‘Thor 2′ Star Talks His Dual Role, Joss Whedon’s Contributions, and Upcoming Projects
'Thor 2' will take movie goers into the depths of 'The Dark World' and introduce us to a few not-so-famous comic book villains from the Marvel universe -- the Dark Elves, led by Malekith the Accursed and his right-hand man and lieutenant Algrim/Kurse. Before you see the Asgardian Avenger's next solo adventure, we spoke with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who plays the latter character(s), to offer a primer to this new race of villains and his experience with tackling two roles at once.
In 'Thor: The Dark World,' Malekith and his army are of the Svartalfheim, one of the Nine Realms of Asgard, and were defeated by the Asgardians centuries ago. Now he's returned to plunge the universe into darkness and reclaim his former glory. Algrim is his first lieutenant, who undergoes a transformation that destroys his body and transfigures him into the even more menacing Kurse, a being of immense strength.
Having been known for his roles in 'LOST,' 'The Mummy Returns' and 'Oz,' Adewale told ScreenCrush that this is a role like none he's ever played before. Read on for our full interview with the 'Thor 2' star as we talk all things Marvel, the makeup process, his future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and upcoming projects 'Pompeii' and 'Annie.'
I’m really excited to talk to you about ‘Thor.’ [At the time of the interview] we got our first batch of reviews out, and so far the critical reception has been great. What has it been like for you?
I’m here in London; I just did the premiere. This is the first reunion for me with all the cast, and the opportunity to really put all of our hard work to the test with the audience. I have to tell you, it went down really well; it was an electric night. It far exceeded my expectations. You come into these projects with a vision, Marvel really does these kinds of projects better than anybody, and they do their best to really educate you about the vision that they have. You come in with this incite, but when you see it in the end result of all your hard work, it’s breathtaking. Even though I’m in it, I’m very much a voyeur and an audience member as you are. And I thought it was, for lack of a better word, a spectacle. An absolute spectacle.
Many of the blockbuster, tentpole movies try to achieve that, but they rely on the fact there’s just big effects and a lot of money spent on them, and I often feel that the audience is cheated, but you’re gonna get a real ride here. This is a real cinematic and movie-going experience. I think [Marvel has] pushed the bar in the world they’ve created and immersing you in the effects of it.
We just got our first look at your character, or characters I should say -- Algrim and Kurse – the other day, and the makeup work looks pretty spectacular. Can you speak to wearing all those prosthetics and makeup?
First of all, I just have to give so much credit to both the makeup and wardrobe department. They just are the very best in the business at what they do.
The process itself was very challenging. Algrim was about three hours getting into, and Kurse about two. … It was more intricate [for Algrim] because there was prosthetic with Algrim, but there was also a wig that had to be sewn on, there were lenses, and it just took a lot more time to place the wig on top of the prosthetics and then the fake nose. It was just a bit more of a delicate process. And then the ears had to be put on separately. It was bits and pieces that had to be put on … With Kurse, we just put the head on – we’d glue that on and put the pieces on – and the suit came as one. But with Algrim it was bits and pieces that had to be delicately put together, which took a bit more time.
But ultimately I just thought it looked absolutely striking. I’ve never seen any character like that onscreen, let alone myself. It was all worth it in the end, but it was quite an arduous and challenging process because I had to play the two characters in the same day. So you were five hours in makeup and then another two-three to get out. So it was definitely a labor of love.
What was it like transitioning between those characters?
It was very interesting because, one of the things I talked about with the director [Alan Taylor] was being able to convey who this creature or this alien was, what was his real motive and who was he. He was a very noble lieutenant. He was fiercely loyal to his boss, Malekith, but more to the cause -- which they were both vowed to -- which was to reinstate their own race and claim their rightful place again that had been destroyed by the Asgardians. And here was a character who would place the larger goal beyond his own life and was willing to sacrifice his life for that goal, for his race of people. And it’s a beautiful arch.
What we tried to do was still maintain the core of Algrim within the transformation of Kurse, and physically we did that by keeping the eyes still the same, blue, because there was a discussion whether to make them red or something other than [the original color]. But we felt that for the audience to still recognize that it was Algrim within Kurse, we decided to keep the eyes blue.
And then we had him speak Elvish, but we had him do it through the pain of the transformation. We played a lot with the voice and how Algrim was trying to reach through the pain of being Kurse, because obviously once he transformed he could never return to who he was. There was always this sacrificial element in it. …
One of the concerns for me was to not convey the creepy Kurse as merely a monster. it was a living, breathing organism with a very definite purpose. And you could still feel the fierce loyalty to Malekith within Kurse, during the battle with Thor he’s always protective of Malekith. Even when Frigga, played by Renee Russo, again it’s Kurse who comes to Malektih’s aid. He’s always there for his boss -- even when he gets injured, he’s the one that heels him and makes sure his boss is ready again to achieve their aim, their goal. That was to me the enjoyable part, making Kurse feel [like] a living, breathing organism, and not just a big bulking monster.
Having already worked with Alan Taylor in a TV atmosphere [on HBO's 'Oz'], what was he able to bring to the 'Thor' cinematic universe that, perhaps, wasn’t there before?
Having worked with him, he’s an actor’s director, but he has a natural flare for action. As you’ve seen in ‘Game of Thrones,’ Alan’s scope is immense. He has this ability to be able to orchestrate, create otherworldy kind of realms. It just works out so naturally, so well. I think often characterization can be lost in those worlds, but here’s one director who’s able to bring that forth and really illuminate the arcs of each character. There’s a lot of characters to service in this installment ... but when you watch it, each character has their moment and the arcs of the characters are still prevalent, you just see it in what’s going on. I think that’s attributable to the type of director he is.
Also one of the traits that Alan has that I like is his comedic trait, his sense of humor. In this installment, you find a lot of organic laughs and humor, and that’s definitely something that Alan brings to it. I think that marvel has always been great at poking fun at their superheroes, and I think here you really enjoy it but in an organic way. It doesn’t feel like just hitting you over the head, for want of a better word, with a hammer.
Alan Taylor said that Joss Whedon, who directed ‘The Avengers,’ came onto the set a couple of times to help with the story and develop certain scenes. Did you have much interaction with him?
From the beginning we did, but I think it was more of setting the stage for us, just giving us the visionary outlook of where we were going and the journey we were about to take. Once the picture was sufficiently painted, there was a lot of freedom, for me as an actor anyway, to go down that path myself, and they [Marvel] trust the actors that they cast. That’s another thing that Marvel does so well: it casts these movies so well, particularly 'Thor' because it’s more perspective and orientated, it’s more about the drama, as well. You’ve got great actors, Oscar-winning actors like Anthony Hopkins, you’ve got Tom Hiddleston, you’ve Chris Hemsworth. These are all dramatic actors. I think they trust the actors to do their job, but they very much set the tone and scene of the vision.
The whole of Phase 1, all of those movies, led up to ‘The Avengers.’ And Marvel teased the same thing is going to happen in Phase 2 by leading up to the next ‘Avengers’ movie. Is there anything you can say about ‘Thor 2’ that might hint at things to come?
Apart from what you see in the movie, the introduction of the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ at the end was quite interesting, I felt. But honestly I don’t really know of what is planned. But I do know, like yourself, that these characters will be merged into one big world, and I think that’s quite exciting.
I think with Marvel, as an actor, you’re very much left in the dark until the last moment and I think that’s part of their process. Coming on board, I barely knew who I was going to play until the last moment, and then when I did know, I didn’t know what they were gonna look like specifically because the elements were all being put together by the different departments. So it was only until the last, maybe, week or so that I finally got the full look of Kurse and the full look of Algrim, and they were changing as they were going along. So I think it’s the same way with the outlook on their movies. I think they have a specific vision but we’re not always privy to it, so I’m just as much intrigued by it as you are.
Well, you’ve been very vocal about having an interest in playing Black Panther in a future Marvel movie. Have you made any headway in making that happen?
It’s been a favorite character of mine as a child, and I’ve always said it would be great to play, but honestly I’m just happy to be a part of the Marvel world. When I got the call to be in ‘Thor,’ you could say yes or no, and it was always a definite yes without any qualms whatsoever because I just think these are the people that make these movies best. And the chance to be in business with them is a great opportunity and I just think it’s the beginning of a fruitful relationship.
What will happen? We’ll see. But just to play any character in the Marvel world, to me, is a great honor.
After working with Taylor, who’s part of the ‘Game of Thrones’ universe, you have another project coming up, ‘Pompeii,’ where you’re working with Kit Harington. Can you talk about your experience working on that movie?
That was an amazing experience to work on that movie for a number of reasons. I play a character by the name of Atticus, who is the champion gladiator of Pompeii. I mean this is a real badass, and who everybody has to beat, and it’s just a delicious character to play.
The process was absolutely backbreaking. I had to train for six weeks. I lost 35 pounds in weight to play this character, and trained for six-to-eight weeks with the fighting scenes. It’s gonna be an awesome film. I just finished working on the ADR [the post-production process where dialog unsalvageable from production is re-corded] and it’s so epic.
It’s obviously based upon the true story of Pompeii and Vesuvius. So if you know anything about history and how it ends, and we take it from the end where these people are enshrined in volcanic ash of Mt. Vesuvius and dissolve it to see how their lives came to be. It’s an amazing story. It’s very, very well written and Kit [Harington] is brilliant in it.
I play his foe, but we are destined to kill each other. We’re roommated together as gladiators and we have to fight each other to the death. You will see who wins. But I think what happens -- even those these two guys have to kill each other, there is a respect born out of their predicament, but ultimately they do have to go to the death and fight each other. But they’re roomed and imprisoned together, so within that space they have to get along until they kill each other. It’s an amazing relationship, and it’s [Atticus] is a great character. It’s very humorous, very noble, but he’s fiercely, fiercely brutal. I have an axe, like, twice the size of me. I don’t think I’ve ever been fitter in my life, to be honest, but it was a great character to play. I think it’s in the vein of the ‘Ben-hur’s and the ‘300’s all rolled into one, [and] ‘Gladiator.’ You’re gonna love this film.
How did that role come about for you?
Producer Jeremy Bolt and director Paul W.S. Anderson had approached the management, and we’d had a few meetings, via Skype, actually -- everything is done via Skype these days. Honestly, I read the script and I fell in love with the character immediately. Very rarely do you get black characters that are so iconic. And that’s what is. Atticus is an iconic character. When you open a screenplay with a character with so much dimension – every texture is there, he’s humor, he’s nobility, he’s fierce brutality – within this epic scope, you just gotta get on board. So, for me, it was an easy process, but then, obviously, there is the process within the industry where you have to meet the producers. And that’s what we did -- we spoke about it, they had to see me, and when they did, we both spoke of the vision and what they were trying to accomplish. They said it was going to be extremely physical and that they needed a physical actor. They were not going to rely on stunt men, and I did pretty much everything myself. It was harrowing, it was challenging … but it was a great process.
Now, you recently started production on ‘Annie.’ Who do you play in the film?
I play a character called Nash, and he is the right-hand man to Jamie Foxx’s character, Stacks, who really in the musical is Daddy Warbucks. So I play Daddy Warbuck’s right-hand man -- he’s his driver, security guard, adviser and friend, and he’s also a friend to Annie. He helps Annie try to find her parents. It is a remarkably different character to what I am playing in both ‘Thor’ and ‘Pompeii’ because he is a very humorous guy, lovable guy. You know, he’s very tough, but you see the lighthearted side of me as a character.
I love the scenes between myself and Quvenzhané [Wallis], Oscar-nominated actress for ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild,’ ‘cause to be acting with a child is great, but then such a talented child. She’s the black Shirley Temple, she’s amazing. What’s great about her is that, when children are so unaffected, what it does for you as an actor is it allows you to let go of your baggage and just enjoy that process with them, and just create some fun work. I’m having a lot of fun on it.