Bringing Old School Back
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje channels old school detectives in Ten Days in the Valley.
In his new series, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is not your typical TV detective.
The show is ABC’s Ten Days in the Valley where each one of the 10 episodes covers a single day centering on the life of a screenwriter and producer, played by Kyra Sedgwick. While the audience delves into her very busy and complex work and home lives, a triggered event soon turns everything in her world upside down.
This is where Akinnuoye-Agbaje comes in. “My character’s name is John Bird and he is a seasoned detective within the Robbery Homicide division of the LAPD. He’s a bit of a renegade detective, but he’s known to always deliver; he has quite unorthodox methods, he’s laid back, old school, and he tends to charm his suspects in order to disarm them.”
Channeling the styles of Columbo and Kojak and the old school feel of a cop who could think through a problem without having to always immediately rely on his sidearm, the London-born actor explains how he wanted to pay homage to the style of detective work that was used by the thinking man and was more psychological, rather than using blind forceful procedure no matter the circumstance.
“What I like about those cops was that they had many devices and tricks by which they were able to get truth out of certain suspects; Columbo would do just about anything that was not necessarily by the book in order to get what he needed and I felt that was quite interesting to draw upon for Bird.”
“It’s one of the reasons I gravitated to the role, because Bird is not by any means a procedural cop. There are many layers of this guy, he runs around with a gun on his hip, but at no point does he ever use it in the show, which I thought was quite interesting. “
Akinnuoye-Agbaje continues, “It’s a great way for me, as an actor, to show different elements. I’ve played several infamous characters on the other side of the law, but to play somebody behind the badge who is not necessarily a bad guy, I just found a lot of substance there.”
That’s a nice complement to the Ten Days in the Valley creators since the method actor is at a point in his career where he won’t take on many jobs, except those characters in which he has a genuine interest.
“I know how I’m going to delve deep into it, it’s just how I operate. Bird was certainly a character I felt I really wanted to explore. It’s interesting because he’s from Memphis and he’s gone from the East coast and eventually to the West, so I loved exploring all those background elements.“
But the part didn’t just fall into Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s lap. He had to endure some unorthodox battles of his own just to get a chance at the role.
“My team and I had tracked this project quite awhile ago and at that time, Detective John Bird was written as a white character. I was disheartened with the substance of the other characters in pilots that were written specifically for black actors, so I asked my team to go after this role regardless and eventually I got the opportunity to audition and landed it.
"I think that’s one of the reasons the whole thing is more complex because it was not written as a black character, but as a human being.”
Akinnuoye-Agbaje goes on, “I love the fact that the producers at ABC were courageous enough to see a vision to the show where a cop could just be anybody, and that gave me a huge platform not only as an actor, but as a person to be able to show different layers and textures to a character.”
In order to assist in developing those layers and textures, Akinnuoye-Agbaje was able to draw upon past hands-on research he had done for a previous role where he had the opportunity to ride along with real cops and detectives and see them in action in New Jersey and Philadelphia.
“One small, but notable, thing I noticed when I was rolling with a very high-up detective in New Jersey was that he had one suit and never changed it because he was so focused on the job.”
Using this to project on his current role Akinnuoye-Agbaje illustrates, “Over the span of 10 days , thought it would be interesting to see the changes we, the public, don’t necessarily see in cops: specifically the fact that they don’t change their clothes when they’re so obsessed with a solving a case and also, the impact that focus has on their family. When a cop has a single aim, something has to give in their personal relationships.”
Akinnuoye-Agbaje took these elements, ideas, and research, and put them all into his psyche to create the character of Detective John Bird.
“I felt we showed some of those human elements and practical elements of sacrifice that go along with the job and that fleshed Bird out as a more interesting character.”
“I wanted to play him as if he’s a guy you don’t expect to be a cop, almost as if he was a jazz musician; very cool and laid back, so that he makes people feel comfortable around him. And since he’s physically a big guy, he comes into a space as an intimidating presence and if he wants to get the truth it’s not always about being right, it’s about justice.”
Akinnuoye-Agbaje explains, “Sometimes the two can conflict so if you’re going in trying to be the bad cop, you don’t always achieve justice, but if you approach a person in a disarming manner that is cooperative and laid back, often you can get a lot more information from somebody.”
“I felt that a lot of our episodes lent themselves to that method of detective work and I was very happy that everyone embraced the style we adopted for John Bird.”
Ten Days in the Valley exhibits writing that is not as formulaic as so many of the cookie cutter procedurals that have been cable prevalent for such a long time. It’s a little more raw and a little more for the thinking audience.
“We go into Bird’s home after a long day at work and see how lonely the guy is. And that makes us think about what would make this person continue to go out and risk their life on the street? Why do they do this? The show is all about those questions. It’s for people to understand that behind the badge is a human and for them to consider how these humans think and how they operate.”
“I think it’s always good to put your feet in someone else’s shoes and take a look at life through their window.”
Ten Days in the Valley premieres Sunday, October 1st at 10/9 Central on ABC.