It’s hard for actors to be successful in the entertainment business when people don’t know your name. Well, in the case of popular actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, he has maintained a steady stream of acting roles despite most fans calling him by the names of his characters rather than his own. The London-born Nigerian made a name for himself in the 90s by taking parts in some of your favorite R&B music videos. (More on that later.) But Akinuoye-Agbaje really broke through with American audiences with his portrayal of notoriously feared criminal Simon Adebisi on the hit HBO show “Oz.”
Since ending his run on the show in 2001, Adewale has enjoyed success on both the big and small screens. He played Mr. Ecko on the hit ABC drama “Lost” for four seasons before asking to be written off so that he could return to his native London and pursue other acting and directing ventures. However, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is back on the silver screen in the upcoming 3D epic film “POMPEII,” which is slated to hit theaters in February 21st. The film tells the story of a young man named Milo, played by Kit Harrington, who is enslaved and must fight as a gladiator to win his freedom. Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays his adversary Atticus. Atticus is the current champion gladiator who has almost fought his way to freedom, literally. But one thing is standing in his way of freedom and that’s having to battle Milo in the arena. Mind you, all of this is happening as Mount Vesuvius threatens to erupt and destroy the whole city of Pompeii.
The Urban Daily caught up with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in New York City. We spoke to the actor about his kickass new film, being remembered as a rapist on “Oz,” and how having his bachelor’s and master’s in law has helped him in his entertainment career. Come get to know the man behind some of the scariest characters on television.
TUD: Can you tell me a little bit about your character in “POMPEII”?
AAA: I play a character by the name of Atticus. He is the champion gladiator of Pompeii. He is the man to beat. In Roman law, there’s a certain amount of fights that you have where you can earn your freedom. So he’s one fight away from becoming a free man and his arc is that the one person he has to fight is the man he is imprisoned with. So here you have this champion gladiator who can earn his freedom and is housed with the man that he has to kill. There’s this incredible tension between them because they know that in a few days they’re going to kill each other, but they have to live with each other. So they’re feeling each other out to find each other’s strengths and weaknesses and what happens is they form a mutual respect. It’s said in these words, “I will make your death quick.” That is as much respect that they can have for one another in that arena.
How does the tension between you and the main character Milo compare to the main character’s fight for love while Mt. Vesuvius is about to destroy the city?
Yeah, there’s a lot going on. Obviously, Milo has his own story–vengeance for his own family who were slaughtered by the Romans and this new-found live that he has and he doesn’t want to die. [laughs] Then I have my story. I’m going to earn my freedom and become a Roman who can own land and live as a normal citizen. I do have a family that I was snatched away from 20 years ago in Africa. The hope is I can see them one day. Then of course, all of this is set against the backdrop of Mt. Vesuvius who is a real character in this epic because whilst we’re still trying to live our daily lives and fight for our freedom, this whole ominous presence of the god mountain is always threatening to mess up our little plans and show us the power of nature. You see at the end of the movie who really wins.
What was the hardest part in preparing for the film?
Uh, training! [laughs] It was brutal, man. It was a challenge that I was up for. I’d always wanted to push myself physically to see how fit I could really become and this was a great vehicle for that. The producers and director all had a very clear vision for the film, but also the type of actors they wanted to play the roles and it wasn’t just about aesthetically being pleasing. You needed to be able to perform these fights and these physical acrobatics. They said, “We want you to do the fights. We’re not putting in stunt doubles.” And that’s what we did.
About six weeks before the movie, we had this grueling training regiment which included a trainer, a nutritionist who devised these meals that would just barely keep you moving. I mean we had 1,800 calories a day–three meals, two snacks, and maybe a power shake if we were good boys. The training consisted of an hour’s run in the morning followed by two hours of fight training. Then, we’d break for an hour. After that was an hour’s weight training session, break for another hour, and then another hour’s run. I did that everyday for several weeks.
But shouldn’t you be used to that type of training considering you did “The Mummy Returns” and other movies with sword fighting?
That was a while back, man! [laughs] I don’t do that everyday. “The Mummy Returns” was intense as well, but I think this movie was another level because with “The Mummy Returns,” yes, I was getting fit but the level of swordsmanship training I was doing was a lot more intense. Plus, in “The Mummy Returns,” I had on capes and stuff. In this I’m wearing stuff that only women should wear. [laughs] So there was no cheating. I was fit in “The Mummy Returns,” but I didn’t have to reveal everything, I do in this one because I was playing a gladiator and that’s what people expect. It was great fun.