In recent years,
more and more actors are making the leap from feature films to
television. What once had been a bit of a taboo has exploded, with
many name movie actors finding stimulating work on series television
– such as Glenn Close, Gary Sinise, Laurence
Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Alec Baldwin,
Vincent D'Onofrio, Jason Schwartzman and many more.
Derek Luke has
had a very busy theatrical career since he was chosen by Denzel
Washington to play the title character in the film Antwone
Fisher. Since then, Luke has played a fascinating scope of film
roles. He was the hometown star Boobie Miles in the film Friday
Night Lights, Hip-hop exec Puff Daddy in Notorious, the
battalion commander in Spike Lee’s Miracle of St. Anna and
South African freedom fighter Patrick Chamusso in Catch a Fire.
Other varied roles include a young agent in David Mamet’s spy drama
Spartan, a campaign worker in the romantic comedy
Definitely Maybe and gigs in Glory Road and Madea Goes
With all that
work in a film career that has only been going for seven years, it’s
sort of surprising that he would slow down to commit
all the time needed for series work. However, when he was
approached by producer/director Peter Berg – who had worked with
Luke previously on Friday Night Lights – to lead the ensemble
drama Trauma about San Francisco rescue workers, Luke signed
on the dotted line.
Cameron Boone, an emergency medical tech and ambulance driver who is
having trouble juggling his harrowing career with his family life.
Luke co-stars with Anastasia Griffith, Cliff Curtis, Aimee Garcia,
Kevin Rankin and Jamie Sheridan as a group of emergency aid workers
who are completely proficient in their dangerous careers but are
complete wrecks in their personal lives.
A couple of weeks
into the run of Trauma, Luke was nice enough to sit down with
us and a few other selected websites to talk about his first TV
do you find the most challenging about your role?
What do I find
most challenging about playing Cameron Boone? I believe it is
juggling the family and the medicine at the same time.
His family or
His family. As a
EMT paramedic, he doesn't have a place to filter any information but
at the same time at work what's been a challenge on set has been…
most of it has been learning the medicine. It's been fun but it's
been challenging and I love challenges.
Hi there. Living
in San Francisco one of my favorite parts of the show is in seeing
you guys and all the different neighborhoods around the city. Just
curious what your favorite parts have been about filming on
actually hard because San Francisco has become one of my favorite
cities I have in the US. So filming is - it's been on the
Embarcadero because you get the mix between the water, the (TAR),
the people that are - the tourists and you get to see the culture. I
also enjoy filming the Noe Valley. You're asking me like to pick my
favorite color, you know. But what I’m trying to say is that we've
been so enjoying shooting in San Fran and I didn't understand how
beautiful it was until we did shoot. So Embarcadero is one to name
the many - the multi.
Hey Derek, it's
nice talking to you again. We spoke at the Waldorf in New York when
you were promoting
Catch a Fire.
done mostly film work. When did you decide you were ready to give
series TV a try? And how is different working on a series than doing
You know, one of
the key things for me as an actor has been choices and it's been
hard. I love film but when I first arrived to LA and once I got
settled got an agent I had always been inspired by TV. From watching
all the shows, The Cosby Show to all those; I always had a
longing for TV. Nonetheless what brought me to TV was the quality of
the material. And working again with a director I worked with in the
past as a producer, Peter Berg, because I felt like he understood
film. When I read the project it felt like it was going to be a
movie on television so I wasn't making a huge switch. I'm pretty
excited about it. It's been one of the most adventurous projects I
have been on to date.
was wondering if you could talk a little bit about if you found what
makes the character of Cameron tick yet or what is his soul? How do
you go into playing this guy?
that I have approached just in the past… I always call it there's a
suit or there's an anatomy that goes to every character. I think
Cameron wants so much to be right. He so much wants to be protocol
and be excellent at what he does. He doesn't want to fail. At the
same time you have a backdrop of what's challenging in his life is
not so much work but his family. So he's trying to put both of them
together but they both require two different protocols and
attention. I think what makes Cameron tick is: one, the job, the
adrenaline, the rush. At the same time he feels a sense of
vulnerability because his family is suffering.
How does it feel
putting on the uniform?
Putting on the
uniform for me is actually pretty cool because we're shooting on
location. Sometimes, you're walking across the street and, you know,
there are cars passing you. Sometimes, you remember you have a
uniform on. There was a particular time where a guy was talking on
his cell phone with an ear piece and he saw me. He didn't know
whether I was a police officer or not. His whole demeanor - he just
went totally - his face went pale. Inside I just smirked at the
power of the uniform. It's very authoritative. It's like a super
suit. I love it. And it's amazing just to get a POV of how people
You've mainly had
film experience like they said before, what's it like going on the
set of an ensemble television show versus like a film where your
scene might have very little to do with the other people going on?
I would say it's
like broken pieces of a mirror. You see parts of your face. Another
analogy is I feel like it's a movie on Red Bull. It moves so much
faster. That was the question I posed to Pete Berg before I did this
project. I asked him, well how do I act on TV? He says “you don't
have to act moment to moment but imagine yourself in the future.”
The cast has such
a great chemistry with one another; was it instant or did it take a
bit of time for you guys to develop that?
That is one of
the most enjoyable parts of being on Trauma. I would say it's
the cast, it's the city and then it's the quality of the show.
Instantly there was an instant bond and a kinship. It's almost like
a brother and sisterhood among the cast. It's like we're so
different but we can relate to each other. I call it the show of
brotherhood of diversity, you know. We have so much that we want to
share and so much that we want to give and please through our
characters. It just made us all in harmony. It's been beautiful.
It's, to date, one of the best ensembles I have worked with.
only seen the first two episodes so far but so much of the storyline
is about how the simplest most innocuous actions can have really
devastating results. Now that you've been working at this and seeing
all these accidents on the show, do you find yourself being more
careful about what you do in real life?
Oh boy, this show
totally makes you examine the slate of your life. Even though we're
working on a script it becomes, you know, social water cooler talk.
The sets are so live and vivacious that you do examine yourself and,
you know, you check yourself. It's totally different when I'm
driving in a car. It totally makes me examine texting - text driving
- because that's been one of the most interesting stories within the
plot that we play. It's simple but it has catastrophic effects. So
yes it is causing us to… not to be fearful, but it is totally
causing us to be conscious and aware. At least for me.
I watched the
first couple of episodes and they are among the most intense
episodes of television I've ever watched. All of the characters on
the show have some sort of emotional baggage; Rabbit, for example
has survivor guilt, he's the sole survivor of a big crash. Marissa
was in the military and now she's finding herself having to prove
herself all over again. And Nancy lost her boyfriend in the crash
and so on. Which of the characters do you like to play against and
for what reasons?
I love playing
against Cliff Curtis [who plays chopper pilot Reuven “Rabbit”
Palchuck]. There's nothing like having a boxing match when someone
totally understands your language. What I love about Cliff - besides
being a cool guy and a friend - is that there's a sincerity and an
honesty that comes when playing opposite side of him. There's an
understanding of coming from film. So he's one of the people that I
love. Then too I love playing opposite Kevin Rankin [who plays
Luke’s partner Tyler Briggs] because most of our scenes are written
so beautifully by writers but many times what makes a scene is the
ability to be organic. Kevin is such an available soul; I love
playing with him and against him because we always come up with
something new in every take.
How much of a
part did Peter Berg have in casting this? I think the first thing I
noticed when I saw the show is you and Kevin together and the Friday Night Lights connection that you have to the
movie and the TV series.
Well, you know,
from that point of view me and Kevin didn't know each other until
the actual series. I never intentionally tuned into Friday Night
Lights because I felt like I would be kind of disturbing the
matrix, you know. I would be out and it would be cool to hear moms
or sons or daughters to say that's Boobie Miles from the movie; we
also watch the series. Pete Berg was very instrumental in casting at
least for me. I can't speak for Kevin Rankin. He just coated the
approach with peace. He told me that he was in support. He also
explained how it was for him to be on TV versus him working on
films. [Berg was a series regular as an actor on Chicago Hope
before switching to film and television directing]. Once we had that
conversation, I was cast and I was in. It was totally a brotherhood
and a past working relationship that helped provoke me to go that
side of Boone's character is harder for you to play, the paramedic
side or his personal life?
I would say what
has been interesting to play for me has been the paramedicine. It's
to find out who are these guys behind the medicine. I found out any
person that practices anything… it could be 1,000 doctors, it could
be 1,000 lawyers but what makes them different are their personality
and their instincts. It was about developing a mentality of a
paramedicine and developing what makes you get up in the morning and
constantly see the pulse of the world in their most vulnerable
state. That's been a challenge for me because Derek the person does
not like blood and he do not like needles. I’m constantly asking
myself who is this guy? These guys are so heroic and [I’m] gaining
much more information about him as we play our scenes from week to
week. That's what's been interesting for me.
Did you do any
background research about being a paramedic? Did you speak to any
paramedics or maybe do some ride-alongs or anything like that when
you got the role?
were part of our research along with classroom time. Classroom time
was basically going to a paramedic school and learning the basics.
You know, basically the difference between an EMT versus the EMT
paramedic that I play is the medicine. I had to focus on the
medicine whereas my partner focused more on the BLS meaning basic
life support. Me as a character I was ALS, advanced life support.
Again what separates that was the medicine. We also went on ride-alongs,
spent about fourteen or twenty hours on ride-alongs. They're still
continual because every job and every EMT team works totally
different. It's taking a part of what stands out and applying it to
your life situation.
talked a lot about various struggles for your characters. I think
watching the first couple episodes it kind of plays out that maybe
there are various ways this might move along. I wondered if there
was anything that you could tell us about what might be coming up in
the next few episodes - what parts of the struggle come forward?
Well I would like
to say that presently as playing my character, Cameron Boone, and in
reality of an EMT paramedic is that some of your closest… whoever
you work with on the field becomes sort of like your best friend.
Whether you talk or you don't talk, you guys get each other. It's
almost like playing a game. I know the ball is going to be there
when the quarterback throws the ball. But I think, so far we're able
to see, Boone [is] having challenges at home. Many times for men, as
I was doing research, they say men are the first ones to leave the
house. But in the future there are some rivaling conflicts with his
partners. It makes a place where it was totally safe now totally
unsafe and vulnerable. Those are some of the conflicts that are
this role you have to be pretty technical. I know you said you've
had the training and the ride-arounds but is it the dialogue any
harder to memorize? I mean, you've got complicated medical things
going on. How does that work out for you?
challenging about the dialogue is that the show is dramatic but the
medicine is action. Every action needs an emotion but it also every
action is a procedure. So you pretty much have to know your stuff
and the medicine to do the scene because. We may get a certain
amount of words but it's almost like putting it in a puzzle that one
word goes with an epi and one word goes with this medicine and one
word goes with how you examine the person. So, unlike what I've done
in the past where I'm just having dialogue this one requires a
totally keen sense of focus. I'm enjoying it. I'm having so much fun
with it because it doesn't feel like it is TV. I feel like I'm
working on a movie.
obviously loves his family and yet apparently he has a bit of a
wandering eye. I believe it was in the pilot that he said it was
because he couldn't bring all the death and pain that he sees daily
back home to his family. As a family man yourself, do you think that
there is a point to that explanation or do you just think that's
just a rationalization on his part?
I'm glad you
asked that. It's a very interesting answer because as I was coming
to this role part of my research was seeing how the family structure
has changed and been redefined over the last 20-25 years. Whether
your mom or my grandma - the structure of the family is totally
different. As a matter of fact, part of my research I found out that
it was much more catastrophic or harder on a child to lose a parent
through divorce than a fatality. Today if you look at my character -
the divorce rate in the US and around the world is so high so again
that affects not just Cameron but it affects his family or it
affects young people growing up. It's in fact the family structure
had been the most revered structure over the last 50, 60 years. It
has changed so much. So has our economy and so have our children.
Nine times out of ten what I wanted to make Cameron Boone was a
universal character; it didn't matter whether you were of what
culture of what color. Most everyone had a working father or not.
For him not to come home is very complicated. For him to share work
is very hard. I know that when I come home, the first thing I do not
talk about is work. I want to move as far from work as possible.
But, what it takes to make a relationship is communication. I think
he doesn’t see that all the time. He thinks he is protecting but
he's imploding opposed to exploding.
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