Interview: ‘Pompeii’ star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is more than just a name

Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje plays a fearsome gladiator in "Pompeii." Credit: Getty Images
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays a fearsome gladiator in “Pompeii.”
Credit: Getty Images

Nearly every profile of the English actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje begins with his name. It’s not one that rolls off the tongue — unless you know how to pronounce it. But far more imposing is Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s presence. On “Oz,” where he played Simon Adebisi, and on “Lost,” as Mr. Eko, he embodied fearsome characters — not always evil, but always using their imposing presence to get what they wanted.

In “Pompeii,” a 3-D blockbuster about the events leading up to the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays a gladiator, and a pretty nice one — albeit about as nice as a warrior forced to fight for his life can be.

“Although he’s ferocious in what he does, he kills because he has to. There’s still this humanity and humility in him,” Akinnuoye-Agbaje says. “He does what he has to do with dignity and honor. Gladiators should not stab each other in the back, you know? He’s really adamant about how one should die.”

In the film, he slowly befriends one of the men he may have to kill: our hero, Milo (Kit Harrington, of “Game of Thrones”). Their respect soon overwhelms their fear about facing each other in battle. “How do you live with somebody you know you’re going to kill tomorrow? How do you sleep, with one eye open? Are you testing them for their weaknesses, slap them in the mouth? It was an interesting dynamic.”

Akinnuoye-Agbaje admits he only knew as much about the destruction of Pompeii as most of us do — namely, that it was destroyed by a volcano. But his research took other avenues. “What fascinated me was how an African could end up in Italy. I tried to trace the steps and look back and see where he would have come from. I know that the southern tip of Europe and the northern tip of Africa were joined and it was more of a fluid channel for the Romans to go through and conquer and colonialize these African empires like Mauritania, Liberia, Sudan. We tried to put some of that influence of these cultures into the film by having him pray.”

The film also gave him the chance to star in a Roman epic. “My favorite movies growing up were ‘Ben-Hur’ and ‘Spartacus,’” he says. “I remember Woody Strode [in 'Spartacus']. He was a great black gladiator. He just stood out like Adonis.”

His training regimen consisted not only of extensive workouts but a strict diet. Snapping out of that physical work once the shoot wraps can be difficult. “Even though I wanted to eat junk, the body rejected it,” he recalls, laughing. “Even today, I’m on a similar diet — not as strict, but similar. It’s very functional to my lifestyle and it gives me the maximum energy. It was a great benefit. I learned how to maximize my energy.”

Akinnuoye-Agbaje is currently trying to direct a film, “Farming,” based on his experience as a Nigerian child adopted by a white English family. He hopes the financing will be in place this year. In the meantime he’s trying to play more than villains.

“I always enjoy playing somebody that could be perceived as ‘dark,’” Akinnuoye-Agbaje says. “I never see them as ‘bad’ per se; you run the danger of making him a caricature if you go about it that way. I do enjoy playing the more challenging characters because you have somewhere to go with them.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter at @mattprigge.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Pioneers for domestic violence push on

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article. Two decades have passed since the O.J. Simpson trial captivated the country. But in the 20 years…

Local

Newest java joint in bastion of hipness is…

Little may represent the change the neighborhood is undergoing right now like the arrival of the first Starbucks. The chain which is ubiquitous in Manhattan, opened a Williamsburg store at…

National

Black and white are the new orange at…

By Brendan O'Brien(Reuters) - Black and white are the new orange in a Michigan county where the sheriff has made a wardrobe change for jail…

National

Traps set after reports of giant snake on…

New Jersey animal control workers have set traps to snare a reported 20-foot-long serpent slithering through the waters of Lake Hopatcong.

Music

Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks more accessible than Animal…

Believe it or not, Avey Tare — the man in the mustachioed mask pictured here in the pool of blood — may have made the poppiest music of his career.

Entertainment

‘The Leftovers’ recap: Season 1, Episode 4, ‘B.J.…

Last week’s episode of “The Leftovers” was apparently a fluke, because this week’s episode returns to focusing on the Garveys and it is so boring.…

Movies

Interview: Luc Besson says 'Lucy' is very different…

Filmmaker Luc Besson talks about his new film "Lucy," how it's different than "Limitless" and his crazy first conversation with Egyptian actor Amr Waked.

Music

Weezer releases first new song since 2010

Weezer releases "Back to the Shack," their first new song in almost six years.

NFL

'Vicktory dogs' travel road to rehabilitation seven years…

Of the dozens of dogs groomed by Bad Newz Kennels, 48 were rescued and 22 of the pit bull terriers have emerged at Best Friends Animal Society.

MLB

Yankees looking at trade for Cliff Lee, according…

Yankees looking at trade for Cliff Lee, according to report

NFL

Giants lineman Chris Snee to retire: Reports

The Giants report to training camp on Tuesday, but Chris Snee may not be there when they do.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony talks about his charity work in…

As he is used to doing every year, NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony is going to visit Puerto Rico to do work for his foundation.

Tech

RocketSkates let users roll with a motor

Los Angeles company Acton has raised funds on Kickstarter to roll out a nifty alternative – motor-powered "RocketSkates."

Tech

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony becomes a tech entrepreneur

He's been an All-Star, an Olympian, and a celebrity spokesperson. Now NBA player Carmelo Anthony is adding the position "tech entrepreneur" to his resume. Along…

Tech

Ulises 1 is the world's first singing satellite

A group of artists and engineers in Mexico have unveiled Ulises 1, the world's first opera-singing satellite.

Home

Wallscape on a budget

Skip the wallpaper and ombre an accent wall instead.