The Thing - Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaj and Joel Edgerton
The Thing - Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaj) and Carter (Joel Edgerton) lock and load © 2011 Universal Studios

In a desolate research base somewhere in the Antarctic, a Norwegian research team has discovered an alien organism trapped in the ice for eons. But once it’s been released, the creature begins assimilating the base’s human inhabitants until no one knows who is alien and who is not.

On this particular spring afternoon in a Toronto studio, several cast members of Universal’s prequel to The Thing are dealing with that very issue. Guns and flamethrowers are brandished and things rapidly go downhill from there.

British-born actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (of Lost fame), who plays visiting helicopter pilot Jameson, is a major participant in the scene; in fact, his actions push the film in a very different direction in terms of fear and paranoia. While it would be unfair to spoil those events for readers of this site, Adewale agreed to a quick sit-down interview between takes to discuss his character in more general terms…

Is the relationship between you and Joel Edgerton’s character the same as MacReady and Childs in the Carpenter film?

The Thing - Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Pilot Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) © 2011 Universal Studios

I haven’t watched the original, so I have no idea. I came in and wanted to start fresh so I could my own impression upon the movie. As this is the ‘first film,’ I wanted to approach it as if it’s an original. So in answer to your question, it’s an original relationship, but we are buddies that fought in Nam.

It’s a cool relationship. If you look at the time, for a black dude to be friends with a guy like Carter in the eighties, as tight as we are, to leave our homeland and come to this ice patch on the other side of the world, you’ve got to be really tight buddies.

When we were creating a back-story for the character- it was just theory to help us, so nothing was set in stone- we flirted with the idea that both of us had experienced losses in our families, particularly the primary relationship like parents and stuff.

It bonded us beyond the color barriers, plus there was the experience of war, so we’re tight buddies who went into business together.

Is there a lot of humor in that relationship?

Yeah, because everybody knew my work, they were kind of insistent that they didn’t want a bad guy or a tough guy. They wanted humor and if you know me, that’s absolutely what I am. Carter is more straight-laced and I f**k with him a lot but in a very friendly way.

There are a couple of girls on the base, so I know Carter is going to go for it and I’m going to for it over these hairy-faced Norwegian dudes, so I said, ‘Look, we’ve got to make a crack about that!’ The same with the Norwegians not understanding our language or listening to their corny songs; Jameson is always coming up with that kind of stuff.

To me, if you want to endear somebody to you, he’s got to be funny.

What can you say about the various creature transformations, and which characters may get infected?

If I’m talking about it from a character perspective, honestly we haven’t got a f**kng clue. I’m the first person to see it break out in the movie.  I tell them that ‘Hey, that thing is alive!’ so I’ve seen it move, but we really don’t know the depths of its power in terms of assuming other people’s identity.

We don’t know that until you know as an audience, because we’re going through it subjectively so we’re still trying to figure it all out.

As an audience you’re already going to be clued in, because you’ve seen what’s happened with the different characters, which we haven’t been privy to, so as characters, we just know there’s something out there that is killing people, assuming their lives and becoming one of those things.

We know it claims us in some way but we’re still figuring out the full gamut. You know more than we do, so we’ll be like, ‘Yo, what’s going on out there?’

As a black man of the 21stcentury, do you have to make adjustments to your performance when you’re playing a black character in the 1980s?

The Thing - Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Joel Edgerton and Paul Braunstein
Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Griggs (Paul Braunstein) trek through the frozen wilderness © 2011 Universal Studios

Yeah, mainly in how you cuss, because there’s certain s**t that wasn’t around or said then, so you’ve just got to check yourself on what you say. But in terms of being black it’s the same stuff.

The terminology may be different, and how you dress but ultimately the great thing about being the only African-American in this movie is you’re representing them, so you’re going to have that perspective. It’s kind of nice, because it gives you those moments.

Jameson brings reality to the situation, so when he sees the thing breaking out, he’s like, ‘It broke the f**k out! What is this s**t?’ He’s real and we say it like that, so that’s no different between 1982 and 2010. The essence and terminology of who you are as a black man coming from that culture is still real.

And I think also the humor is endemic in that as well. It was crucial to have that, so the only difference would have been my hair style and my clothes, but I still would have been a funky handsome brother, whatever the year!

Without giving too much away, what was the scariest scene in the film from your perspective?

For my character, probably the scariest thing- and it was quite a hard scene to shoot- is when I leave the party to try and see the thing after it’s been discovered.

Everybody is in the other room partying, and it’s still frozen in this ice, so that was pretty awesome, because I didn’t even know what it looked like until that day. As the character, that was the scariest thing in the movie for Jameson.

But for me, it’s when the guy’s arm falls off and there are tentacles hanging out, and out of the tentacles comes a head.  It’s really amazing, because some of the creatures have to look like the actors, so it’s half-actor and half-creature.

When you see that twisted, contorted form, with its mouth over here and its butt is coming out over there, it’s just gross. You go home at night wanting to wash it off in the shower, so that’s how I felt.

And do you remember the scene with the dog [in the original film]? We’ve got a scene that will make that look like peanuts! It’s nasty, but that certainly made our job easier.

The Thing opens today October 14, 2011.


Joe Nazzaro

Joe is a New York based journalist