On the Go with Ato Essandoh!

Ato Essandoh talks about life, career and the good fortune of having two hit TV shows: Copper and Elementary

Kam Williams | 7/26/2013, 6 a.m.
After hypnotizing audiences as D’Artagnan, the slave who was mauled to death by dogs in Django Unchained, Ato Essandoh now ...

On Elementary, you play a very different character, Alfredo Llamosa, a former carjacker. What’s he like?

Alfredo is cool. He’s lived the proverbial “hard knock life.” He’s turned things around following a bout of drug addiction and now wants to help others, particularly Sherlock. Like Freeman, Alfredo has the same sense of duty about improving the lives of others. Oh, and he rocks fresh gear!

Do you ever get confused on the set about which guy you’re supposed to be playing?

You’d be surprised. Sometimes I get the voices confused. Especially after having just flown in first thing in the morning from Toronto to shoot Elementary in New York City. After some coffee, then I’m like, “Oh yeah, Alfredo is the one who knows what a cell phone is.”

Which one is more like the real-life you?

It’s close, but I think I lean towards Freeman. But not by much. Yeah, if Freeman and Alfredo had a kid, it would be me.

You were mauled to death in Django Unchained.

What was it like being directed by Quentin Tarantino and working opposite Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz?

If you’re planning on getting mauled by dogs, this is the most fun you’ll ever have. Quentin was absolutely a dream to work for. He’s savant-level brilliant and savagely funny. Jamie and Christoph were charming and generous. Leo, who I’ve worked with before on Blood Diamond, is a consummate pro. I repeat: If you are going to get mauled by dogs, this is the most fun you’ll ever have.

What is the key to your knack for delivering memorable performances in support roles in movies like Hitch and Blood Diamond?

I just try to help tell the story as best as possible. It helps when you’re working for fantastic directors like Andy Tennant and Ed Zwick. I pretty much just do whatever they tell me.

You are also a playwright and a stage actor. Do you prefer theater to film?

Theater! You get to rehearse and explore the story for some months before the crowd sees it. Then there is the crowd itself. Nothing beats performing live. The five minutes before the stage manager calls “Places!” is thrilling, feeling the audience listening, and breathing and responding. Nothing beats it.

Are you ever afraid?

Of course. Fear, if handled correctly, tells you where you need to go next and what you need to face.

Are you happy?

Yes quite, since I realized that happiness is not a destination, but rather a state of being. Happiness is a practice.

What was the last book you read?

I just reread Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because it makes me laugh out loud.

What excites you?

Virtuosity! Watching someone transcend their art, like a great athlete does in sports. Or like Prince has done in music. Prince has made a career of transcendence.

Who is your favorite clothes designer?

John Varvatos.

What was your best career decision?

Taking acting classes.

If you only had 24 hours to live, what would you do? Would you do the bad stuff you never got a chance to do, or would you do good stuff to make sure you make it into heaven?