Interview with… Derek Luke

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To celebrate the UK release of new romantic comedy Baggage Claim, we’re bringing you exclusive interviews with four of the film’s stars! Our third interview is with loveable actor and consummate gentleman Derek Luke, who plays Paula Patton’s charismatic, down to earth neighbour and best friend.

How would you describe William, your character?

At the beginning, we don’t label him as the good guy. I think that William exists, but that’s it. We have these people around us that exist but we don’t acknowledge their existence. We take them for granted and a lot of the time you don’t know how good you have it until the good is gone or threatened. William’s heart is correct and true. That’s what I love about him. He is the kind of guy I would love to see with my sister—if I had a sister (laughs)—because he is good. I can see his moral foundation.

How much do you identify with William?

I do identify with him. I’ve been in the ‘friend zone’ for a long time. I’ve carried books home for girls, I’ve been best friends to girls who would tell me about all their dates, and I would be like: ‘why would you feel the need to tell me about that?’ So basically part of my character’s journey is about how to get out of the friend zone and go onto victory. William works in construction, so part of it is about building, planning, watching. I feel like he had been watching Montana for a long time.

Do you enjoy playing William because he has strong values?

Yes it’s all about playing an inspiring man. My mum groomed me as William. In my job you get to meet great men from every hood and every suburb: all kinds of men, men of colour, Latin men. Men are very vulnerable in terms of what they think and how they feel. I aspire to be like the Sidney Poitiers and the Harry Belafontes of the world who, in every time and every generation, have left a mark, whether or not it was a controversial mark. For men of colour, I always want to sow a good seed on film. It has nothing to do with being typecast; it’s just about the image of black men. So many people have given me a chance to roll, and because of that chance I just want to inspire.

What do like about the story?

The great thing about Baggage Claim is that it shows what I call the ‘peacocks’ in relationships. I don’t think the men in the story [Montana’s flawed exes] are bad. I think they may have been wrong for her. They have a particular perspective and they haven’t got to the point in their life where they are looking for Mrs. Right. I (William) was Mr. Right. A lot of the characters I get to play are strong men. I love playing sensitive, strong, emotional characters that deal with the inner dwellings of a man’s heart.

How did you know your wife [Sophia Adella Luke], was The One?

I knew because I had spent a lot of my years observing couples. What happens when you observe relationships and you listen to women is that you find out what works and what doesn’t work.

Do you think there is a need to have specifically black films?

They say statistically everyone will be brown in the next 30 years. I think the way we may comment now on an African American film will not be the way other people will comment on these films in the next fifty years. They will just say, ‘hey I love this film. I love seeing this group of people.’ That is the key to Sidney Poitier and to Denzel’s films. They do not focus on pleasing  ‘the town criers’ as Shakespeare said. They focus on the global dream.

You have British connections I believe?

My dad [Maurice Luke] grew up in Brixton for ten years. He went to London from Guyana, South America [to act]. I was over in London filming Captain America: The First Avenger. I lived everywhere: in Putney; in Kensington, Notting Hill, and right next door to Harrods. Knightsbridge—very posh! I love London.

What was it like working with Paula Patton, your leading lady?

Paula is fantastic. Talking about her makes me think of the time I had the pleasure of going with my wife to the home of Kirk Douglas. It was during the awards campaign for the film Antwone Fisher. Kirk Douglas said: ‘people do not understand how conscious and wise actors are.’ Paula has a lot of wisdom. And what I love about Paula is that intelligence; you cannot be a lead actor without intelligence. What I love about being on screen with her is that she is sensitive to the script and sensitive to the need for chemistry. What I saw in her was a person who had an understanding of wanting to break any type of barrier. You don’t see Montana as anything other than a woman. If you’re in Holland or England or anywhere else you will identify with her. If you were on the same team as her, you would call her a leader. Paula was a great leader for Baggage Claim.

BAGGAGE CLAIM will open in the UK and Ireland this Friday on 11 October 2013, distributed by Fox Searchlight

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