Interview: Derek Luke

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Born April 24, 1974 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Derek Luke was a candy salesman in a Sony Pictures gift shop for five years when he was discovered and successfully auditioned to play the title role in Antwone Fisher. Since winning an Independent Spirit Award for that film, the overnight sensation has continued to receive critical acclaim for his work in such pictures as Pieces of April, Biker Boyz, Spartan, and Friday Night Lights.

In his new bio-pic, Catch a Fire, he plays Patrick Chamusso, an apolitical family man-turned-freedom fighter who helped topple South Africa’s apartheid regime. Here, Derek, who is married to actress Sophia Adella Hernandez, discusses both the movie and the man who inspired it.

BSN: What interested you in playing Patrick Chamusso?
DL: I liked his story, but I liked his ending more than anything.

BSN: How would you describe the trajectory that his life took?
DL: He has a good life, and he has friends. But it can be argued that his goals are a little different from the people around him. It seems that everyone else is kind of aggravated, but he’s playing football and has his work, and is just living this life that’s happening for him in this little bubble. But everybody around him is going totally counterclockwise.

BSN: So what was Patrick struggling with?
DL: Patrick’s fight is a humanity fight. He’s forced to wake up. And with his waking up, when he finally gets it, and he understands and appreciates his family and his wife, he now has to go and do something else.

BSN: What did you think of director Philip Noyce, a white guy from Australia, making this movie about the black liberation struggle in South Africa?
DL: The first question you ask is, “Hey, man, what are you doing in this country? And why are you telling this story?�

BSN: Did you like his answer?
DL: It gave me encouragement, because it was like Philip’s heart was inevitably sewn to the story in South Africa. And I like the way he deals with the politics, how he deals with the issue of apartheid. He just says, “Hey man, I’m after the truth.�

BSN: What do you think of the freedom songs on the soundtrack which played a pivotal role in the revolution in South Africa?
DL: I loved it because these people, their songs were about your heart, and about your strength. And when you’re singing songs about your heart and your strength, you no longer have blood flowing in your veins, you just have purpose. You have venom. It’s like, “I will die at any cost!� And that’s actually what takes place in Mozambique. The first display of what Patrick has been taught is when he’s asked, “Are you willing to die?� It’s so amazing when that challenged is made by his mentors, and he has to make a decision about whether he’s going to go forward or not. And I think that makes the second part of the film even more intense because he going through so much. He’s become this man with a different outlook on life.

BSN: What do you think of present-day South Africa?
DL: South Africa is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. What makes it powerful is that whole forgiveness thing. It’s easy to talk about, but they really believe it.

BSN: What was it like meeting Patrick Chamusso?
DL: I asked him how he is at peace and has such tranquility after all that he’s been through. He basically said, “Well Derek, if you don’t forgive, hate will kill you.� Patrick told me how when he goes to buy fuel for his car, he sees the guy who tortured him. The guy’s on a pension now. It was exciting to see Patrick take the power from his former oppressor.

BSN: What’s up next for you?
DL: A romantic comedy called Definitely, Maybe, with Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Kline, Rachel Weisz, Isla Fisher, and Elizabeth. We’re all working on one of Bill Clinton’s campaigns. And my character has a dream of becoming president.

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