You have two characters, Adebisi from Oz and Mr. Eko from Lost, that people relate to you. Which is the one that you get approached about most?
It depends. New York, this is Adebisi’s territory right here.
Why is that?
I mean, he’s worldwide, but this is where the show was shot, this is where it really sprung up, this is the home of HBO, so.... It was great to be shooting it here in the Meatpacking District. I remember riding to work on my bike every day, great memories. I used to ride to work with the hat on my head and you’d just see people in the morning: “Adebisi! Adebisi!” It was just great. So there’s always Adebisi, and they will never, ever let that go.
Honestly, I just read the lines [on Lost]. I just did my work between action and cut, and I left the conjecture to the audience. I’ve still yet to watch all of the seasons.
I was in Australia, where I was filming Killer Elite, and it was dark and kind of cold, and I was just out getting something to eat, and there was this bum sitting on the bench, and he was like, [puts on scratchy Australian accent] “Hey, Adebisi! Adebisi! Yeah, mate, I used to watch you. I used to watch you when I had a TV.” [Laughs.] That amazed me. And it happens so often. All these countries I’ve been to, other places where they can’t speak a word of English but they can recite every line I said as Mr. Eko. It’s always endearing when the public loves the characters, they own them, they take them as personal. As an actor you want your work to resonate with an audience.
As far as the mysteries of Lost, did you have a favorite theory?
Nah, nah. Me, honestly, I just read the lines. I didn’t mess with that, I just did my work between action and cut, and I left the conjecture to the audience. I’ve still yet to watch all of the seasons, because when you work you’re in a vacuum, you do it and you move on to the next job, so you don’t always get time to [watch]. Like, it was a long time before I watched the whole series of Oz. At some point I’ll sit down and watch Lost, and I might have a theory then.
Are you doing strictly screen work now? Any stage?
I don’t really discriminate with my art. To me, it’s my art and it’s to be expressed through whichever medium is there, wheather it's treading the boards in the theater, on the small-screen TV, or on the large screen. I love theater, and it’s definitely something I would love to do. I’ll be meeting some of the theater producers and directors while I’m here, but [theater] is the hard work. There ain’t no cut and rewind! You gotta bring it and whatever comes out sticks. But I’m ready to do that, especially in New York. It’d be great to do some theater here.
It seems like a lot of actors move out to L.A. for the business of movies and TV but return to NY regularly to do theater for that live buzz.
It’s like the gym for an actor, it’s like the training ground. You sharpen your tool and you’re face to face with your audience, so it’s brutal. You know when it’s hitting and when it’s not. That’s always good for an actor, because you’re live. But you know, TV and film is a different discipline. You can be great on the stage but when you go back on the screen, it’s about pulling it in. Either way, it’s great exercise.
When was the last time you did theater?
I did it in London, the Old Vic, about four years ago. It’s long overdue. I’ve gotta go back to the gym, my acting gym, and start treading the boards, as they say.
Is it like second nature to get back on a stage?
It is, but it’s a little scary because, the first night you get out there, people were as close to me as you are [sitting in the adjacent chair] and they’re staring right at you. And some people are on their phones and you have to move them, you have to move them to the point that they put down their phones and just be riveted. That’s the challenge, but it’s a great one.
It’s reactionary too, when someone’s phone goes off.
Well, you can play with that sometimes, depending on the material, but you’ve gotta be in the pocket, so deep that whatever’s going off is not going to psyche you out. It helps if you’ve got a great cast. But a musical could be good too…. [Laughs.] But we’ll leave that for down the line.