Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje on the Appeal of ABC’s New Drama ‘Ten Days in the Valley’

     October 7, 2017

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The ABC series Ten Days in the Valley follows Jane Sadler (Kyra Sedgwick), an overworked television producer and single mother whose life is turned upside down when her young daughter goes missing in the middle of the night. When Detective John Bird (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) of the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division is brought in to run lead on the case, he quickly realizes that everyone in Jane’s life – from her family to her co-workers to everyone in her inner circle – is a suspect.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje talked about the appeal of Ten Days in the Valley, why he wanted to pursue this particular role, how exploring a day per episode changes the storytelling, his approach to the character, and how everyone is a suspect. He also talked about making his directorial debut with Farming (which he also wrote and will star in) and why now was the right time for the project, producing the feature film Elizabeth Blue, and whether he’s heard anything concrete about Suicide Squad 2.

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Image via ABC

Collider: How did you come to Ten Days in the Valley?

ADEWALE AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: My team and I had tracked the project quite early. At that point, the character that I play, Detective John Bird, who’s one of the top detectives of the Robbery-Homicide Division of the LAPD, was written as a white character. One of the reasons I tracked it and was very keen to meet on it was that there was texture and he was layered. Most of those roles that are written for a Caucasian are far more interesting and layered. The roles that were coming down the pilot channel didn’t stimulate me. I’d done those roles before and played that note before, and I just didn’t see them being multi-dimensional. So, I veered toward this because not only did it offer a different side to me that audiences haven’t seen, as an actor, but for me, as an artist, it was so layered.

Eventually, I got the chance to actually go in and do what we call a test screening with Kyra Sedgwick, and just on the basis of that screen test, the producers signed me up. I think it was really because of the chemistry, and not because of color or gender. That’s one of the reasons this show is different. They took a chance and went with what felt authentic and current, and with what felt interesting. That, for me, was a big plus. I’ve played many criminals, but I loved playing somebody on the right side of the law, who had a family and who had ethics. He’s very driven by truth and justice, to the point that he will break the law to acquire it, and cross lines between suspects and criminals and personal relationships.

And in terms of storyline, it’s always a treat to shoot in Los Angeles and at one of my favorite studios, Paramount, where my career began. I just felt it was an interesting premise to delve behind this Hollywood facade. Most people who work the grind of ordinary 9 to 5 jobs tend to think that people in this industry are pampered and have it easy, but here’s a show that dissects that and shows that there are problems that you can have, juggling your professional life with your family life, and the secrets, compromises and sacrifices that these characters are willing to go through, in order to get what they want.

For me, at the heart of it, the pace of it was like a thriller. It really pays homage to some of the films that I got in the business because of. It felt like a thriller that’s also a thinking man or woman’s drama. With every episode, a new suspect evolves or revolves, and I thought that was really interesting. You never quite get a beat on who’s done it because everybody has their problems, including the people investigating.

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Image via ABC

Does the storytelling feel different when each episode is one day?

AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: It’s really great. For an actor, it’s really informative. The continuity and the consistency of the character is made easy. You don’t have to think about too much. In terms of prep, it helps you see deeper into the character, over that period, which is 10 days in the life of. It’s a more intense research into him or her. I just love that aspect because there was more meat on the bone for me to play with. And having been on this case for 10 days, he neglects his own family. We never really see that side of cops. It was just not procedural. He’s a man who’s trying to do his best in the job that he’s chosen, and not necessarily achieving that.

Detective Bird seems very calm and level-headed, for someone who works in Robbery-Homicide. Is that how he approaches people that he’s suspicious of, or is that just his nature?

AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE: That was a concerted decision made about how I was playing him. I wanted to move away from being procedural, just running around, pointing guns and intimidating people. Some of the inspiration came from Petrocelli, Columbo, Kojak, and the earlier versions. Bird disarms suspects with charm and makes them feel at ease. That’s how he’s able to get more information. So, it was a concerted decision to play him down and play him laid back, and to be more of the observer and disarm people. People don’t always expect the black detective to be the head of the Robbery-Homicide Division, or the top detective in it, and he’s definitely used to that. Rather than go against it to prove himself, he does the opposite and is laid back. He can learn more by people’s perceptions than trying to boost his own ego. He’s a people studier, and that’s probably what he enjoys about the job. That’s why he finds Jane, Kyra’s character, fascinating. He studies her and sees how complex she is, but at the very base level, she’s a decent human being. She’s just a bit screwed up, in how she goes about her decisions and her priorities. He’s a guy that knows life, and when you have real experience in life, you know that the best way to get stuff is not kicking down doors. Sometimes it’s sitting on the back step, whistling a tune and waiting to see who comes out. He just knows that it’s not about necessarily being right. He’s about the truth. That’s a very subtle distinction. When you have that as your base, it makes you behave very differently.

Television