unknown have always intrigued me. That’s the really scary thing, not the slasher, macabre movies. It’s the ones that deal with the inner fear, the unknown realms and the mysticisms that are scary. You had that in the Carpenter version, and you have that in this prequel. It’s paying homage, very much, to that.
I remember in the Carpenter version, you got acquainted with the characters and really knew them. It was a real character piece. Each actor was serviced in the movie, and we tried to do that in this movie as well. I like the fact that there was a European, first-time director. I’d known of him because I’m from Europe. I knew him as a commercial director and thought one of his commercials was great. I thought it was an interesting take on such a big-budget cult classic. I knew that they were going to do an interesting story, just from the angle that they were coming from. And, I was aware that David Foster, the original producer, was also going to be sheparding it, so I knew it was going to be steered towards and still paying homage to the original. And, it wasn’t a star vehicle, so it was going to be about the story. I thought all of those elements together made it a very interesting project for me to be in.
What appealed to you about this specific character?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: I’ve done four movies, this year and last year. I played a sophisticated manipulator opposite [Robert] DeNiro in Killer Elite, and I just finished with playing a real arch-villain and baddie with [Sylvester] Stallone (in Bullet to the Head), and then I did Best Laid Plains, where I played a paraplegic guy, in a British adaptation of Of Mice and Men. Here was a character that I hadn’t really played in my career, which was an all-around nice guy, an American guy, and a buddy. I thought that would be an interesting element for me to show, in the range of my art. It came along at the right time, and I always like to switch things up. It was an interesting character because you don’t often see that relationship. Here are two guys that were best buddies in the ‘80s. I grew up in the ‘80s, and you don’t really see that, that often. And, not only are they best buddies, but they live in the Antarctic. I was curious about how they would have become friends and really, ultimately, be willing to die for each other. That really drew me to the character.
With this being a prequel to a film that many people really loved, did you have any hesitation at all about signing on for that?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: There’s always your initial trepidation about doing a remake, but that was alleviated by the fact that it was a prequel. Immediately, that gives you creative license to really recreate and explore and put a new stamp on the genre. And then, with a European director and Norwegian actors speaking in Norwegian, it was going to be very interesting. So, whatever initial trepidation or fear I may have had was alleviated by those factors. I just said, “This is something to get on board with.” Plus, the producers actually created the part with me in mind, so I thought that was cool. I’m known for playing bad guys, so this was an interesting departure from what I’m known to play, which is a softer, more likable, affable character.
Did you enjoy getting to have so many practical effects to work with, and not have it all be CG?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: It was so fun was to get to work with the creatures. Ordinarily, in this business, time after time, you’re staring at a tennis ball, at the end of a stick. They went to painstaking detail to create these meticulously vulgar creatures, and I thought they were really brilliant. It really informs your performance because they were automated. They would contort and twist, and the mouth would open as if they were screaming, and they would chase you and spurt blood and puss. Your acting is done, really. It was fun to be in that realm and get to experience that. It was an adventure. Certainly, it was an exercise of diversity. I just wanted to show a different side, of the softer guy.
What was your first reaction, when you saw what the creatures would actually look like?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: I was wondering who on earth came up with that stuff, and what was going on in his head. But, my first reaction, honestly, was one of repulsion, and then of fascination. I just couldn’t believe it. When you touched the skin, it was so lifelike that it was disturbing. If you want one word to describe my first reaction, I think disturbing is the correct adjective. I was very disturbed. They were so vulgar. I would advise people not to eat before they see the movie because when you see that creature manifesting and popping out of people’s heads and chests, it really hits its mark. This is an event movie, in that it’s coming out at Halloween. Halloween is a huge culture in America, and people want to be spooked, and I think this hits the mark. It’s going to be 10 years before they catch up to these creatures. I think they’ve pushed the bar on horror creatures, I really do. I’ve never seen anything like it. The thing becomes a creature and starts chasing you and climbing walls. What’s interesting about this creature is that, once it assumes the human form, it has its own mind. It can lie, it can imitate, it can cheat, it can manipulate. That’s really dark. It’s not just some big, ugly tentacle. This thing has got a brain. You can’t win, can you? That’s it! You know who’s the star of this movie.
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: Oh, yeah. Joel is Australian and I’m English, so there’s already an immediate synergy there. We just got on. We lived next door to each other, while we were shooting, and we just hung out. Australians are very straight-shooters, and we’re both guy’s guys, which is probably why they cast us together. It was fun. He has an acting technique that is similar to mine. He’s very much a method actor. We’d just stay in the pocket and enjoy ourselves. It was interesting that we’re both foreigners playing Americans. We felt very comfortable and very supportive, and enjoyed the whole process, really.
Seeing as this was his first feature, how was Matthijs Van Heinjningen, as a director?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: I was intrigued that they hired a first-time European director for such a well-known, beloved classic, and such a big-budget movie, but I liked working with him. I found him very much an actor’s director. He’s very sensitive and subtle, and was all about the truth of the fear, as opposed to playing and acting it. That’s what you want, as an actor, and I think it comes out in the movie. It’s more engaging for the audience. Just his choices in the actors he hired was indicative of his style. Because you don’t have a huge box office name, you’re able to focus on the story. There’s no distractions. I think he’s a clever director, and I think he’s got a future. I like the ending, as well. That’s very European.
Was it fun to be the one to have some of the lighter moments in the film?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: Yeah, that’s what drew me to the character. There were actually more that didn’t survive onto the screen. He was there to be the light, comic relief, or be the one with the humorous cynicism. Somebody has to speak for the audience and be like, “Hey, come on guys, this is ridiculous! I’m getting out of here! I’m not going in there!” You need somebody to be saying that. It’s always nice to be able to voice the cynicism and the audience’s fears and thoughts. That was fun. I wish there had been more that survived, but at least you got a few beats and moments of it.
How much fun was it to face off against Sylvester Stallone for Bullet to the Head?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: It’s one of those parts that you just relish in your career. I grew up watching Rambo and Rocky, and all of those movies, so you have a surreal moment, even as an actor, when you’re in front of these guys, whether it’s DeNiro or Stallone. You have a moment like, “Geez, that’s Sylvester Stallone,” and then you have to snap out of it and get back in the pocket of the character. But, it was a real treat, not just because you’re working with somebody that you grew up watching, as a kid, but also because he’s a great guy. He’s just a professional. He’s a straight-shooter, and it was fun to work with him. You go to work and there’s no pretense, or anything else going on, on the set.
The experience was just made better because of (director) Walter Hill. They have a working relationship together, but he’s a legend in his own right, as well. I was sandwiched between these two old-school legends, and I learned a lot. You also realize why they got to where they’ve gotten to because they’re very driven, ambitious and fearless. I really enjoyed it, and I loved the character that we created. Walter and Sylvester really wanted something different, and you always get that, if I’m going to play the character.
The character was written as American, but we changed it slightly, to an African who came to America. Also, we made the guy a cripple. That just gave it an added, twisted dimension. It was just fun because to actually get to create a character in a big studio movie is rare, and they went for it. Christian Slater was in it, too. It was just a good cast and a good movie. With a title like Bullet to the Head, you know what to expect, and it will deliver, trust me.
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: Certainly, I look for different characters ‘cause I always like to keep people guessing, and I also don’t like to get typecast. I made a concerted effort, last year and this year, to get a range of characters, just to show people the range that I have, and for them to be able to see the artistry beyond the color. I want people to see me as an actor first, and I think I’ve really been able to do that with some of the characters I’ve chosen. I’ve played different nationalities, and everything from vulnerable to strong to crooked to demented. It just increases your possibilities of work because, if people know you can do just about anything, then you’re going to get more offers. That’s what I want to do.
I just want to keep the diversity and the options open. In terms of what I’m looking for, I’d like to do a lead action role. Whilst I’m still young and I still have the looks, I want to take the helm and be a renegade cop, or something like that. He’s got to have a bit of an edge, but that would be nice. Also, I’d like to play an athlete again, while I’m still physically fit, or a musician, like Nat King Cole, because I play the trumpet and sing. I’d like to incorporate that into a character. There’s still a range of characters that I’d like to explore, but a lead character is the one that I really want now.
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: There are a few things that I’m looking at. There are quite a lot of things coming from TV now, actually, but not quite the right vehicle yet. Nothing is in stone yet.
When you look back at your time on Lost, what’s it like to know that you’ll always be a part of television history and that you made such a lasting impression for people, even with the short amount of time that your character was around for?
AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: Yeah, that’s always great. As an actor, you really want to resonate with your audience. I played a character on Oz and people still approach me in the streets today, and that was almost 10 years ago. Eko was beloved. What you desire, as an actor, is to have an impact. That’s why you did it. You want to move people, and you want to resonate with your audience. It’s always a great compliment to have people appreciate and speak of the characters. I can go anywhere in the world, to places where people don’t actually speak English, and people can say, verbatim, what I said on the show as Mr. Eko, which is great. That’s fun!