No Rest for the Wicked: Edi Gathegi Talks ‘Criminal Activities’, ‘The Blacklist’ and Playing Villainous Characters
Villains are often the most enticing characters on screen. They draw in their audience; inviting us to hang on to every word they say. Though Edi Gathegi has had many roles in films and on television, some of the most terrifying characters on his resume are some of his most brilliant. You may remember him as Cheese in “Gone Baby Gone,” or more recently you may have been watching his antics as Mr. Solomon on NBC’s “The Blacklist” over the past several weeks. Either way, you’ve probably realized that Edi Gathegi is master storyteller. Gathegi recently sat down with Shadow and Act to talk about his new film “Criminal Activities”, his role on “The Blacklist” and what it’s like to play the bad guy.
Aramide Tinubu: Hi Edi, it’s great to meet you; I’m really excited to chat with you.
Edi Gathegi: It's nice to meet you!
AT: Let’s get right to it. You've sort of become this master at playing villains. You were kind of an evil vampire in the “Twilight” saga, and currently your characters on NBC's “The Blacklist” and this current film “Criminal Activities” are still rather unsavory. How is Marques different from the other menacing characters that you've played in the past?
EG: I think the idea, first and foremost, is to understand that people may label these characters as villains, but at the end of the day I have to fall in love with the characters that I play. For me, they have to be real characters with real objectives, and driving forces. So they're all different. For instance Laurent (“Twilight”) is a vampire who has a strange desire to feed off of humans, but he tries to be a vegetarian. Unfortunately, that's too hard for him so he ends up killing a human. So, I guess you can look at him as a bad guy, but that was just in his nature. Now Mr. Solomon on “The Blacklist”, he’s bad. He is probably the worst character that I've played, in terms of having very few redeeming qualities, other than the fact that he's fun to watch. He’s someone who really enjoys living without a moral compass.
AT: Yes, he is extremely entertaining; you never know what he’s up to.
EG: Marques is a man who has been groomed and raised by unsavory characters. I think that maybe he's potentially a victim of his own environment. He's just sort of got into the family business. Maybe if he was raised in a different environment he might have had a different outlet. But, I guess he's bad because he engages in criminal activity. (Laughing)
AT: (Laughing) Yes, Marques has that cold and calculating demeanor that is similar to Mr. Solomon. However, “Criminal Activities” has this humor twist to it that is very atypical of traditional gangster films. I really enjoyed that comedic element.
EG: Yeah and what’s interesting is that I have to assume it was filmed the way it was intended, but when I read the script I didn't really see a whole lot of humor in it. It wasn’t until the actors totally committed to each scene, and what they were going for that certain things become hilarious. After all, it’s a truly outlandish situation.
AT: What intrigued you about “Criminal Activities”? How did you come to be involved with the project?
RG: I was told (and I don’t know how much of this is true) but I was told that there was a name actor that was negotiating for the role of Marques and somehow that deal fell apart. So, my agents urged me to make a tape for it. Jackie saw my tape and really liked me, but he wanted to see me do a slightly different version of the character, so I made a second tape and then they gave me the gig. I liked the role because it was a cool project. It was well written and it seemed fun, but there was a challenge for me. The difference between Marques and any other character that I’ve ever played is that he has got pages and pages of dialogue. I looked at the script and I thought this is a challenge. How in the hell am I going to say all of this and have the audience not fall asleep?
AT: He definitely has some of the best lines in the film.
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Image: Edi Gathegi