Peter Mensah is one of those actors who is so dynamic that once you see him in a role, no matter how small or large the part, he is never forgotten. His commanding presence dominates every frame he is in and nothing highlighted that better than when he appeared in a face-off opposite another imposing figure, Gerard Butler in “300.”
Peter has had a very impressive career to date, appearing in strong roles for films and television productions like “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” “Hidalgo,” “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Earth: Final Conflict,” “Tears of the Sun” and so many more.
Next Peter will star as General Joe Geller with Academy Award winning actors William Hurt and Edward Norton in “The Incredible Hulk” premiering this Friday, June 13, 2008.
Peter took time out of his tightly-packed schedule to sit down and speak to our own Linda Craddock for this exciting interview.
Linda Craddock (SoSF): Hello Peter and welcome to Slice of SciFi and thank you for taking the time how are you today?
Peter Mensah (PM): Thank you Linda, it’s a pleasure to talk with you.
SoSF: Well needless to say you have quite an impressive resume and equal to that a gifted actor. Tell us a little about your role in “The Incredible Hulk” scheduled to be released next weekend.
PM: Yes it comes out next weekend. I actually get to see it on Sunday. I haven’t had a chance to see the whole film yet so I’m looking forward to that. I was very fortunate that Clark and Louie Leterrier hired me for this job and I play a Pentagon General and he’s William Hurt’s character’s “Commander Ross’s” boss who has to deal with the headache and the logistics of getting a team together to actually chase “The Hulk” down.
SoSF: Any particular scene you shot stand out in your mind and if you will, please walk us though the process?
PM: Without giving too much away, but there was a day when I worked with William Hurt and we’re watching the team assemble, the team we just assembled to chase “The Hulk” down. We’re at an Air Force base with airplanes flying overhead, choppers, troops on the ground and we’re in an elevated plain watching everything and I just thought that was one of those magical days when you look at your job and it’s pretty incredible to be a part of something like this. Nothing really stands out just the shear manpower that was assembled and all the work that went into that day was pretty remarkable.
SoSF: I understand there’s a lot of action in the movie. How much did you participate in the physical aspect?
PM: Well, being a pencil pusher I actually don’t see a lot of action in this one which is a distinct difference from most of my previous films with one crazy stunt or another but in this case this is Ed Norton and The Hulk’s film so most of the real action is with The Hulk.
SoSF: I think it’s pretty amazing how this Marvel character has expanded from a comic book character to a TV series played by a human being and now for the second time more computer generated characterization. What are your views on that?
PM: Well the great thing about it is the imagination that the original animators had, has carried through as well. I think the remarkable thing about the new technology, is that it actually takes us closer to the comic book structure because now we can do so many more things with graphics then we can in live action. If anything, now is the time for more exciting sort of animated comic book sci-fi world work. I think over the next couple of years starting with The Hulk and stuff up coming, you’ll see some pretty remarkable work coming out of Marvel
SoSF: I want to talk a little about “300.” A remarkable film and you played the messenger from Persia in the opening scene.
PM: Once again, I think “300” created a benchmark with the amazing visuals that we can now do and with an imaginative director like we had for “300”, we’re actually able to match the comic book frame by frame and one of the greatest days on that set was the first day when I rode into the hanger where the Spartan village had been built and all around us is green screen. It was an amazing job setting this up. The village itself looked absolutely real, the costumes were perfect and they green screened the entire environment and I think the net results were it is really a phenomenal piece of work.
SoSF: Of course I am going to ask you about your familiarity with the Battle of Thermopylae
PM: (laughter) I wasn’t there.
SoSF: (laughter) Of course not but when you were presented with the script. It was a fascinating piece of history. What was your impression of it?
PM: Well, everybody knows that often when you take a job like this, we’re just taking a comic book version of an epic story. I was already familiar with the comic book itself so I knew what I was going in there to do and I also know it’s not an accurate portrayal of the event. But as that’s the license we’re given in the entertainment business, we don’t have to be accurate. That wasn’t our intention (laughter). I think the film has brought a lot of attention to the battle itself and the history that surrounds it so. I don’t think it was intentional but I think inadvertently, it’s allowed people to go and investigate the story itself.
SoSF: It certainly inspired me to do so.
PM: (laughter) Its quite a story isn’t it!
SoSF: Yes it is and the layers–
PM: –the layers are phenomenal, really remarkable.
SoSF: “Tears of the Sun” was a very moving film. Tell us a little about the project, location, political climate, if any during that time and your first impression reading the script.
PM: “Tears” was absolutely one of the more intense film experiences and this is primarily because of the subject. The back drop of the story affected so many millions of people. Genocide isn’t a liked subject and I know the director, Antoine’s intentions were never to make light of the fact that this is actually what’s happening. I think it was the early days and “Blood Diamonds” hadn’t come out, and these were early days showing what was going on in a troubled part of the world so, for me when I first read the script it was just moving to find Hollywood was actually willing to tackle that subject.
I think at the end of the day we have not have shown as much as we shot because we shot a good deal of the political climate that existed in and around that fictitious nation and took some historical facts from Sierra Leone and sort of morphed them into our story, but unfortunately we had to change some what for the final product to work, to shorten the film they took out most of the elements of the politics in and around the genocide. We actually investigated those stories and shot them. It was intense from the perspective of researching for this film that brought me in touch with some incredible human tragedies. It was unlike any other action film because the backdrop was so horrific.
SoSF: Yes it was a very powerful movie.
PM: Just as an add-on, one of the things the studio actually did is brought some of the people that had gone through some of this trauma as supporting cast. So it was fascinating to actually have conversations with people that had actually gone through some of this stuff. There was one day when we were doing the evacuation that one of the older gentlemen broke down. He just had a vivid flashback of what he’d gone through. Entertainment is what it is but certainly we can touch on some of the bigger stories going on in our existence and I think that film certainly had that as a backdrop.
SoSF: What’s your affiliation with the video game “Dead Space”?
PM: (laughter) I play a character in the up-coming game which will be released on Halloween (2008) and I will be the ships commanding officer and the player will get to work with me as we discover what has actually happened on the space ship we go to rescue. I can’t tell you too much, but I can tell you this game is going to be a lot of fun (laughter). The graphics are phenomenal they really, really are. They’ve done an excellent job and the graphics and sound are unlike any other game I’ve ever played. There’s a really great wall of tapestry they’ve built which really correlates to the amount time the players are going to go through.
SoSF: You’ve appeared in a number of TV series in the past few years. What do you enjoy most about television production versus shooting a feature film?
PM: Well the good thing about television is that you get to tell much simpler stories and it reaches an audience much faster. The reality of TV is it is slightly more interactive. You can go with your season prepared. You can start shooting and immediately react to what you’re doing, get feedback and make adjustments. So TV is more interactive where as film, or at least the one’s I’ve been in are these long drawn-out processes. I’m in one now that we’ve been shooting for over a year and probably won’t be out until the end of next year, whereas with television the turn around is much faster. It feels like you are really flying through and living the experience a little bit more.
SoSF: You have practiced martial arts since age 6?
PM: Practicing martial arts since the age of 6 is hardly worth mentioning (laughter).
SoSF: Not true, but let me ask you this, are you still practicing given your busy schedule?
PM: Yes, in reality for the past several years to engage as much as possible. I do have a regular practice here with an OHSI master whenever there is a real break I’ll also a month or two month intensive but as a regular practice, well, I practice yoga as my sort of moving meditation on a daily basis so I’m still pretty active but by no means as active as in those days (laughter) the hardest thing with the travel schedules and work schedules, really trying to make something work. With every practice there’s a certain amount you need to do by yourself in your hotel room and I certainly do that, but every now and then when you need to work with someone it makes it a little more difficult.
SoSF: Tell us about the transition you made from engineer to actor and your first role as such.
PM: It’s an interesting thing because I was acting before I actually got my degree, admittedly school plays in sort of the less formal stage but I think the transition was fairly organic because I’ve always had a lot of interesting theatre and theatre was actually my recreation and I belonged to a number of theatre groups throughout the years while qualifying. The first on camera experience was actually a children’s show. It was one of the earlier versions of “Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys” and I happened to know one of the producers and they wanted me to play a character that was written but looked a lot like me. They were thrilled and realized I had stage background and experience so I did it, enjoyed it and realized over the next few weeks I had a number of calls of interest that it might be worth pursuing and that’s what really triggered it off, actually getting work made me realize this might actually work out.
SoSF: It is encouraging.
PM: Yes it’s was encouraging (laughter).
SoSF: Any plans to return to the theatre?
PM: Yeah, the great thing is I would love to establish an on camera career well enough to actually be able to travel working in New York, working in London. It would be a thrill to be back on stage, you know, to be honest with you but one step at a time.
SoSF: So what would be your ideal role as an actor?
PM: The thing that I enjoy about acting is the changes in stories. It’s one of the most privileged experiences because I get to go out and join in a story and experience what it’s like to be living in a different part of the world under different circumstances so I like variety. I think the thing that is of interest now is probably playing more political roles so there isn’t any one ideal character that I would like, I’m more interested in the story, then I get to go in there and work with the story. I’m looking for things with some political weight. I have to admit, I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi. To me sci-fi is the best platform to work. (laughter) I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have a chance to actually do some of this stuff because from early years of reading Gibson and all the various writers, you’re allowed to explore the human conditions and you can develop thoughts on where we might go and we can create our own utopias. It’s still, to me, the best format for an actor or for the entertainment medium so hopefully something within that that actually tackles some of our human conditions stories. I guess what I’m saying is I’m lucky because I’m doing most of the work I want to be doing already and yeah I’m hopeful that in the future I’ll get something even more close to the bone when it comes to being in our state of being.
SoSF: Peter thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to talk to us.
PM: I appreciate your calling and you know what? I appreciate the work you guys do too, so I had a look at your site and well done!
SoSF: Thank you.