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The Nicest Bad Guy There Is

Discussing TV’s shift to the dark side with Mark Strong, who reprises his role on AMC’s new show Low Winter Sun

Forgive Mark Strong if he’s experiencing a bit of déjà vu. With the premiere of his new AMC series, Low Winter Sun, premiering August 11, the actor—you probably recognize him from countless bad-guy roles—is reprising a role he last played in 2006. Well, sort of.

In the new Low Winter Sun, Strong still plays a cop named Frank Agnew who’s tied up in the disappearance of a seemingly crooked colleague, however this time the action takes place in Detroit, not Edinburgh, and the show—written by Criminal Minds vet Chris Mundy—stretches out over an entire season, not a two-part series.

We got on the phone with Strong just after a recent Television Critics Association panel to find out living in Detroit, making violent TV and the worst thing he’s ever done at work.

Hi! How are you?

I’m very good. Thanks very much. Where are you?

I’m in New York City. You’re in California, right?

Yes! I’m in Los Angeles.

How’s that treating you?

It’s good. I love L.A. for a couple of weeks.

That’s pretty generous.

Yeah, just a few weeks and you feel like you’re still on holiday. I love driving around and living the dream, but then after a couple of weeks I just want to go home.

Speaking of odd places to spend time, you’ve been in Detroit for a while.

I have to say—I know it’s probably unfashionable, and it might sound bizarre—but I love Detroit. It’s much more complicated and interesting than people might think.

If it’s a new environment, at least the story is somewhat familiar, right?

That’s right! We shot [the original Low Winter Sun] it in Edinburgh, Scotland. I think the dark nature of the material was something that AMC responded to. Obviously people’s taste in television has shifted slightly toward the dark side. Especially with the advent of Scandinavian shows and network shows like Hannibal—which I can’t imagine on networks even 10 years ago—or the one with Kevin Bacon.

The Following?

The Following! It’s a network show, you know? I can’t imagine they’d have a show about serial killers a while ago. Everyone’s taste has slightly shifted and I think that’s what AMC saw in the original version.

What’s it like revisiting material that you’ve been separated from for five years?

It’s great because you never normally get the opportunity to do that. I wanted to reopen the character and take him on a longer journey.

Is there anything you’re getting a chance to do this time that you wish you’d been able to do the first time?

Just take him further. I would say mostly that the first two or three episodes of the U.S. version cover the original. By the time we get to episode four, that’s when the U.S. version really kicks and we take off in a different direction. That’s the bit I’m enjoying.

The big crime in this story happens right away. You’re not waiting to see how it plays out. The real suspense is to see how these people all deal with it.

Exactly right. It’s not a who-done-it. You know who did it and how they did it within the first 10 minutes. From then on what you’re watching is how they deal with the psychological fall out. It’s a bit like Greek tragedy.

How does a network like AMC play into this? Sure different than working with network TV.

I think what they’ve demonstrated is that they have good taste and they’ve got their finger on the pulse of what audiences want and like. The people—the tastemakers of AMC—decided that our show is what people will respond to and it’s interesting that they’re going to put us on after Breaking Bad. It really feels like a passing on of the baton. And I think their thinking is that the people who enjoy Breaking Bad will respond to our show.

It’s got some similar darkness to it, and there’s the drug use.

I think it’s the idea that you’re challenging the characters every week and seeing how they respond. For an audience, that is something that’s fascinating to watch.

Now, considering that your character is involved with the offing of a colleague from the get-go, I have to ask: What’s the worst thing that you’ve ever done to a co-worker?

The worst thing I’ve ever done to a co-worker? Oh my God! Well, I’ve certainly never killed anybody. I can say that with complete comfort. I usually help people out rather than turn them over, to be honest.

There’s still time.

Perhaps this show will have an effect on me.