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Mark Strong on Playing the Same Character Twice in 'Low Winter Sun' and Not Using Detroit for 'Ruin Porn'

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire August 8, 2013 at 12:00PM

Mark Strong is getting a chance to do something few actors ever have the opportunity to -- to appear in the same role twice, in different contexts. He first played Frank Agnew in 2006 for the British "Low Winter Sun," a dark, two-part drama about two Edinburgh policemen who commit and then try to cover up a murder.
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Mark Strong in 'Low Winter Sun'
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC Mark Strong in 'Low Winter Sun'

Mark Strong is getting a chance to do something few actors ever have the opportunity to -- to appear in the same role twice, in different contexts. He first played Frank Agnew in 2006 for the British "Low Winter Sun," a dark, two-part drama about two Edinburgh policemen who commit and then try to cover up a murder. He stars again as Frank in AMC's new remake of that miniseries, which transplants the action to Detroit and, with a first season set for 10 episodes and the possibility of a renewal, gives Frank and his colleague in crime (and law enforcement) Joe Geddes (Lennie James) more rope with which to hand themselves, or at least in which to get very entangled.

It's the first venture into U.S. television for the English Strong, who's been all over the big screen of late, with roles in everything from "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "Zero Dark Thirty" to "Sherlock Holmes" and "Kick-Ass" -- and it's a prominent one, with AMC teeing up the series for a premiere this Sunday, August 11th at 10pm, right after the return of "Breaking Bad." Indiewire sat down with Strong in Los Angeles to discuss the series, Detroit and the good guy as bad guy.

Mark Strong 2

Do you consider Frank an antihero? "Low Winter Sun" starts off with him murdering someone, but he does seem to think of himself as a fundamentally good person.

What is the definition of an antihero? The person you are asked to follow and respect, but whose behavior is morally unsound? If that's a decent definition, then I would say that's exactly who he is. Especially with Walter White, we're becoming very used to the idea of the antihero -- the person you're not supposed to like, but you do.

It's interesting that drama has moved that way, because in the old days... William Hays, in the year of censorship, said that the bad guy was never allowed to get away with it. That was actually a tenet that was enshrined in the censorship rules. How far we've come, now it's almost the opposite -- it's as if you won't believe a straightforward good guy. And it's because we've become a lot more sophisticated in understanding ourselves and our understanding of TV drama.

Everybody's capable of something dodgy. I'm a fairly sound guy, but whenever a police car pulls up next to me, I always get slightly worried, do you know what I mean? Because I'm sure there's something, if they looked into my life and my affairs, that I'm doing that's dodgy. And I'm sure all of us are in the same boat, whether it's paying a nanny or a gardener in cash or parking illegally. None of us are good or bad, either good or bad, we're a bit of both. Drama is taking that to its logical extreme and making it very exciting.

"William Hays, in the year of censorship, said that the bad guy was never allowed to get away with it."

So, in a very long way to answer your question, yeah, Frank is an antihero, but I hope he's not just a traditional one, because I think he's a lot more complicated than your average antihero.

He seems, as opposed to Walter White or Tony Soprano, who set off down these burrows of criminality, to be more about digging himself out of one.

Yeah, good observation. They're already in that world and you're asked to like them. The thing about Frank is he's supposed to be the good guy, and he's trying to stopped himself from being dragged to the dark side, so he's constantly... Do you remember that cartoon "Pepe Le Pew," with the skunk that gets the cat and the cat is trying to get out of its embraces? That's Frank.

Is he a good detective? Because we're thrown into seeing him basically being misled. Is that because he's missing something or he has a misplaced faith in people?

He has a misplaced faith in people. He's also somebody who loves to try and mend broken things. The irony is that he's broken and can't see that in himself. And he's duped into doing something for love, and that has blinded him to be the great cop that he normally is. Everybody describes him as the best cop in the department -- his captain gives him the job of sorting everything out when shit hits the fan. Even Geddes, when they're faking the murder, says "You're the best at this. If you can't think of it, nobody else will." So he is definitely the best cop, and it's definitely ironic that he is coerced into doing something reprehensible because his vision has suddenly been blurred by love.

Mark Strong 4

How do you see this as suited to being a Detroit story? Of all the cities in the U.S., that's one you can't choose lightly as being just in the background. It's got a particular weight, especially recently. 

Because I think Frank is Detroit. That level of him, the good and the bad, is mirrored by perceptions of Detroit. I mean, Detroit used to be the fourth largest city in the United States, with two million people. Now it's only 700,000, I think it's the 18th largest. It's just gone bankrupt. Everyone's perception of it is it's dirty, it's apocalyptic, it's a wasteland.

And of course there are elements that are like that, but other cities have that -- not as bad as Detroit, but they have their bad side. And it's the bad guy, isn't it? Detroit's the bad guy. Everybody said to me, "Oh, you're going to Detroit? You mustn't go to Detroit. Why are you filming there?" And I think that's why the show is suited to it, because the moral ambiguity of Frank is mirrored by the kind of schizophrenia of Detroit, which used to be this proud, amazing engine of the American economy, which is now an embarrassment.

It does also get saddled with being this metaphor for America in decline, but it's a place where people live -- it's got an economy and a community. Can you tell me a little bit about how the show uses details about the region?

Mark Strong 3

The amazing thing about Detroit is that you can drive along a place called Lakeshore Drive in Grosse Pointe, and there are houses there the size of castles -- multimillion dollar houses with manicured lawns, the likes of which you've never seen. And then you've got Cass Avenue, which is where the junkies and the homeless people hang out. And everything in between. And the show mirrors that, because we have characters who live in the opulence that does exist in and around Detroit.

When people ask about the disaster of Detroit, they're mainly talking about downtown. 20 minutes outside, you've got these amazing suburbs. I mean, Cranbrook, this amazingly posh school, is a half-hour's drive from Detroit. It's uber-privileged. And I think the show mirrors that because we have characters that live in opulence, the criminals that are doing very well but that work out of Greektown. Greektown is a real place, and it's very dodgy, and we have scenes that take place there. The guys are working in a building that is literally falling down, like a ruin.

When the actual police detective came and saw the mock-up of the police offices that had been created, it was like, "Oh my God, this is it." It was real. And we came in and saw and were like, "Oh come on, this is way too much." And he was like, "This is it!" So I think we're trying to mirror Detroit in all of its forms. It's multifaceted, and it annoys me when people just think of it as this horrific wasteland. I mean, as a tourist, you drive from the airport and the first thing you notice are the ruined buildings, vacant lots, burned houses, and you think, "Oh my god, it's all true." Then the next thing you do is try to solve the problem, and you go, "Well, if I was in charge, this is what I would do..."

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Interviews, AMC, Low Winter Sun, Mark Strong






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