We’ve been misled. Somewhere along the way, somebody got the notion that good guys finish last, but I recently discovered that’s a flat out lie. We’ve perpetuated that untruth throughout the years, but now I’ve got a case in point for you that will prove otherwise.
You’ve seen Antwone Fisher, Notorious and Friday Night Lights, right? These movies all have film and television actor Derek Luke — rolling out’s cover muse for this week — in common. Even though the 37-year-old New Jersey native has been as emotive as he can be as an actor, many probably never have really gotten a real sense of who he is as a person. His low-key approach to “the business,” not always in front of cameras and avoiding the help of PR teams and spin doctors to salvage his reputation from scandals — more than likely has made him a mystery to his fans and admirers.
Luke has been described as having “the boy next door” charm, as demonstrated in Antwone Fisher, but what does that really tell us? That’s an assessment derived from his acting, and he could very well be hell-on-wheels off screen. His signature smile supports the possibility of his true character aligning with his on-camera persona, but an innocent smile can easily be mistaken for a devilish grin, I’ve learned.
So who is Derek Luke really? This guy with the beautiful wife and a steady stream of principal roles that defy the belief that Hollywood doesn’t offer roles to young black males, dates back to his first time out in 2002, when one of our finest, Denzel Washington, gave him his stamp of approval.
What’s special about this dude that’s been hanging around Hollywood for years and now has ventured back into television to assume the role of Dr. Miles Bourdet on Jada Pinkett Smith’s medical drama series, “HawthoRNe.” as well as simultaneously being set to appear in the potential blockbuster movie, Captain America: The First Avenger and its sequel?
Doesn’t it take a squeaky wheel, aka a hell-raiser, to get all that coveted oil? That’s what the “good guys finish…” theory would lead us to believe.
If you do some digging, you can easily uncover Luke’s background. His father is Guyanese with roots in singing and acting; his mother is African American and a pianist. He was a young man with big dreams who got his big break while minding his business and selling candy at Sony Studios after catching the attention of the real Antwone Fisher. He’s been in music videos and has made appearances in sitcoms. He’s been happily and devotedly married for a decade plus, and on and on…
But what is the force behind Luke’s string of good fortune? As a self-proclaimed “good guy,” Luke’s success at finishing first instead of last vindicates me and all the other men like us.
During our cover interview, Luke shared with rolling out what makes him tick, which is simply that he’s a “good guy” with a good upbringing and the audacity to dream.
Derek, you seem to operate in an innocence of sorts and have been characterized as possessing “boy next door” charm. Is that the person you really are?
This is the first time I’ve heard that, but I can only credit my mom. My mom was very strict, so, I think I was 16 years old before she allowed me to talk on the phone to girls. So, even though I was growing up in age, I remained innocent because of her rearing. So, I think my heart is very innocent in that I love to dream. I believe I’m walking in my dream right now. Maybe if that’s a boyish shadow that people see, it’s something that’s been given to me or inherited from a mom’s grooming.
You’ve also been called a Renaissance man, as is assigned to many young black actors with dramatic chops. Do you identify with that assessment?
I take it as a compliment because the whole Harlem Renaissance period, … has always influenced me. It was a generation with purpose, and I always wanted to be purposeful in my generation. So, if I’m tagged with that, it means that I’m flowing in the right direction.
Speaking of the Renaissance period, style was a key component to the culture. How would you describe your personal style?
When I think of style, I think about characters, about how different I can be. I’m not really subjected to one particular style because I also think about sentiment. So for me, you can be in the ‘80s or in the ‘50s on any given day, and you can be current because I think you’re as current as your process and the sentiment you’re trying to convey. When you put your heart in it, you’re connected to everything you do.
What is your process?
My process is looking around and going opposite of what everybody else is wearing. For instance, there are normally two or three colors that come out per season, so it may be grey or blue. I may do black or I may do green, something to express myself so I don’t feel contaminated by rules because fashion is so broad, like acting is so broad. Oftentimes, you’re given an opportunity from a very small selection as opposed to from your own broad strokes, so I like keeping my strokes broad.
With fashion comes personal grooming. What are your grooming essentials?
My mom raised me to always make sure my face was clean before I went to bed and when I get up. I had a bad experience as a kid when my uncles used to grab me and hug and scratch me with their beards, so part of my essentials would be that. Sometimes men push aside taking care of our skin and taking care of our hands, and it’s not a priority, but being married as long as I have, your hands are just as romantic as your face is, so you have to make sure that everything is smooth.
You appear to have strong values that dictate how you move through life. What’s most important to you?
There was a time in my life when I was depressed. I was depressed because I didn’t have a dream or a purpose. I think the most important thing in life is that everybody carries some type of hope or dream because you’re really bankrupt when you’re not dreaming, and you can only be depressed when you’re hopeless.
What makes you laugh?
Myself. I’m silly, and originally I wanted to be in comedy. It’s so funny how I ended up in drama … I think God is laughing, because I had one idea and he had another.
What makes you afraid?
I have been afraid of shrinking around others to make other people feel better, but I’ve found that the more that I’m me, the better people are around me.
Have you settled into the fact that you’re an accomplished actor?
I’ve settled into the fact that life allows you to be a student, and I believe that you shouldn’t stop learning … I also believe that you should mature from stage to stage.
If you had total control over your career, what would it look like?
As an artist, it would be more producing from the inside out versus outside in. Outside it means people’s concepts, likes and ideas about you.
You’re the latest addition to the “HawthoRNe” cast. Describe your experience.
My experience on TV is really interesting because I came from Jersey to L.A. I’ve always wanted to do TV, something with a “Cosby Show” type feel, but as I began to pursue my career — my heart choice — I ended up in movies. “HawthoRNe” is sort of like an open past. Ten, 15, 20 years ago, people like a Denzel Washington and many other actors, they could either do one or the other, and if you made it from TV to movies you did well. But it was never going backwards from movies to TV. I believe … our generation, this generation is called ‘own it,’ own both of them, rock both of them, dominate all of them … Dominating and being the best you are is not black, it’s not white, it’s just being you. So, “HawthoRNe” is incredible because I get to play a surgeon. As a young man, I always looked at doctors as this incredible mind and being asked to embody one, and to be believed as one is great … as well as to collaborate with Will and Jada. I showed up one day and Will was there, and I just heard his laugh and his embrace and thinking about Jada and her path. I just felt like a colleague… It’s a great experience.
Do you have to do special preparation to make the role believable?
To make the character believable in an instance like this, I was hired within two days of having to be on set. So, as they say Laurence Olivier said to Dustin Hoffman when he was doing a scene where he had to get his teeth pulled, and [he] was just running around trying to get himself worked up, he said, “Why don’t you just try acting?” So, when you have limited time, you just have to try acting.
Next up is your role in Captain America. Talk about that venture.
Everybody played some type of superhero growing up. Me and my brother would tie towels around our neck and jump off the couch, chasing each other and imagining we were Superman or someone … What I love about the world of Marvel is that, for so long superheroes have been limited to one culture. What I love about it now is that I’m getting to venture into a realm that 20, 40, 50 years ago, people whose shoulders I’m standing on didn’t have a chance to. I love being in the realm of “hero Derek.” It’s been fun. It’s been action. It’s been punching, flying, swinging on cables … I love it.
If you could write your script with you as a superhero, what powers would you have?
One, I would fly. Then two, I would have the power to make people tell the truth.