Hollywood veteran Bill Duke gives a message to young Black actors

Hollywood veteran Bill Duke gives a message to young Black actors
Photo courtesy of Bill Duke

40 year Hollywood professional Bill Duke sits down with rolling out’s Munson Steed to talk about his journey in the industry as an actor, producer, and director. Currently starring in Steven Soderbergh’s new crime drama No Sudden Move, his acting rap-sheet features recent shows like “Black Lightning,” “The Oval,” and the critically acclaimed film, Mandy, as well as for roles in Predator, Car Wash, Menace II Society, Charlie’s Angels, and more. Duke also opens up about his mentoring and the legacy of Black actors to follow. 

Can you shed light on your journey as a Black actor? Why have you been so committed to giving gifts and growing gifts in our community?

I came up during segregation, born in 1943. It’s been difficult. I’m tall and dark so I wasn’t thought of as a leading man in those days. So I tried to be as discreet as possible taking the roles I could play, but I was considered a certain way because of how I looked. I like passing on information to young people that can help them get through some of the challenges they are going to face. This is a business of rejection, and after a certain number, you take it personally. For a while, I was on drugs and alcohol to deal with my pain, but I found meditation and haven’t touched drugs in many years. I think everybody has to find something that heals them. 

What would you share with a young actor about keeping their identity?

My parents told me to always remember you’re no better than anybody else, but nobody else is better than you. That has lasted with me in terms of my self-regard. It’s a difficult business. You have to make decisions that are based on your moral integrity and your survival. 

How do you balance being Black in Hollywood, and do it with skill sets?

You have to really take seriously what you are doing. You have to study your craft. Directing is a two-part craft. It’s a creative process, giving your vision. The second part is management. You have to manage time, people, and money. 

What would you tell young Black male actors about the roles they take today and the roles they could create for themselves?

When we came along there was no internet. Now people are getting offers from TV networks because they didn’t wait anymore, they started their own shows and after gaining a certain number of eyeballs, the networks came to them. There are still people waiting to be discovered instead of discovering themselves. Discover yourselves so that you can use it as leverage when you make a deal with someone. 

How has your relationship changed over the last 20 years with other big directors?

Some things have changed; some haven’t. There are a lot of people that hold their success to their chest. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of good people, collaborators, who want to work with me.

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