Annie Ilonzeh is well-known for saving lives on Chicago Fire, where she played paramedic Emily Foster for two seasons. However, in the new thriller Agent Game, she’s returning to her natural environment: kicking ass and taking names instead.
“[This is] the action that I love,” Annie told me just ahead of the film’s release. “To be able to play, and make believe, and put yourself in crazy scenarios that are life or death, or there’s really something massive on the line, that was this film for me.
“And much different from Fire,” she explained. “Because I had the gurney, and I had my gloves, and I was saving someone else’s life, or at least attempting to. But this was [a movie in which] sometimes I had to save my own.”
The reality is that Annie has much more of an action background than her TV fans may be aware of. The Texas native starred in ABC’s update of Charlie’s Angels as ex-cop Kate Prince and has had recurring roles on action-heavy series like The CW’s superhero drama Arrow, CBS’ thriller Person of Interest and USA’s gritty cop drama Graceland (which starred Aaron Tveit).
On the film side, she appeared as FBI agent Lisa Inman alongside Jennifer Garner in action flick Peppermint, which also featured Chicago Fire alum Jeff Hephner. Now in Agent Game she portrays the no-nonsense operative Visser, who gets involved in an espionage power struggle. The film gives Annie plenty of room to do what she’s great at—which also happens to be what she loves.
“I do gravitate to it for sure. I love it,” she said of the action genre. “When I see a character, or a film or a show that has that punched into it, I bring more to it. And it’s just so natural for me too…I’ve always been a massive tomboy. Shooting guns, or chasing, or all the fight scenes, all of that stuff is just like ‘Okay, cool. It’s like going to the grocery store for me.
“It’s a lot of training for anybody who takes on roles like that,” she added, as she and the entire Agent Game cast trained hard to bring the movie’s stunt sequences to life. “But for me in terms of comfort, it’s like ‘I’m getting in my car and I’m going to drive down the street.'”
Yet action is only one part of Agent Game; fight sequences and explosions don’t mean much if the audience doesn’t care about the characters involved in those fights or potentially blowing up. What was it about Visser as a character that made her exciting to Annie?
“She’s a badass,” she said. “I’m a sucker for any character that is badass, but especially a woman that you know who she is. She’s tough, and she’s holding her own, and she’s independent. She of course is flawed, but is unapologetic about it. And she’s got her own motives, and she’s super-driven. All of that was a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want to be that, or watch that? So not only is it a fun ride for me, but I hope it’ll be a fun ride for the viewers, too.”
The film reunites her with her Arrow co-star Katie Cassidy—Annie played Laurel Lance’s colleague and friend Joanna de la Vega in Season 1 and an episode of Season 2—while also surrounding her with other established actors like Mel Gibson, Dermot Mulroney, Jason Isaacs, and Adan Canto. Working with this group of familiar faces was its own kind of reward. “As an actor, I’m like, ‘That’s so great,'” Annie reflected. “I just keep on expanding this Rolodex of people that I know. So that was really, really exciting.”
“You’ve got some OGs—Jason Isaacs, Dermot, and Mel Gibson—they’re OGs where you can be like, ‘Wow, let me just be in a scene with you and watch you. I’ll try to say my lines and remember all my cues,'” she laughed. “But to be able to learn from these legends, people that we know them, was really, really cool.”
Agent Game has several impressive action sequences, but there’s one particular moment that stands out to Annie as a high point in the movie because it unites the cast. “There’s a warehouse scene when everybody gets together, and it’s so big and super-cool,” she enthused. “When we were shooting it and we walked in there, and you’ve got set decoration to the nines, I just remember seeing this massive set like, ‘Wow.’ This makes the movie, in my opinion.”
“At certain points, you don’t really know what’s going on, and that [lets viewers] at least start to see the point of what is going on here and what’s really about to go down,” she continued. “I also had a lot of fun shooting that. We had a really great stunt coordinator, Lee Whittaker, and his vision came to life. He really amplified those scenes too. I was just proud to be involved in them and learn even more than I thought I would learn, stunt-wise.”
But hopefully Agent Game will also let viewers learn more about Annie Ilonzeh and see her beyond her Chicago Fire role. As cool as Emily Foster was, that was only one sample of what she can do, and there’s a lot more out there that audiences can explore. “I did a movie called Til Death Do Us Part, or All Eyez on Me, which were totally different characters too,” she said. “I would say Charlie’s Angels. I hope people will IMDb, and just pick one, and check out a different Annie.”
When she’s not kicking ass in films like Agent Game, fans might also be surprised to know that Annie spends her time getting her hands dirty in another way. “I am a massive DIY-er,” she enthused. “If I wasn’t acting, that’s what I would be doing. I would just be a contractor. I would be a handywoman knocking down walls and building them back up, or doing baseboards, or doing anything from carpentry to electrical. So please flood my Instagram and send me all of the things, or just tell me what projects you’re doing. That is literally my first love, is anything that I can get my hands on and power tools.”
So not only can Annie Ilonzeh kick your ass, she can save your life afterward and help repair anything that may have been broken in the process. She’s a full-service actress—and that versatility is something that hopefully Agent Game will get out into the world a bit more, so that people can appreciate the entire range of everything that Annie is capable of.
Agent Game is now available to stream through video on demand platforms, and will be released on Blu-Ray on May 24, 2022.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.