In the last five years, Derek Luke has been busy racking up credits in movies such as “Friday Night Lights,” “Catch a Fire” and “Definitely Maybe.” He jump-started his career with the title role in Denzel Washington’s 2002 “Antwone Fisher” and starred opposite Katie Holmes in the 2003 indie “Pieces of April.”
Now he has the lead in Spike Lee’s upcoming epic, “Miracle at St. Anna” (it opens Sept. 26) playing a black soldier on a perilous mission in World War II Italy.
Luke is still a little shocked. And, as he sat down to talk about the role during the Toronto International Film Festival last week, completely thrilled.
Q: You hadn’t worked with Spike before. Big shock to get the call?
A: It was the call from the Big Daddy. It was top-notch working with Mr. Washington, but working with someone who had hired him was eerie. I had never spoken more than two words with Spike before. And to receive a role that Mr. Snipes was set to play was an honor. Wesley Snipes, man.
Q: This is a fictional story, but it’s also a history lesson. Were you aware, as a kid growing up, of the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, of the history of African-American units?
A: No, I had never heard of it. I heard about Martin Luther King, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, but I never really heard about the Buffalo Soldiers. I mean, through Bob Marley, but I just thought it was a myth. … So I think this movie is important.
Q: You’re promoting this film you made with Spike Lee. You’re shooting a Tyler Perry movie. You just finished making the Notorious B.I.G. bio, where you’re playing P. Diddy. And I’m thinking: All of these are guys who really created their own opportunities. Is that important for everyone to do?
A: Well, I think the American message is, you can make it whatever you want. And people like Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan, they symbolize that – the American dream achieved with style and grace at the highest level. … If you want to really heal a generation you’ve got to encourage everybody to make an impact on society.
Q: And how did you prepare for this film?
A: We went to a boot camp, for about two weeks. And Spike Lee, he had set it up to spiritually, socially and physically malnourish us and put us really into a mind frame. He told the people running it, don’t give them hardly any food. He told us, no cell phones. We had to interact with each other, become one.
Q: And what was harder? The physical stuff? Or giving up your cell phone?
A: It was definitely harder not being able to call my wife for two weeks. It made me sad, because in a sense I began to know how these men felt, when the best you could do was write a letter. … You really started seeing that camaraderie. That feeling of, we’ve really got to do our job and get home. So it gave you a little bit of a sense of how it was.
The birthday bunch
Actress Barbara Bain (TV’s “Mission: Impossible”) is 77. Actress Jacqueline Bisset is 64. Singer-guitarist Dave Mustaine of Megadeth is 47. Drummer Steve Perkins of Porno for Pyros and Jane’s Addiction is 41. Actor-director Tyler Perry (“Madea’s Family Reunion”) is 39. Actress Louise Lombard (“CSI”) is 38. Singer Fiona Apple is 31. Guitarist Hector Cervantes of Casting Crowns is 28.