Derek Luke

Active - 2002 - 2015  |   Born - Apr 24, 1974 in Jersey City, New Jersey, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Thriller, Comedy Drama

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Biography by Mark Deming

Derek Luke was an all-but-unknown actor who was still working a day job when Denzel Washington plucked him from obscurity in 2002 for the leading role in his first directorial effort, Antwone Fisher. Born in Jersey City, NJ, in 1974, Luke displayed a precocious interest in drama at the age of four, telling his mother he wanted to be an actor, and, in 1995, he moved to California in hopes of making a career for himself in film and television. The 1,000-dollar nest egg Luke brought with him didn't last long, but, determined to get his foot in the door of the business, he took jobs that would allow him to meet people in the entertainment industry -- first serving as an usher for television tapings at the Universal Pictures studios and later as a sales clerk at a shop selling candy, gifts, and sundries on the Sony Pictures Studios lot. While there, Luke became acquainted with Antwone Fisher, a screenwriter who had a development deal with the studio, and learned that Fisher's memoir about his turbulent early life was being made into a film. Luke became even more intrigued when he learned Denzel Washington was interested in directing the film, but, despite landing an audition for the project, the picture was put on hold before casting could be completed. In the meantime, Luke continued to work at the store and landed bit parts on the sitcoms The King of Queens and Moesha before auditioning for Antwone Fisher a second time in 2001. While Luke wasn't happy with his reading, Washington was convinced the actor had the right emotional pitch for the character, and, several weeks later, the Hollywood veteran stopped by the Sony Studios store to tell Luke he'd won the part. Though opinions on the film were mixed, Luke was singled out for his raw, authentic, and emotional performance. After completing Antwone Fisher, Derek Luke was soon cast in two 2003 features: Pieces of April and Biker Boyz.

Though Luke was still every bit the dramatic powerhouse that he was in Antwone Fisher, his abilities were put on the back burner somewhat in the ensemble casts of Spartan, Friday Night Lights, and Glory Road. As a wronged family man who becomes a freedom fighter in apartheid-era South Africa, however, Luke proved in Phillip Noyce's 2006 biopic Catch a Fire that he was more than capable of carrying a major film. Luke would remain a familiar face on screen for years to come, appearing most notably in movies like Madea Goes to Jail and on TV shows like Trauma and Hawthorne.

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  • While waiting for his big break, his jobs included selling cologne out of the back of a car and ushering at TV studios.
  • Was working as a gift-shop clerk on the Sony lot when he met Antwone Fisher, who was writing an autobiographical screenplay; Luke auditioned for the lead role in the film and first-time director Denzel Washington hired him.
  • For his performance in Antwone Fisher, he won the 2003 Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead.
  • Has a line of T-shirts called "Heartist" (a combination of the words "heart" and "artist").