In 2006, Britain’s Channel 4 aired a dark two-part TV movie called “Low Winter Sun” starring Mark Strong (“Zero Dark Thirty,”?“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) as one of two police officers in Edinburgh, Scotland, who conspire to murder a fellow officer and then discover that nothing is as it seems.
Starting Sunday, Aug. 11, AMC airs a 10-episode American adaptation of “Low Winter Sun” set in in the former industrial titan of Detroit.
Strong reprises his role as Detective Frank Agnew; Lennie James (“Jericho,”?“The Walking Dead”) plays his partner in crime, Detective Joe Geddes. Also starring are James Ransone, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Sprague Grayden, Athena Karkanis, Billy Lush and David Costabile; Erika Alexander has a recurring role.
Ironically, along with Strong playing an American, the British-born James continues his run of American TV roles. Playing a police detective and former Jesuit seminarian who turns to the dark side intrigued him.
“I like his history,” James tells Zap2it, “of being a man that once had his feet on a very righteous path, in that he trained at the seminary to be a priest. I like that that man is now a murderer. I like the revelation of his particular version of why he had to commit that murder and the man that he’s running away from, and I like the man he’s trying to be.
“I like navigating all of that and particularly the people that he gets to navigate that with.”
Told that his many American roles qualify him as an honorary Yank, James laughs and says, “I like to think so. I’ve got to a point now where people, to a great extent, know me as much from what I did in America than one I did back home.
“The other day, I was in a supermarket in Detroit, and a guy said, ‘Hey, man, I really love your work.’ I said in my own accent, ‘Thank you very much.’ He said, ‘Oh, no, man, sorry, I thought you were that actor guy.’ And he walked off before I could stop him and [say], ‘Actually, it probably is me.’
“But he’d already gone and decided that I just looked like myself.”
This is not James’ first police role, but he saw something special in it.
“‘Low Winter Sun’ is very much a character-driven drama,” he says, “with a backdrop of crime and the police. Even though you are following, at the beginning, two police officers who have killed another police officer, there’s a whole world of the underworld of Detroit, the crime world, depicted in our story that gives it a whole other dimension. I’m looking forward to see how the audience responds to it.”
“Low Winter Sun” films entirely in Detroit, which has been much in the news lately for its bankruptcy, which follows years of financial decline and urban decay.
As you might imagine, this version of “Low Winter Sun” is no cheerier than the original, and in many ways, it’s grimmer. While Edinburgh has the crime problems of any major city, it’s not on the brink of ruin. But the complex past and present and uncertain future of Detroit are what attracted executive producer Chris Mundy (“Hell on Wheels,”?“Criminal Minds,”?“Cold Case”).
“We wanted to film Detroit for Detroit,” says Mundy. “It’s such a major part of the show. We have stages in this old warehouse right next to the Packard plant. We were only on those stages one or two days an episode. We’re out in the city all the time. The backdrop of the city, the lifeblood of the city, are a huge part of the show.
“For just sheer production and cinematic value, I can’t even tell you, it’s impossible to quantify how valuable that is to us. … I hope the people in Detroit know how much we care about the city and how much respect we have for the city.”
Asked what he as a newcomer thought of Detroit, James says, “The easiest way to answer that question is to say that everything everybody’s saying about Detroit is absolutely true, and everything that they’re saying about Detroit is not necessarily true.
“I was out to lunch there, and somebody asked me about Detroit, and I said it’s the most dangerous, most complicated, most fascinating First World city I’ve ever been in my life.
“It’s unlike anybody’s description. We’ve been there for four months, and I’m still trying to find the words to describe Detroit. It’s difficult because there isn’t any other city like it.
“Both of these statements are true about Detroit, which is that Detroit is a bankrupt city, and Detroit is very much not a bankrupt city. That’s it in a nutshell. I should have said that at the beginning — would have made the answer a lot shorter.”