IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Derek Luke talks 'Hawthorne' and 'Captain America: The First Avenger'

Tuesday, 19 July 2011 00:01 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Derek Luke talks 'Hawthorne' and 'Captain America: The First Avenger'

There is no doubt about it … it’s a good time to be Derek Luke! Not only is the actor currently appearing on the third season of TNT’s hit medical series Hawthorne, starring Jada Pinkett Smith, but he can also soon be seen opposite Chris Evans in one of the biggest films of the summer, Captain America: The First Avenger, which opens in theaters everywhere on Friday. In the film, Luke portrays Gabriel “Gabe” Jones, a member of the Howling Commandos, which is an elite group of soldiers that fight along side Captain America during WWII.

The actor first got his start starring opposite Denzel Washington in the Oscar winner’s directorial debut, Antwone Fisher, which was based on a true story. Since then, Luke has built a steady resume of provocative and interesting films such as Friday Night Lights, Spartan, Catch a Fire, Lions for Lambs, Miracle at St. Anna, and Notorious. But on TV, the actor can be seen weekly on TNT’s Hawthorne as Dr. Miles Bourdet, a Chicago doctor who transfers to nurse Christina Hawthorne’s (Pinkett Smith) Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. I recently had a chance to speak with actor Derek Luke and we talked about his role in Captain America: The first Avenger, the research that he did for the part, how he got cast on Hawthorne; his character, and why he has always wanted to do a television series. Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, before we talk about Hawthorne I have to ask you about Captain America: The First Avenger, which opens in theaters at the end of the week. In the movie you play Gabe Jones, who was a very important character in the original Marvel comic books. Did you do any research into the character from the comics or did you take all your cues completely from the script?

Luke: It was completely off script and I’ll tell you why. That’s one thing I learned from the first project I ever did (Antwone Fisher). I was in the room and I was talking with the producers and everything. They were talking to me about acting, the movie character, the book that it was based on, and the real life person I was playing. They began to talk to me about all three entities so I never looked at characters or acting the same way. I always separate them. Now with Gabe Jones, I was invited to be a part of the cast and there was no script. So everyday when I got on set it was a development of an imagination. We didn’t get our scripts until we actually were ready to go to the U.K. and film. I had already signed a contract. So Gabe Jones was a combination of the comic book and then what the script had to say. So then it was an interpretation and I went online and was trying to find out who this guy was. My friends were saying, “Is it the Black Panther?” I was like, I don’t know but then I found out it was Gabe Jones. So it was pretty much on the spot and I had to use my imagination right there.


In the comics Gabe often plays a brass horn, was that something that the filmmakers considered putting into the movie?

Luke: Yeah man, that was definitely a question but here’s the thing about that, when I signed on I didn’t just sign on to do this. I singed on for a few other pictures and in that promise they are looking to develop all the characters. But for right now there are just so many characters that have to be introduced.

With Hawthorne, I heard that you had actually just started watching the series and then three days later the producers called you and asked you to join the cast, that’s kind of fortuitous isn’t it?

Luke: I have a short line and it's called “acting is a sport.” You know acting is like, man you have to have a quick twitch. You know just like with Captain America, all that happened within I think a week and a half, or two weeks. Actually you know with Captain America, I pretty much walked away from the project because there wasn't a script and I wasn't used to that. I wanted something solid before I actually left. But saying that and connecting that with Hawthorne is the fact that part of life is being ready in season and out of season. I got the calls and within a couple of days they had already started shooting so my character was just that instant response. Its kind of fun doing Hawthorne because is like real live theater because the lines change all the time.

Obviously you are a very successful film actor, but was doing an episodic television series something you had been considering or a while, and why did you decide to do it now at this point in your career?

Luke: You know what? T.V. was what I was interested in when I first came to L.A. with my dream. I always wanted to do a show like The Cosby Show. I never even thought about film, I didn't even know much about it. I only remember a few films that I even saw as a kid that my mom actually took me in the theater and paid money to see. Most of it was television. So when I came to L.A., my desire, my dream was T.V. So movies were like the big picture, meaning it became a part of the view by looking forward. I enjoy movies and so with doing T.V. I feel like I get a chance to be around mentors. Some of my mentors like Denzel Washington and people who have started on T.V. Even Will Smith started on T.V. I always felt like, man what would it be like if I got a chance? Now I'm getting a chance to do both. Also back in the days there wasn't...you didn't have the license to go from T.V. to film or from film to T.V. It was like few and far in between of actors who did that.


What can you tell me about your character on the show, Dr. Miles Bourdet? What characteristics have you been able to bring to the part to make it your own?

Luke: What I brought to him is kind of like a take on my mom and my dad. My dad was a young man in his late twenties when he met my mom who was n her late teens. For me, it was sort of like a portrait of the beginning of me. So I think for Miles today, I think what was interesting was that as producers Will (Smith) and Jada (Pinkett Smith) brought an element of spirituality, which is very rare on T.V. or film. To me it was exciting because part of acting is doing something new, different and adventurous. And word out on the street has been so positive on that level about medicine and prayer. Where I got that from was pretty much in the beginning of the YMCA. So many of these organizations were Christian organizations that started just helping people on a whim. We kind of explored it a little bit and just brought that element into the character.

There is a really interesting storyline going on right now between your character and Hawthorne’s younger daughter Camille.

Luke: Yeah they do but I was actually fighting it at first.

Really, why was that? Why were you fighting it?

Luke: Because you know I have nieces and cousins right around their age and I was curious because my nieces they ask me about all my choices. They watch me and I’ve become more aware as they’ve gotten older that they watch everything I do. There was a situation where there was a family member who was dealing with this older guy and my thought was like, what does he want? I don't know about you, but if you have a younger sister and you know your buddy was trying to talk to her, you might be a little suspicious, or protective.


Finally, can you give fans of the show a little hint as to what they might be able to expect from your character’s story arc in the remainder of this season?

Luke: You know that was a great question in the Hawthorne production office. The pitch in the room was that Miles Bourdet is a young man from Chicago, whose father was an attorney and had the same hopes for his son. Miles, was a guy who wanted the action, he wanted to help people. And low and behold he leaves, he switches his electives from law to medicine and he's doing pretty well at it. His dad and his mom are still together, while Miles and his wife and have kids. But the only hold back is the fact that he's doing great on the doctor front, and perhaps a little on the father front, but he's losing on the husband front. So right now he feels conflicted about his commitment. He feels like if he stays in Virginia, he's fulfilled. But then if his family doesn't come with him, he's not complete. It's a question about commitment versus complete.

Captain America: The First Avenger opens in theaters everywhere on July 22nd. 

Hawthorne is currently airing its third season on TNT. 

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