Ato Essandoh ('Copper' / 'Elementary')
Hypnotizing audiences in 'Django Unchained' as D'Artagnan, the slave who was mauled to death by dogs, film and television star Ato Essandoh stars as Dr. Matthew Freeman in the 2nd season of BBC America’s highest-rated series premiere ever, 'Copper' (which returned on Sunday, June 23rd @ 10/9pm).
And Essandoh also returns as the fan-favorite former car-jacker and Watson’s (played by Lucy Liu) possible replacement, Alfredo Llamosa in CBS’ hit show 'Elementary.'
The breakout star of Season 1 of 'Copper,' Ato stars as Dr. Matthew Freeman, an African-American physician who serves as an informal pathologist for Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), a police detective trying to keep the peace in the historical Five Points neighborhood in 1860s New York City.
On the big screen, Essandoh is widely recognized for his roles in 'Garden State,' 'Blood Diamond,' and 'Hitch' and for his memorable TV roles in 'Blue Bloods,' 'Damages,' 'The Good Wife' and 'Law & Order' to name a few.
Born and raised in New York, he attended Cornell University as a chemical engineer, but upon taking a dare to accept a role in a stage production of Paper Moon, he fell in love with the stage and acting.
Moving to New York to study under the tutelage of James Price, Essandoh went on to perform in many Off-Broadway productions, even penning his own play which was produced by the Manhattan Theater Source and co-founding the writing/performance group The Defiant Ones.
Recognizing the importance of a healthy mind and body, Essandoh is an active yogi practicing for the past 8 years and has even recently joined a capoeira group, the Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance and music. Additionally, Essandoh is a vegan who is a strong believer of incorporating alternative/holistic medicine in one’s lifestyle. Essandoh has also been known to bring his guitar to set, practicing blues in his downtime.
And so with Ato Essandoh seemingly everywhere right now, I sat down with the rising star for a chat!
Taking it from the top, just how does a man with a BS in chemical engineering go from a mapped out career in that field to one of TV's hottest actors?! "Ha! My girlfriend in college dared me to do a play. I did it, and was hooked. Women are dangerous," he laughs.
Agreed ... so, was it an easy ride? "Yes. I say easy because I like keeping perspective. Being an ER doctor is hard. Taking care of kids is hard. Fighting in Afghanistan is hard. I do make-believe. That said, it's been a fantastic ride and there were a bunch of times I didn't know how I was going to pay my rent. Chemical Engineers usually don't have that problem."
Now enjoying your time as Dr. Matthew Freeman on BBC America's 'Copper,' what did you have to do to get the role in the first place? "It was just a routine audition. Once for the casting director, and then once again for Tom Fontana in LA. I left the second audition thinking I had little chance and put it out of my mind. A few months later (on Christmas Eve) I got the call that I was Dr Freeman."
And knowing the show is a period drama, what has been the hardest acting element of it to get to grips with thus far? "There's nothing hard about it really. The period part is the best thing about working there. Cineflix and BBC America built an incredible set. It transports you to the period. There's not much else to do besides learn your lines."
As we're not called Exclusive Magazine for nothing, can you please reveal a little something about the show that might interest our readers? "The last episode, you're going to get the story behind Corky, Morehouse and Freeman's unusual friendship ... and now I have to kill you," he, thankfully, laughs.
You work very hard in the industry and yet play hard too on your own time re: being an active yogi and having recently joined a capoeira group. Where do you get all your energy from?! "I just really like doing things that make me happy."
You seem to have embraced Twitter and tweet quite often now - but you don't use it for business, just personal points of view and stuff. Was that a deliberate choice of yours? "I've never thought of it that way. Tweeting is just fun. My show is fun. My life is mostly fun, so it's just fun. It just so happens that I work in entertainment. I think I would still tweet if I ended up an Chemical Engineer, however, I imagine my tweets would center around Thermodynamics and excited state electron configurations. Mmm, Benzene...!"
Another season two show you are on is the brilliant 'Elementary' - where you play Alfredo Llamosa. You play a reformed car-jacker so one has to ask: Have you ever, in real life, broken into a car?! "Haha! No, but now that I have some practice on set, if this acting thing doesn't work out...!"
And, again, being that this show is as in-depth as they come, with lots of wordy scenes, what has proven to be the hardest element (no pun intended) of it for you to grasp thus far? "Keeping up with Jonny Lee Miller. All his scenes are acting clinics. He has a real talent for language. He's potent. He is nails."
And word has it that you will be the successor to Dr. Watson (Lucy Liu) in season two - thoughts? "Ha. I'm going to keep my mouth shut on that one," she gently laughs, as a broad smile lights up his face.
And again, as we're not called Exclusive Magazine for nothing, can you please reveal a little something about the show that might interest us and our readers? "I got nothing other than quite honestly Lucy is one of kindest most genuine people I've met so far in the business. And I've met a lot of great people."
Earlier this year, due to a horrific Django Unchained death-by-dogs scene someone saw an opportunity to proclaim your death online!! How did this filter through to you at the time and what did you subsequently do about it? "Somebody on my feed randomly tweeted it to me. I read the article and was ready to dismiss it as a creepy troll thing when I saw that it had 500 or so comments. People were buying it! So I started tweeting from The Afterlife saying things like "Jimi Hendrix is God" - which he is - and so forth. Mostly snarky tweets about being dead. Some downright existential ones as well. One person, who's mom just passed wanted me to tell her “hi.” Stuff like that and it caught on. Not exactly viral, more like allergies. It was fun. I think some people are still convinced I'm dead."
And what was it like filming that horrific scene - for "real"?! "Fun. Honestly. It's like being part of a magic trick. The dogs were blast They were so well trained, and I love dogs so it was fun. Yeah like a magic trick. Tada!"
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins (the birds) ... do you also have any love/fondness for them, perhaps? "The aforementioned dog. Penguins not so much. Dogs are the greatest. And Otters. Which are kinda like dogs. Aqua-dogs!", he laughs, louder than ever before.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
Ato Essandoh on Twitter
Photo Credit: © BBC AMERICA/Cineflix (Copper) Inc.
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