A traveling junket of talent came to Denver in December to promote their new film Glory Road. The film tells the story of the first all-African-American basketball champions in the NCAA. Depending on your age, it may be hard to imagine college hoops being a majority white sport, with only token black players, but it was less than forty years ago that this color barrier was broken.
My first interview of the day was with Derek Luke, whose first feature film role was the title character in Antwone Fisher. Luke, who played opposite Denzel Washington, was an unknown and therefore a risk for producer/director Washington, but it payed off. Since then Luke has starred in Biker Boyz, Pieces of April, and David Mamet’s Spartan, to name a few.
David Mamet vs. Jerry Bruckheimer
Luke compares Mamet to Bruckheimer this way: “Mamet is more of a trace on a floor that you have to follow with your eyes looking up. Jerry Bruckheimer is more free, is more entertainment, more for enjoyment. I think you just have to be available for the moment for Jerry. I think he’s in for the truth, and that’s what you capture on screen.”
For audiences, smaller, more artful films offer different types of satisfaction than big-budget Bruckheimer productions. For an actor — at least for Luke — it’s more rewarding to work for Bruckheimer. “I think there’s more freedom [working with Bruckheimer] because you need more creativity, you need more input, you need more involvement. The only thing a big production does is give you a bigger venue to be more creative.”
Pick a Winner
The subject of many interviews at the release of Antwone Fisher, Luke quickly gained a reputation for being an all-around nice guy (When a fellow reporter, joking, asked Luke to dis his fellow reporter’s mom, Luke came back immediately: “You have a nice mom.”), devoted to his wife and genuinely thankful for his good fortune.
Or perhaps “fortune” is the wrong word to explain his string of good films. “It’s been prayer, and it’s been [having] a good lady, my wife. My wife has a fantastic eye. She has a great eye for creativity. She’s unbiased and she’s very honest. I think I’ve underestimated the importance of a relationship — how the right woman plays a part in your life. My wife has played a huge part. I would say, honestly, majority of the choices after Antwone Fisher — she’s the one, like ‘no, Derrie, this is the one.’”
He Got Game
On screen, Luke cuts a striking, imposing figure with his bald head and probing eyes. If he seemed smaller in person, he was no less intense.
Asked if he felt any more confident after six pictures, Luke said “I do, and that’s why I like Glory Road. It’s like Bobby Joe (Luke’s character) was confident. In a sense, the game that you see in the NBA, I think he’s really responsible for it. Coach Haskins brought them [the movie’s basketball team] to a certain point in their career. They had a part of the dream. He had the other part. But [Bobby Joe] was just like, ‘hey, you gotta let me play my game.’”
So, Luke says, “There’s nothing wrong with knowing that you have a game inside you. And I think I have a game inside of me, and it’s coming out.”
Up next: Josh Lucas