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November 2007
An EXCLUSIVE Interview with Derek Luke

An EXCLUSIVE Interview with Derek Luke

By Wilson Morales

November 7, 2007

After gaining critical acclaim for his last film ‘Catch a Fire’, where he played freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso, you could only assume and imagine that Derek Luke would be getting lots of leading role scripts; but for his next role he took a featured role. Yet, in ‘Lions for Lambs’ Luke is a pool with legends (Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise). Also featured in the film and sharing the scenes with him is Michael Pena (Crash, World Trade Center).

"Lions for Lambs" consists of three interconnected storylines: Tom Cruise as a congressman who interacts with a journalist (Meryl Streep); Robert Redford as an idealistic professor who attempts to inspire a privileged student in his class; and a third storyline about a pair of American soldiers (Derek Luke, Michael Pena) wounded in enemy territory, both of whom were Redford's former students.

In speaking exclusively with blackfilm.com, Luke talks about working with Redford and Pena, his views on the current war status, and his upcoming film with Spike Lee.

Can you talk about the role you play in ‘Lions for Lambs’ and why you chose to take it?

Derek Luke: I chose to take it because I felt that my character Arian Finch, a student turned soldier, is standing up and being counted with politics and for a long time I never knew where African Americans or minority stood and what makes you political if that’s the correct word and I just thought it was a great intrigue and a great cast to discuss those different issues. The cast was just as diverse and opinionated as the characters were, so I just wanted to dive in.

How was working with Robert Redford?

DL: He’s just classy and easy to talk to. He wants you to get your best work and be the person he paces he likes moment to moment directing, which was very, very interesting.

Did you do any research prior to doing this?

DL: We actually shot in the outskirts of Los Angeles. It’s called Simi Valley and it’s in the mountains. They built a ridge to mock Afghanistan and it was cold.

What did you learn from Robert as an actor and as a director?

DL: One of the things I enjoyed about working with Robert Redford is that most times you get to go home for dinner. I really enjoyed that. He doesn’t believe in pushing it and one of the remarkable things about Robert Redford is that he creates an embiance of no chaos on the set.

How much have you been following up with what’s happening in today’s war?

DL: This job, actually I should say acting is an education. I just finished working on ‘Lions for Lambs’ but I’m working on a film with Spike Lee on another subject that’s part of history and I haven’t been as current with that. I’ve been in a place with two wars, but I turn on CNN now and then and every other day and I pretty much keep up.

What do you think the message is behind ‘Lions for Lambs’?

DL: I can address it from my character’s point of view. My character Arian believes no change will happen unless you really stand up. I never really thought that the common analogy for a lot of people was ‘I’m not voting’ or ‘I’m not doing anything unless someone else do it’ and I really learned a lot from working on this film. That term ‘Your participation is great’, not just great, but effective and I learned that you don’t really need that many people to make a difference or a change. Just one committed heart.

How was working with Michael Pena?

DL: Oh man, that’s my boy for life. We think alike and we love the art. We love being on the set with people that we admire and he’s such a great actor.

Although you didn’t have any scenes with them, did you get to connect with Tom (Cruise) and Meryl (Streep)?

DL: Yes. I called Tom ‘The Passionate One’. What impressed me about Tom is that he’s been in the business for a while but he’s as passionate in front the camera and behind the scenes and that was pretty impressive. With Meryl Streep, I didn’t get a chance to work with her on this film but I would stay and watch her rehearsals but behind the scenes, behind the video camera and just see her work. I’m just a fan of hers and we didn’t a chance to talk much, but just in passing.

You are also shooting another war film – Miracle at St.Anna. What’s that story about and who do you play?

DL: It’s funny but I became a part of this film within two days of shooting. Everyday I’m dealing with it, but it’s about the Buffalo soldiers in World War II and it’s really an important film and I didn’t know that there were Buffalo soldiers fighting at the time. I didn’t know the full biography of the soldiers but Spike Lee is directing is it.

What role do you play?

DL: I play one of the main four characters. He’s a sergeant and he’s pushed to take command because of chaos. That’s all I can say for now.

Who are the other three actors?

DL: The other three are Omar Benson, Michael Ealy, and Laz Alonso.

When you are shooting back-to-back war films, does it give a new perspective about the present and the past?

DL: Yes. It really does. It really has given me another respect too. Even about voting. It’s like ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ they say. When you find out like in ‘St.Anna’ that your grandfather fought in this war and they had insurmountable conditions, you take notice and with the current situation, you have my character Arian in ‘Lions’ who you can say is from the inner city and he didn’t have much but he stood up and said that he wanted to be counted. I believe I’m between a time where it says that there’s proof and you have to stand up and be counted for.

What do you have upcoming after ‘Lions for Lambs’?

DL: I have another film coming up in February 2008 called ‘Definitely, Maybe’ and a few projects lined up but I’m just praying for everyone regarding the strike.

Why should folks come out to see ‘Lions for Lambs’?

DL: People should come out to see the film because it’s a film dealing with the minds of where America is today and what I liked about ‘Lions for Lambs’ is that it dealt with not just genre but it also dealt with different communities and a lot of times you can find out where the world stands when you tune into a film because media right now is the number one education of not just people, but definitely the youth. We have a quote from the film that says ‘What do you stand for?’ You should check out the film and see what you stand for.


LIONS FOR LAMBS opens on November 9, 2007


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