FOCUSED: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
HAPPILY, WE can say that black British actors are making big waves in the US film/TV industry, and riding high on the American surf is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
Rising to prominence with his infamous role as Simon Adebisi in the hit HBO series Oz, the London born actor has gone on to star in a plethora of Hollywood movies, including The Mummy Returns and The Bourne Identity.
Recently back from across the pond, the 44-year-old returned to the UK for the filming of the new BBC spy thriller Nemesis, in which he stars. Ever-busy, Akinnuoye-Agbaje will also feature in the upcoming British film, Best Laid Plans.
But underneath his heroic exterior, the talented actor says that he is a conventional man who is looking for a wife.
Great role: Akinnuoye-Agbaje in TV drama Lost
“At the heart of everything, I’m a traditional African man,” said the star, who was born in north London to Nigerian parents. “I’m much closer now in terms of being ready for marriage. I wasn’t before; I was just enjoying life. But the more success I get, the more I’d like to share it with someone.”
With an acting career that spans almost 20 years, the former model, who has a Masters degree in law, says he has no regrets about leaving his legal career and pursuing his dream of becoming an actor – something his mother still sees as “a phase.”
“Education is a form of enlightenment,” he says. “I may not use my law Masters specifically in the field of law, but I use it throughout my life. I didn’t study as a traditional actor or go to RADA, but in 20 years I have had good opportunities. It’s the focus that has allowed me to achieve.”
“But my mum is always asking me when I’m going to be through with this acting phase,” he laughs. “I tell her it’s not a phase, but I might do a PHD to please her!”
Talent: (left) Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Simon Adebisi in Oz
Looking back, the Screen Actors Guild award winner says he had to leave the UK and relocate to America, as he would not have accomplished all he has if he’d stayed in his Britain.
“At the time, England was too limiting,” recalls the talent, who starred alongside 50 Cent in the 2005 film Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
“It was racist on many levels and the ceiling was so low I couldn’t see myself getting to the level I wanted, especially being an African; it wasn’t something favoured in the industry."
“Knowing the opportunities weren’t available is what led me to America and it worked out. Now, I come home as a star and can work with the best.”
Feeling fortunate to have played many acclaimed roles, including Mr Eko from the groundbreaking ABC series Lost, Akinnuoye-Agbaje is now ready to become the lead man.
“Some of my characters have been devilishly criminal, with no boundaries and I loved it. I loved acting as Simon Adebisi [in Oz] and being Majestic in Get Rich or Die Tryin’, but I would also like to be the love interest or to star in a rom-com, as opposed to being the tortured criminal. There are a plethora of roles out there.”
Now, in an ironic role reversal, Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s role in Nemesis, will see the British star playing Deacon Crane – the only American in the new BBC spy drama, due to hit screens in autumn.
“He’s the team leader of a group of spy assassins; an ex Navy Seal and the only American in an all British cast. You’ve never really seen this type of character on British TV before. Black actors usually play baddies or sidekicks, but he’s the boss. He’s in control, like a black James Bond.”
In addition, Akinnuoye-Agbaje will star alongside This Is England actor Stephen Graham in Best Laid Plans; a tale of a friendship pushed to its limits, which will hit cinemas next month.
If anyone wondered what keeps the north Londoner so resolute in an industry that is known for being highly pressurised and often ruthless, it is, in one word, Buddhism.
“Buddhism to me is life. A person without faith is lost. It operates as an anchor and keeps you focused. It allows me to go into a cut-throat business and still follow decisions I hold to be honest."
“It opens your heart and allows you to access emotions you can’t otherwise experience. It makes me happy.”
Best Laid Plans is in UK cinemas from February and is released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 20.