The gritty, edgy and provocative crime drama Low Winter Sun is about what happens after Detroit detective Frank Agnew (Mark Strong) murders a dirty cop in an act of retribution, setting events in motion that will forever alter the detective’s life and pull him into the heart of the Detroit underworld. Based on the 2006 award-winning British two-part mini-series of the same name, which starred Mark Strong in the same role, the 10-episodes tell an intense story of murder, deception, revenge and corruption, in a world where the line between cops and criminals is blurred.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actor Mark Strong talked about how he came to revisit this role, having a rough arc of the story but not all the details, not wanting to do a typical cop show, working with Lennie James, how he sees his character, living and working in Detroit, and how he hopes to do future seasons. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
MARK STRONG: I think they were looking around for somebody to play Frank Agnew, and somebody said, at some point, “Well, have you asked Mark Strong?” Susie [Fitzgerald] at AMC said, “He does movies. He won’t do TV.” But, nobody had asked me. When they did, I thought about it, long and hard. The practicalities of leaving home for a long period of time was my principal worry, but creatively, it was a no-brainer. You don’t get a chance to pick up on a character you put to bed, seven years before, or take him further. The original was only three hours, and this is 10. There was a whole new world of Frank Agnew to explore.
Did you want to have a discussion first, to see where they wanted to take him, or did you want to be surprised, as you got the scripts?
STRONG: A bit of both. I’m not a writer, inherently. Most of the writers I’ve met have stories they need to tell. I don’t have that. I’m an interpreter. I like getting a script, seeing a character and thinking, “Oh, wow, I know what I can do with that.” So, part of me was fascinated by the idea that I would only get next week’s episode a week in advance and wouldn’t actually know where I was going with it, until the script landed on my mat. But, part of me wanted to know what was going to happen. I wondered, “How are you going to keep this character alive and interesting for me, over 10 episodes?” And they gave me a rough arc of the story, but not enough, really, to know exactly where he was going. I was playing him blind, and that’s fascinating.
STRONG: The writers are excellent, the storylines have been fascinating, and it’s pretty dark and gritty and mesmerizing. It’s hard to take your eyes off of it. That’s the way I felt shooting it. The first three pretty much conform to or cherry pick the best moments of the original. Episode 4 is the beginning of the U.S. version. It suddenly just goes off left field, and it’s brilliant. You think you know the show you’re watching, but then it goes somewhere else. And then, Episode 6 does the same, and Episode 9 does the same. Those episodes, I think, are the ones that don’t let you get complacent. Just when you think you’ve got it all sussed and you know what’s going on, something else happens that makes you go, “Oh, my god, what’s happening now?!”
Cop shows on American television tend to be more formulaic and procedural. Was it important to you that this not become that?
STRONG: Yes. It just piles up, more and more with each episode. It’s wonderful because the dilemmas just increase. It’s not a whodunit because you know who did it, in the first five minutes. It’s about the psychological implications of covering up that crime, which causes all kinds of problems and difficulties for both of them. My one worry is that people will think it’s a cop show, and that it will be too easily dismissed as a cop show, but it so isn’t. You’ll realize that, over the course of the season. We spend hardly any time in the actual homicide division. There are some scenes in there because that’s the framework, but really, it’s not about that. It’s not about the crimes, and solving the crimes.
STRONG: It does, eventually. Everything is interconnected, in a brilliant way. I don’t want to give it away because it will ruin it for you. It’s better not to know, and to go on this journey and see where they all end up.
Was it important to you to know who would be playing Joe Geddes, since so much of this show relies on his relationship with Frank?
STRONG: Yeah, I wanted to know, but the reality is that it was their decision. You have to go with who they choose. But, when I found out Lennie [James] was doing it, who I know of old, I was delighted. I just knew that he’s such a brilliant actor that we would really spark off each other, and that’s the way it’s proved to be.
How do you see Frank Agnew?
STRONG: I’ve played lots of villains in my time and I think the reason they’ve been so successful is that they’re not two-dimensional. They’re not black and white. That’s the gig. You need to try to find a way to humanize your villains. Genuine villains, in real life, still have mothers and daughters and sisters, and they fall in love. They don’t walk around with a big sign saying, “Bad guy,” on their head. They think they’re good guys. If you can play that, I think it makes it more interesting. And Frank is perfect for that. He sees himself as a good man, and intrinsically he is a good man, but what he does belies that knowledge he has of himself. As an audience, your moral compass is constantly being dragged back and forwards. One minute you love him, one minute you hate him. One minute you trust him, one minute you don’t. That’s what I think the success of the show is going to be about.
STRONG: Everybody said, “Don’t go there. It’s an awful place. There’s nothing there for you.” And of course, the opposite is true. It’s a pretty fascinating place because it has everything. There are enormous mansions, terrible apocalyptic wastelands, and everything in between. And the more people told me it was a place that I didn’t want to be, the more intrigued I was. They actually welcomed us with open arms. We’ve had an amazing time there, working, filming and getting to know the locals. It’s a fantastic backdrop for the show.
Do you look forward to the possibility of future seasons now?
STRONG: I do, yeah. It’s funny, when you’re at the beginning of the mountain of 10 episodes in four and a half months, you think, “My god, how am I going to get through this?!” But now, we’re at the end and I’ve had such a great time doing it. I’ve really enjoyed the imagination of the writers, and we have a very strong writers room. I’d love to know, if they were going to take it further, where they’re going to take it.
Low Winter Sun airs on Sunday nights on AMC.