MAKING HIS MARK
British actor Mark Strong has reprised the role he played seven years ago in the American adaptation of Low Winter Sun, airing on Sundays on Fox Crime. Buhle Mbonambi called him in London
There are actors who play villains so well that you can’t imagine them in any role other than a villain. Mark Strong is one of them. On par with Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston when it comes to being villainous, Mark somehow makes being a villain the coolest thing ever. He’s been a villain in Sherlock Holmes, where he played the satanist Lord Blackwood; in Robin Hood as the traitorous Sir Godfrey; in Kick-Ass as the brutal crime lord Frank D’Amico. In Syriana he played the torturous Mussawi, who endlessly tortured George Clooney’s character, Bob Barnes. He also played the evil Sinestro in Green Lantern, a role he’s rumoured to reprise in the Man of Steel sequel – that is if he doesn’t get the role of Lex Luthor, which, as fate would have it, Cranston is also in the running for. His role as Detective Frank Agnew won him critical acclaim in the British miniseries Low Winter Sun and now he’s back as Frank Agnew on Fox Crime’s adaptation of the miniseries, but this time it is set in Detroit.
You’ve reprised a role you last played seven years ago – were you surprised when you were approached?
I was. Yes. I thought it was over. I thought we had finished the story. Put to bed. I never even thought that we could take it further. But then I heard it was set in Detroit and that made me want to do it. For them (casting directors) it was a no-brainer – they wanted me and they had to get me. It’s a fascinating role and since it’s on new territory I realised I wanted to take it further.
Is it a continuation of the miniseries?
Yeah. It takes the story further.
It’s now set in Detroit – how different is Frank Agnew in Detroit than he was in Edinburgh?
He’s still the same person, just different cities and, of course, a different environment. But it’s still a dark show. Detroit is a gritty, dark and broken city. For me the show being set in Detroit just gave it that extra edge. It became new. The culture is different from Edinburgh. The way of doing things is different too. So while he’s still the same person, he’s got a bit darker.
How different is it from the original series?
It’s different. It’s basically a new story, but using the original premise as the jump-in point. The first episode is the same as the one we did seven years ago. Frank murders a fellow cop and he thinks it’s the perfect crime, but instead the murder activates forces that will for ever change his life and he crosses the line between detective and criminal with the Detroit underworld.
How did you tackle the role this time?
I got to Detroit some time before we shot. I had to get a feel of the city. I needed to get the accent right. I needed to immerse myself, talk to people, and get to experience life in Detroit. I wanted my portrayal to be as realistic as possible. The thing about Low Winter Sun is that you grew alongside the character – we didn’t know how the story was going to go because we got the script as we were shooting, so it was always a surprise what Frank was going to do next.
I like how complicated he is. He’s a conflicted soul and as an actor that’s excellent material to work with. I believe that he’s a good man. Even when committing murder, he’s conflicted about it. That for me proves he’s not cold-blooded. He still has the ability to care that he just crossed the line and murdered someone. He questions himself a lot. He wants to face the consequences of his actions. He’s not so far gone to not seek redemption. Basically he’s human.
The issue of cop corruption is becoming a common thread around the world. In South Africa it’s really become a huge issue, where some citizens are even scared of the police – is Low Winter Sun going to explore the dark side of the boys in blue?
Yeah. It’s a universal problem really. In any country the police are important, even more so than the politicians. Police are there to reassure civilians of their safety. Low Winter Sun shows the importance of the police, but also the corrupt side. Corruption has sadly become a norm, even in the police force and we cant ignore that in our stories. Frank is a corrupt cop and he is going to have to answer why he murdered someone. Funny you should ask me this and Detroit has been declared bankrupt. A whole city bankrupt? How does that happen? Corruption is a cause of this and then unemployment is rising, people can’t pay their rates and taxes, and sometimes it leads to crime. It’s a mess.
Early reviews, especially from Tim Goodman, have said that the show needs some humour. Do you share the same sentiments?
No. The problem is most critics judge the whole season of a show by watching two episodes and that’s not right. It's not a movie. The show may start slow, but the character development is still there. Low Winter Sun is a 10-episode drama. Watching 20 percent of it and then saying it’s not worth watching, there’s something wrong about that.
There’s big pressure for the show, especially with the Breaking Bad lead in. Do you hope that it will do well, ratings wise?
I don’t think there’s pressure to be the next Breaking Bad. It’s great that we are going to have people who watch Breaking Bad watch and enjoy Low Winter Sun. Maybe they’ll enjoy the show as much as they enjoy watching the exploits of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
With Breaking Bad now done, is Low Winter Sun the replacement for the show?
No. I don’t think so. Some critics have said so, but I don’t think so. Besides that’s too much pressure for a new song to live up to such a great drama like Breaking Bad.
What makes Low Winter Sun different from all other shows on AMC?
I think each show has its own audience it appeals to. The psyche of each show is different from the other. Breaking Bad appeals to people who like twisted and witty humour. Mad Men is for people who love style and history; The Walking Dead is for people who love gritty, zombie comic dramas; Hell On Wheels is for those fascinated by history and the race relations of 19th century America. The thing is AMC has different shows that appeal to different people. None of the shows are the same, which is a great thing and that’s why AMC is one of the best cable channels in the world right now.
Who will enjoy Low Winter Sun?
We are still finding our audience, but I think people who love gritty, dark crime periodicals will enjoy this show.
Catch Mark Strong as Frank Agnew in Low Winter Sun, Sundays at 9.25pm on Fox Crime.