Maybe it's the bald head, or perhaps it's the haunted-looking eyes, but British actor Mark Strong has a track record for playing baddies, from murderous aristocrat Lord Blackwood in "Sherlock Holmes" to the scheming antagonist Godfrey in "Robin Hood." Now he's portraying a more complicated (though still imperfect) character, the anguished Detroit cop Frank Agnew, in AMC's new series "Low Winter Sun." It's a role the British actor knows well: He also played Frank Agnew in the 2006 British miniseries upon which the drama is based. We talked to him about the show.

Q So aside from the accent, is there anything different about the character you're playing in this version of "Low Winter Sun"?

A It's a very difficult question to answer, actually, and of course it's the most obvious one to ask. I've been trying to rack my brain forever to work out what the differences are. I mean, I look the same in both, albeit eight years older. And one character was Scottish and one was American, so they sound different. But I suppose the drive, the impetus is me, so in a way they are the same.

Q Presumably, since the AMC series is longer, there will be more differences down the road?

A The differences will become pronounced. It's 10 hours as opposed to three hours. We pretty much took all the best moments from the original and made that the bedrock of this U.S. version, but what's been great, and I'm so happy I made the choice to do this, it's gone off in all sorts of different directions. It's as if you've taken and just blown it up and just made it larger and more intense.


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Q So as an actor, what is the appeal of playing the same role again? Is it the desire to change certain aspects of your performance?

A There were things that I changed. In the original, the scene in the kitchen where they talk and he says he's not drunk enough is absolutely in floods of tears. I wanted it to be much more subtle, and what we eventually came up with is that opening shot of just that one little tear trickling down. So it's a very kind of Zen explanation of his state of mind. So there was an opportunity, I suppose, to make it a little better.

Q How did it happen that you got cast to play the same part?

A I think (show runner) Chris Mundy was looking for somebody who could play "the Mark Strong part" until somebody said, "Have you asked him?" and he said, "No." Susie (Fitzgerald), who's the creative head at AMC, said, "Oh, he makes movies, we're never going to get him." And somebody said, "Well, just ask him."

And of course when they did, I was well up for it, because funny enough I'd been talking about various other TV shows, all of which I'd said no because I didn't want to leave home. But because I'd started the process of thinking what it would mean to go away from home for four to five months, and whether I was amenable to that, what it would mean to sign up for a project that could potentially last for five or six years. So I'd done all that thinking, so when it came 'round, the fact that it was a part that I did before, that I wanted to take further, and I didn't want anyone else to play him either, meant that the decision was easy.

Q There are so many British actors on TV right now, and most of them are playing Americans, like your co-star Lennie James, Damian Lewis on "Homeland," Hugh Dancy on "Hannibal" and Andrew Lincoln on "The Walking Dead." What's that all about?

A My theory is twofold. There's what TV has become, which is different from what it was 10 years ago. There's this theory that the studios are just doing these big tentpole movies for hundreds of millions of dollars and all the interesting little indie movies now don't exist, so all those writers have gone to TV. TV has changed, and it's changed for the better.

In the past, all the cable channels were trying to find shows like the network shows, and now it's the exact opposite. All the networks are trying to find shows like cable. That's why I think British actors are happy to do it, because the quality of the writing is so good and the potential for character development is so great.

The other thing is, I asked someone this, why are you casting British people? Because I've always thought that it's we have training, which means we know our lines, we hit our marks in an environment where you have to work fast and you can't muck about. American actors are just as good, but the perception of the training of British actors lends itself to this process.

And she said, "Well, that's partly true, but we also don't know who you are. You're fresh, you're new, you haven't been doing TV for ages." James (Purefoy, of "The Following'') hasn't been in other shows. Andy Lincoln hadn't done any U.S. TV. The thing is, we're unknown here.

Q The series is interesting in that it's kind of a whodunnit in reverse: The crime happens in the opening minutes of the pilot, then we slowly start piecing together the motive.

A As an audience you're trying to piece it together, but then the cops, we're trying to undo everything. In Episode 3, a witness turns up who's seen it and comes in and gives a confession and we have to undo his testimony and we kind of baffle his testimony. Instead of a normal cop show where they're trying to get the information, you're watching two cops kind of confuse a witness to give the wrong information because obviously if he's correct then they're in trouble.

So elements like that are what I think makes the show different. I love that confusion, and making the audience work, and not spoon-feeding them plotlines.

'low winter sun'

When: 10 p.m. Sundays
Where: AMC