Cynthia Addai-Robinson is perhaps best known to television audiences as the former Amanda Waller of Arrow, and her turn as a rebel warrior in Starz’s historical action series Spartacus, but she’s breaking out in a big way in theaters and back on cable in 2016. She’ll soon be seen as a Treasury Agent hunting for Ben Affleck’s mysterious mathematics expert in the edgy thriller The Accountant, and in USA’s long-delayed new drama Shooter (based on the 2007 film of the same name) opposite Ryan Phillippe.
With The Accountant about to hit theaters, Addai-Robinson spoke with Screen Rant about the film, her career and more.
Screen Rant: Have you screened the finished film?
Cynthia Addai-Robinson: Yes! Yeah, I got the chance to watch it in a screening room – it’s actually really lovely. I watched it with my mom and my little sister and a couple of select folks; and it was a nice way to see the movie and to see a lot of the parts of the movie that I did not have a hand in. Because there were a lot of scenes that I loved on the page and wanted to see how they handled them, so everything worked out really great.
SE: The film is uniquely structured in that it’s an ensemble film where a lot of the main characters do not actually share scenes or encounter one another.
C A-R: Yeah. It’s interesting, because people see the movie and realize that ultimately at no point are Ben and I in the same frame other than me staring at his photo. But despite the fact that there aren’t necessarily moments where we assemble this amazing cast all in one scene, yeah the way its sort of interconnected… it all works. And from an actor’s perspective, I love ensemble pieces, I love big scenes with 7 or 8 actors at a time… but something special to me are the “two-handers” with just two actors, the director, simple setting, really trying to discover something special in the moment about what’s on the page once it’s up on it’s feet.
SR: Was this shot in some way in sequence, or did you and J.K. Simmons do your scenes completely separately?
C A-R: I felt like we aimed to go chronologically, to sort of get a feel… but obviously when you have locations that you need or certain things that need to happen you can’t shoot in order. But I believe the attempt was – if I remember correctly, you might have to confirm that with the director… to build to the end of the story. So it gave us an opportunity, me and J.K., to evolve the dynamic of our relationship; because it starts one way and ends very differently.
SR: So did everyone still get to, at least, meet each other?
C A-R: We had a table read at the very beginning of filming, and it was a chance to hear the script aloud. The way the script reads, there’s so much information but it reads like a really gripping novel. I loved reading it and I also know they had this really huge task of translating all the details of this story and particularly this mystery of who The Accountant is and how he came to be the person that he is… you know, translating that to a movie that the audience can follow and be satisfied with is a huge task and I feel like we managed to pull that off, and a huge credit for that does go to our director Gavin O’Connor.
It’s a tough one. It’s definitely a script I had to read several times; and I think even for an audience member its that satisfaction to having it end and then thinking back – rewinding back through the whole movie for yourself and trying to remember things that didn’t seem important in the moment – and trying to remember things that maybe didn’t seem important in the moment… but everything that’s shot has a purpose. Nothing is excessive, it has a reason to be there in terms of progressing the story and adding up this interesting puzzle-piece of a movie.
SR: What drew you to the project, originally?
C A-R: The excitement of working on an original script, getting to build a character from the ground up. It’s not based on an existing story or world, so getting the chance to collaborate and build a character is always something that you hope for and you don’t necessarily get the chance to do, so this was an opportunity to not only do that but work with an incredible cast. Everybody who was assembled was exciting and intimidating and obviously it was an opportunity for me to raise my game and rise to the challenge and work with all of the various award-winning people associated with this movie.
SR: How familiar were you with director Gavin O’Connor’s work before signing on?
C A-R: I had seen Warrior, and remembered being really moved by the story. I loved the idea of something so specific but also really accessible and relatable. For that movie, taking the world of MMA and just making it something that was really about relationships and exploring those relationships between characters and their backstories… when you go to movies, it’s why you care about the characters. You have to care and be invested in more than something just as simple as a “smart thriller.”
The way a smart thriller can leave you cold is something I find very interesting, but if you have characters who have a full inner life and are people you can relate to in terms of how they react in certain circumstances is for me the reason to watch; and with Gavin it was so incredible… having the opportunity to work with J.K. and Gavin as a collaboration was a dream come true as an actor – an opportunity to not mess up, basically.
SR: Your character is a Treasury Department Analyst – not necessarily a common stock-type profession for a character in Hollywood movies. What sort of research goes into that?
C A-R: I did a lot of online research in terms of what the Treasury Department sort-of “handles,” but in this instance Mary-Beth works specifically in the financial crimes division. So this is sort of following the money flow in terms of drug cartels and terrorists and that sort of thing. So I sort of did all of that research in terms of the world we were in, but having said that to me it was more important to consider how she would act in the situations she finds herself in. She’s an analyst, and there’s several analysts in the department so its an environment that’s very comfortable, very stable to just do your job and not be seen.
So when she gets summoned by her superior Ray King (which is the character J.K. plays) that kind of summoning is like “Oh no! Somebody noticed me! Whether the summoning is good or bad, she’s just somebody who wants to just have this stable gig, and when she starts down this rabbit hole of this case in terms of where it starts and her dynamic with Ray and where it ends up is for me the most satisfying part of my work on that character – because you get a sense of what she’s made of, how she works in certain situations and even her own discovery of her own capabilities. I think Ray sees her as someone different than she sees herself, and to see her realize that she is capable of solving this incredibly complex case… that was a really interesting thing for me to portray.
SR: She also finds herself in a situation that’s not so terribly uncommon for professional people today: Having her own history exposed at work. Was that always a part of the character’s backstory?
C A-R: That was in the script from the beginning. Y’know, it’s interesting because it’s a plot point that’s revealed very early on and it essentially shows you how high the stakes are for her. It’s not something she would volunteer to do – again, she would be quite happy to just remain an analyst at the Treasury Department quietly doing her job. So the way this information – her past – comes back to haunt her, it sets the initial reason for why she has to solve this case. As the movie unfolds, you begin to understand the stakes that are set for her own job… but she just has a natural curiosity so the deeper she goes the more interested she is in this case. She’s naturally curious and determined and stubborn and maybe Ray sees these qualities in her as well, regardless of how her circumstances came to be on the case in the first place; and it helps again to allow the dynamic between her and Ray King to evolve to a kind of mentor/mentee relationship.
SR: Switching gears for a moment: When will your fans get to see you in Shooter? [The debut of the TV series shooter, based on the 2007 film of the same name, has been delayed multiple times due to proximity to real-life incidents of gun violence.]
C A-R: We are going to be coming out this fall, so I think an announcement with more specifics is imminent – any day now. I’m excited for that project to be out in the world. It’s tonally different from The Accountant, but in terms of a good old-fashioned thriller I feel like it’s really something that, once it finds its way into the world, people will really enjoy. We completed it this summer, and we definitely wanted to be sensitive to current events and make sure that this show would find its audience at an appropriate time; and we’re really proud of the show and I had a wonderful experience working with everyone. Both of these projects, coming out around the same time, is really exciting for me!
SR: Speaking of television: A lot of fans probably remember you as Amanda Waller on Arrow. It would obviously be difficult, given the circumstances of the character’s exit, but if asked would you return to the series?
C A-R: Absolutely! They have quite the open door policy in terms of bringing people back to life or back from dead through flashbacks, and I had a great time on that series. I know they’re about to reach their 100th episode, so they’re still chugging right along, and I get stopped all the time for my Amanda Waller portrayal – so I’m very open to the prospect of going back.
The Accountant is in theaters now.