Figures Out The Accountant
by Brad Balfour
A title like The Accountant, the latest film from director Gavin O Connor (Warrior, Pride and Glory), defies expectations. Not suggesting the action film that’s about to unfold lends it further drive and energy. There are various surprises in this tale of a man with Asperger’s who is possessed with very lethal skills beyond accounting, played by Ben Affleck, doing his work for dangerous people.
He is buoyed by such stellar talent as Anna Kendrick as a junior accountant who finds disparities in a med-tech firm’s books. Her discovery causes the company’s CEO (played by John Lithgow) to bring in accountant Christian “Chris” Wolff to review the books. JK Simmons plays the head of a Treasury division investigating Wolff for his many suspicious activities. Into this mix comes relative newcomer Cynthia Addai-Robinson, who handles the burden of researching and finding Wolff as he proves to be both an elusive and dangerous adversary.
Though providing a fresh, equally accomplished presence in this film, she is not exactly a newcomer. Addai-Robinson made her mark on the small screen in notable genre series such as Arrow, playing the benchmark DC comics character Amanda Waller (a character played in various permutations by Viola Davis, Angela Bassett and Pam Grier). She has also been in both Spartacus: Vengeance and Spartacus: War of the Damned as Naevia.
Born to a Ghanaian mother and American father in London, she moved to the States and grew up in Washington, DC. Then she went to New York to attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and The Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. The 31-year-old actor went on to work in various off-Broadway shows and a bunch of cop-and-crime series such as Law & Order: Criminal Intent, CSI: Miami and the Ridley Scott-produced Numb3rs – ironically, a show about a mathematician solving crime for the FBI.
Though such experience may not have necessarily prepped her for this part, she apparently has insights into Marybeth Medina that have made the character a crucial element of this unique thriller.
When they cast you as [Marybeth Medina] were you told that your character had a secret past from the start or did they see how you’d play her without knowing?
I read the script and really responded to it, because I appreciated the fact that it was an original script. I know it’s popular to do remakes and movies inspired by other stories, but there’s something about characters you’re not familiar with [and] that you get to originate a role that’s really exciting. You get to put your stamp on it, bring a little of your own quality to it. I had the full script to read. It’s difficult to [have] information about a character and then just play [her based on] that information. I don’t know how you would play [her with] all that background. You have to get a sense of the circumstances of when this particular bit of information gets revealed in the movie to know how she’s feeling at that moment.
The information is there as far as Ray King showing Marybeth Medina her files, Ray King of course is played by JK [Simmons]. In that moment it’s about [her] sense of shame and humiliation. In that moment, you’re just trying to determine how your character feels, what does it mean to her, how does it inform how she moves about in the world and work? I just try to think about those things [in] putting the character together. I had a lot of opportunities to research and come up with her back story, which you don’t necessarily see all of in the movie, but again it does inform how she moves around in the world.
What were the circumstances of getting offered this role? Was it serendipitous or was it just being at the right casting call?
You’ve got it. It was just the regular old audition process. I auditioned with the casting director, then our director Gavin O’Connor [who also directed the powerful Warrior]. I was certainly hopeful it would go my way. You never know what they’re looking for [based on] just a description on a page. There are still so many actors they see and consider [for] the cast as a whole. I don’t necessarily have a sense of what they may or may not have been looking for, but all you can do as an actor is get a sense of the character, try to present what you think are the traits that would make sense to see in a casting situation, and cross your fingers and hope for the best. It ultimately ended up going my way.
You have this incredible cast with people who have amazing resumes and now you’ve got to step up to the plate. Did that put any extra pressure on you?
Yeah, but [it’s] pressure in a good way. That’s how you ultimately improve and hone your skills. If you’re going to participate and collaborate in something, you want to be with the best of the best, which I was lucky enough to get to do. Right when we started filming, JK was going through award season with Whiplash, and right before I had been brought onto the project I had seen Whiplash and was just blown away. I really responded strongly to the movie, to what those actors were doing. To find out not long after that I would be going toe-to-toe with JK Simmons, there’s of course the initial shock and awe and intimidation and excitement, but at the end of the day this is someone who’s a peer and I always felt like he treated me as such. I have a lot of respect for him and I [felt that] getting the chance to work with him made me bring my A game. You almost don’t have a choice; you don’t want to look bad next to a person like that and it wouldn’t be fair. It’s such an exchanged when you’re playing with another seasoned actor, you really have to be present for that. And you hope they’re present for you as well and I feel like that was the case with JK.
I take it you didn’t have to do a lot of takes with him.
Well we did a lot of takes in terms of collaborating with Gavin so they can really hone in on the dynamic that evolves over the course of the movie. So again doing another take just gives you more opportunities in the editing to pick out the best of the best moments. A lot of times these types of interactions are in the glances and the looks. There’s a lot of great dialogue in our scripts, but there are these really great internal moments as well for all the characters. You see them really thinking internally and it’s less about what they’re saying verbally and more about what’s going on behind the eyes and behind the mind. That’s true for all the characters in their quieter moments. We worked really hard to get as much as possible when we were filming.
When you got this job did you research the other actors as well? You’re not in the film with a lot of the other principals – they had very separate scenes – and it like there were two major story lines happening that finally come together by the end. Was it fun to see it all put together?
It was great to see it all together. You’re always curious about how other people were spending their day. I read the script and saw it on the page, but I was excited to see how the other actors brought it to life. That’s pretty common in films. You see the cast list and some actors you work with one day; in this particular movie I’m tracking Ben’s character, but I’m just looking at his photo. I’m excited to see what everyone did; I think everyone’s work is really strong and it’s a great portrayal of a character. It’s a great role for Ben – something unexpected and different.
Did you want to go back and watch everyone else’s films or be like the characters and not know anything about them until something is revealed?
The focus is on the characters, you have to have some separation in terms of being a fan of all those actors – which I am and have admired them and their work over their years – and getting down to the task at hand, which is the story. Now that we’re done I can go and binge watch some of their stuff. Just excited to work alongside them. I think the cast will like the story.
Was it helpful to have parents who grew up in Africa; did it help in adding another layer to her back story?
I don’t know if it was so conscious. Whatever qualities I have that other people see come from a whole lifetime of experiences, and my upbringing, and people I’ve come across in my life. Again, it’s not the decision of pulling those attributes from my own personality. I walk into a room and people have the impression that they have. In my day-to-day life I’m not necessarily an easy person to peg. I try to play on that I guess. I’m pretty reserved and quiet. That can be misread, or people can think I’m thinking about things intensely when I’m just thinking about lunch. There has to be something about some qualities I possess that as I get older and get experienced in the business I start to get a sense of how people see me versus how I know myself.
Have your parents seen the movie?
My mother saw the movie and she’s very excited. She loved it. I feel like audiences are going to have a strong response to it. I’m ready for the film to be out for everyone, for my family and friends to see and see what we put together last year.
She didn’t say, “See? You should have continued your education. You could have been in the FBI!”
In my parallel universe life I could have been an accountant, I suppose, but she’s much happier to see me fulfill my dream of being an actor. She’s pretty proud and happy. I still try to work the stuff in when I can, but it’s easier to portray those moments and look extra smart on film and TV.
How are your accounting skills?
My accounting now is not so great, but when I was younger I went to a math science and computer science magnet school in Washington, DC. [I] grew up in a household that was very much about education being your ticket [to success]. There was a big focus on those skills. Then I just up and one day decided I was going to be an actor. Oddly enough that worked out and my academic life very much serves me as an actor today. I’m glad I had the experience of being exposed to all the math and science that, maybe, in the moment were incredibly challenging to me, but ultimately helped me. There are similar moments as an actor when you really have to stay focused and process a lot of information. I had that former life as a math nerd, but those days are long gone and I’m quite content to portray one in a movie.
Did this film make you want to go back and research numbers or accounting, or were you glad you didn’t have to deal with it?
I will say it’s nice to get the opportunity to portray a female working at the Treasury Department, working in the Financial Crime division, working with numbers, and hoping that in some way that representation of that makes that cool. That’s important to me, making sure young women that have a knack with numbers see that stuff. That’s not my calling in life, but it is a calling for a lot of young women, and a lot of young women of color. So if that small contribution is something, then I’m more than happy to let that be my contribution to women in math and science.
Were you frustrated you couldn’t use a gun?
Nope. I was quite happy to [not do so]. I’ll be working in a different capacity in [the new series] Shooter for the USA Network, that’s what’s coming up [for me]. Every job is different and every role requires a different skill set. I was happy on this one to just be the entry point for the audience so they can solve the case along with Marybeth.
Do you find it exciting to be sharing the name Amanda Waller with another certain actress?
Of course! Of all the actors out there I can’t believe I’m in the same company as them. I hope our paths cross, that would be amazing.
You haven’t gotten together with Viola Davis (who played Waller in Suicide Squad) to compare notes?
I wish. If someone could make that happen, I’d be appreciative.
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 12, 2016.
Photos ©2016. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. All Rights Reserved.