Ato Essandoh stars in the new film “Jason Bourne” as Craig Jeffers, a CIA agent who is set out to catch the unstoppable Jason Bourne no matter what it takes. Raised in Schenectady, New York, Essandoh, 43, says acting was never on his radar. Now twenty years after he got started, the Ghanaian-American star has racked up credits in projects like ‘Django Unchained’, ‘Blood Diamond’ and ‘Hitch.”
Essandoh spoke with theGrio.com about finding his passion for the big screen and what part of filming “Jason Bourne” made him feel like black track legend Jesse Owens.
TG: How did you get into acting?
AE: The story is actually very random. I was sharing an apartment with my best friend and a bunch of other dudes. And I was at home alone and somebody called asking for my best friend, Marcus, to be in a play. We were all engineers so immediately, I said, “No I don’t think my buddy would want to do something like that.” Then they asked if I wanted to be in it because they needed a black guy to play in the Chinese Association’s show. I froze on the phone when she asked this, so I told her I would call her back in two minutes.
Then, I called my girlfriend at the time and told her what happened. “This random lady called asking me to do a play.” And she started laughing and said, “You better get back on that phone because you know you want to do it,” and hung up laughing at me. It sorta spoke to me so I called this woman back and let her know I would do it. It was the most fun that I ever had in a long time and it set me on this road to what I want to do in my life. Mind you at that time I was a chemical engineer.
TG: What was it like growing up in Schenectady, New York?
AE: It was sort of ideal. We were one of two Ghanaian-Americans not to mention African-Americans. We were also cousins with the other family. It was us living a sorta of “Leave It To Beaver” lifestyle. We would ride bikes and skateboard around and it was peaceful. But it was very interesting being a certain person in a monomial society. It was really beautiful, I look fondly back on those times.
TG: This Bourne franchise has been around since 2002- how does it feel to be apart of it now in 2016?
AE: I feel like I have a unique perspective because I did not start off as a kid wanting to be actor. So its strange having enjoyed the Bourne movies and not seeing myself in the movie. But now I am standing here with Matt Damon and acting with him and I was just amazed.
Even though, I have been in this business for 20 years it feels good to know that people are still giving me jobs. It is also something that is hard to process. I talk to my best friend all the time about it and we still sorta talk like, “Dude how did this happen. We were both engineers at Cornell.”
Another thing that is special about this movie is usually my Dad doesn’t know much about the entertainment industry. Its always funny when I tell him these things because he usually doesn’t know the actors that are in it. Even though most of them are A-list celebrities.
Well this time last year, I am hanging out with my Dad in Ghana and he said “What’s the new project?” And I tell him I am playing in the new Bourne movie with Matt Damon. And he says, “Bourne movie?? Jason Bourne. Oh man I love that film!” My dad had read all the books back in the day. And that’s how big this movie was that my Dad knew of it!
TG: What was it like working with Matt Damon?
AE: He was everything you would hope he would be. He is real, laid back, cool dude. He is really famous, which goes without saying. He was supposed to be Jason Bourne in this movie in which he had to be sneaky and incognito. But we are filming in Las Vegas with a bunch of regular people and literally whenever the director would call ‘action’ people would whip out their phones, making it hard for him to be “Jason Bourne.”
TG: Did you enjoy working on an action movie?
AE: This is the first big action movie I’ve done and there was something I had to adjust to as an actor. It is a lot different from dramas which is something I like to do. In drama, there is more time to consider the acting. While in an action movie, there is not much time to consider the acting, you just have to go!
TG: Were there any scenes that you enjoyed shooting the most?
AE: One of my favorite scenes was running around the Las Vegas hotels chasing after Matt Damon. I mean how many people can say the chased Matt Damon around with a gun?! In the scene, I had to tell everyone to get down and I had to jump over hundreds of people. I felt like Jesse Owens having to jump over hurdles.
TG: What can we expect from you this year?
AE: I am doing this really cool four episode arc with Chicago Med in which I will be playing this black Jewish doctor with aspergers. And then I also have something else in the works that I can’t release just yet! But I am really excited about it.
“Jason Bourne” premieres nationwide, Friday July 29th and also stars Matt Damon, Julia Stiles and Tommy Lee Jones.