Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in TEN DAYS IN THE VALLEY - Season 1 | ©2017 ABC/Bob D'Amico

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in TEN DAYS IN THE VALLEY – Season 1 | ©2017 ABC/Bob D’Amico

As its title suggests, ABC’s Sunday night miniseries TEN DAYS IN THE VALLEY takes place over the course of a week-and-a-half in L.A. County. Kyra Sedgwick (also an executive producer here) stars as TV producer/writer Jane Sadler. Jane, who previously made documentaries, is doing her first drama series, concerned with police corruption, which is closer to reality than some people would like. Jane is also in the middle of a hostile marital separation when her young daughter Lake (Abigail Pniowsky) vanishes from their home in the middle of the night.

Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (when asked, he cordially supplies the correct pronunciation: “Ah-de-WALL-ay is my first name, and Ack-in-NOY-yay-Ack-BAH-zhay. And if you can’t get that, Triple A is fine”) plays John Bird, the Robbery/Homicide detective assigned to the case. Like every other character in the show, Bird has secrets of his own.

Akinnouye-Agbaje, originally from London, England, previously made an indelible impression as the mysterious Mr. Eko on ABC’s LOST and as Simon Adebisi on HBO’s prison drama OZ. His film work includes THE BOURNE IDENTITY, UNSTOPPABLE, the remake of THE THING, Virgil Brooks in TRUMBO, Dave Duerson in CONCUSSION and Killer Croc in SUICIDE SQUAD. He’s also had regular roles in the series HUNTED and AMERICAN ODYSSEY, and an arc on GAME OF THRONES as Malko.

ASSIGNMENT X: Can you tell us more about John Bird in TEN DAYS IN THE VALLEY?

ADEWALE AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE: John Bird is a seasoned detective. It’s actually really an exciting prospect for me as an actor to play this type of character, because you may or may not be familiar with my work, but I’ve played for a couple of decades characters that are on the other side of the law. So to be able to put a badge on and be a good guy and have a back story, have a family, and have some kind of relationship with the leading lady was really interesting. And obviously, playing an American, being British, was a nice challenge that I wanted to embrace, and being able to shoot in L.A. I think he’s a really interesting character, because he’s one of these guys who’s a bit of a rogue, but still within the system. They have a lot of respect for the way he works, which is unorthodox, but he always gets the job done. But he comes across this case, and I think he’s getting in it a little too deep, a little deeper in it than he would normally, emotionally. And so I think it shows different sides and layers of him, rather than just the procedural cop. You actually see this cop with feelings, emotions, guilt, vulnerability, as well as him being able to execute his job. So it’s a multidimensional modern-day cop.

AX: Is it in the scripts, or have you decided for yourself, why he decided to become a police detective? Does he want to save people, like the missing kid? Does he want to prevent criminals from committing more crimes, or does he want to punish them for the crimes they’ve committed?

AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE: Myself and [creator] Tassie [Cameron] talked about back story, and where he would have come from, maybe the military, and when he came out [of the military], he had those kind of skills, and probably they were best suited for this type of job, but I think on a psychological and personal level, he’s a man who seeks justice, and wants to have some kind of impact on the world, and this is a vehicle for him to do it with. I think that’s part of the reason why he never likes to give up, and he likes to solve the case. So he’s quite a conscientious person, without hitting it over the head with a nail, because he’s not a tie and suit kind of guy, he’s very low-key, laid-back about it. But deep down, he really cares. He not only cares about the end result, but he cares about justice. In the modern day, that might be a corny kind of thing to embrace, but he does. And he does it in a very unique way that’s unique to him. He doesn’t care if he has to hand in his badge to find justice, he will do that. He’s not just going to do that with a badge, he’s about getting the job done. So I like that about him. He will go to any lengths to get to the truth. That’s his moral compass. He’s all about truth – certainly, in his job. I don’t know about his life – he’s had three divorces [laughs].

AX: Having been married and divorced so many times, does Bird apply his knowledge of marital strife to this situation and sort of see it through a prism of, well, this is what my exes and I were willing to do to make each other angry, so this is what I think is happening here?

AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE: I think each one of those experiences with each wife has been resource material for Bird, and we see him employing it when he’s very, very subtly, I would say, interrogating Jane’s sister. I mean, again, he’s using some facts about his ex-wife, about how they were trying to conceive a child to actually disarm her. And he does the same with Jane. And I think he’s a very smart cat. And one of the things I think is really interesting about the back story of the three wives is that he’s friends with all of them [laughs]. He has no beef with them, and that’s a testament to the fact that he is comfortable with who he is. He knows that the real wife is his job, and so do the wives [laughs]. And because of that, they’ve become friends, but with that knowledge and experience that he’s learned from the marriages, he’s applied it to his job. Does that make sense? I hope so.

AX: You’ve played characters on the other side of the law. Is there a different psychological focus for playing a cop versus a criminal?

AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE: Yeah, there is. I would say a moral barometer. Because obviously, when you’re playing an Adebisi or Mr. Eko, there is none, and there’s a freedom in that, and you cross all lines to get to do what you need to do. But obviously, as an officer of the law, there is a compass, there is a barometer, which you’re not prepared to cross. However, John Bird will cross it if the ends justify the means, as you will see as the episodes unfold. I don’t want to give too many spoilers.

AX: What do you think it is about Jane’s family that makes Bird so willing to risk crossing that line between professionalism and familiarity?

AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE: I think that all comes part and parcel with, there’s a method to his madness. He is unorthodox in his approach and his protocol, and the system kind of overlooks it because of the effects and the results that he’s able to achieve. I think because of his own life – he’s been married and divorced three times – it’s given him a wealth of knowledge and experience, which he applies to the job. And the way that Bird actually accesses and gets information is by disarming his suspects. Whether it means helping them inject themselves [as he does with Jane’s on-medication sister Ali, played by Erika Christensen], having a chat, making himself a cup of coffee in somebody else’s house, he’s very much a charmer and a disarmer. But make no mistake, he’s always on the job. And I think that’s why he’s most effective, that’s why Gomez [Bird’s boss, played by Felix Solis] trusts him to deliver. I think he’s one of those old-school cats who feels that not everything has to come down to an interrogation and intimidation. There’s a million ways to skin a cat, and that’s John Bird.

AX: Can you talk about working with Kyra Sedgwick in TEN DAYS IN THE VALLEY?

AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE: First of all, I have to say how wonderful it was to work with Kyra, because she’s such a generous actress, and real, and she’s so committed, and after being in this industry for so long, to still have that passion and integrity to her craft is inspiring. So I enjoyed it on that level, but with her character, there were some wonderful scenes, like we just talked about. “Would he really go into her bedroom and start talking?” And I’m like, “That’s Bird. He goes into her bedroom and starts talking and sits on her bed and tells her. He’s in her house and it’s very intimate.” I almost felt like there was an immense amount of compassion in him, because he could see the weight that she’s under, he could see the demons that are torturing her. But I think wholly he could see that she was a good person. So we had scenes like that, the ones in the bedroom. And she lied to him many times, and really, he should have just arrested her and locked her up. But I think he always knows that beneath everything, she’s a decent human being. She might have got caught up and she might have done one or two things bad, but she’s not an evil person.

Moments like [the scene] in the car where we get to reveal a layer of depth within the characters between us, I found particularly rewarding. And at times, they were arguing as if they’d had an affair for ten years. Again, it comes from a deep-rooted compassion. He cares for her. Maybe he shouldn’t, it crosses a professional line, but we were able to broach that, and I thought that went beyond being just a procedural cop, which is what I did not want to play. And I think the scenes that reflected that, the dialogues in the car when he finds out certain aspects of her life. And again, I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but moments where we were able to connect and find a similarity of characters, the fact that he reveals he’s a lonely guy, which is a big deal for not only a guy to say, but certainly a cop to a suspect [laughs]. I thought those were really interesting, because it showed on a human level.

AX: You’re also about to make a film as a writer/director, based on your real life …

AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE: It’s a dream situation. I’ve always wanted to be multi-dimensional. This is a project, FARMING, that’s been in the works for twelve years. So finally I’ve got the green light and I’m going to get behind the camera. But I won’t lie to you, it is an immense task. I used to bitch and moan about being an actor, and now being a director on the other side, I realize how lucky I was just being an actor. But it’s a wonderful challenge, and obviously, it’s a biographical story, so it’s a dream come true, and one that I’m really prepared for. Hopefully, we’ll have a splinter unit going out [to Nigeria] at the end of the shoot, yeah. I was born and raised in England, but obviously, my parents are Nigerian, my heritage is Nigerian.

AX: Are you playing yourself?

AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE: No. Damson Idris, the young man who’s the star of the FX show SNOWFALL, is going to play the younger version of me, and a lovely small child that we’ve found as well, and I will play a small role, which will be my father. But my responsibilities will be predominantly behind the camera.

AX: What would you most like people to know about TEN DAYS IN THE VALLEY?

AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE: That it’s a really intriguing thriller/mystery, that it’s for an intelligent man/woman, that it’s highly entertaining, and it just has you sitting on the edge of your seat on every episode.

This interview was conducted during ABC’s portion of the Summer 2017 Television Critics Association press tour.

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