Actor Derek Luke has had quite a career since his first debuted in guest starring roles on sitcoms like The King of Queens and Moesha preceding his breakout starring role in Antwone Fisher opposite Denzel Washington in 2002.
Since that time, he’s appeared in a number of roles crossing genre lines from Madea Goes to Jail to Captain America: The First Avenger and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. In all of that, however, he’s never really stepped into the horror space. That is until this year, when he landed the role of Marcus Moore on season two of USA’s The Purge.
Based on the popular film franchise, The Purge TV series has expanded the overall universe, and especially so in its second season as it focuses on people’s lives and how they are affected by the annual Purge after the violent “holiday” ends.
For Luke’s character, an ER doctor who has spent his life trying to better himself and help those around him, that means trying to figure out why someone tried to Purge him which leads him on an incredible journey throughout the space of a year as a new Purge approaches.
The actor took a few minutes to speak with iHorror about what drew him into the genre space and what a character like Marcus meant to him. It was a fascinating journey for him both as an actor and a person.
**This interview contains spoilers for season two of The Purge**
“I grew up in a very spiritual, Bible-based Christian home,” he explained when asked about why the horror genre appealed to him. “The streets were appetizing to those who grew up without a dad. My mom’s answer was, ‘I’m going to put you in an environment to feed your spirit instead of feeding your head with foolishness.’ You see a lot growing up in churches like that. People being healed; people casting out demons. You come to accept that this is real. So when I would watch TV and horror movies, it wasn’t a stretch from what I experienced in my childhood.”
Still, he avoided horror of any kind early in his career. It just did not appeal to him as much in his early days as an actor. However, in recent years he began to wonder what he would look like and sound like in that space.
What did he have in his acting wheelhouse that he could stretch by stepping into the genre?
“People who watch horror are like rock stars, man. They’re faithful,” he said. “I started to think I shouldn’t be so hesitant to step into that space. When The Purge came along it wasn’t as much a shocker to me as it was to people who had followed my career.”
The role of Marcus appealed to Luke for a number of reasons not the least of which were the character’s motivations.
Despite being surrounded by violence and being threatened by violence, Marcus does everything he can not to give over to that unless he’s absolutely pushed to it, and even then, he tries to talk his way out of a situation if he can.
“What I learned about Marcus is that anger can cripple you and blind you and I think Marcus was fighting with staying clear,” Luke said. “He knew that in order to be a dad, be a husband, be a healer, clarity was key. He also, what I like about him, is that he pulled himself up out of nothing and he thought that if he could do it others could too and he wanted to help them do that.”
This kind of clarity also changed the way that the character developed in the writing room.
Marcus lives in a very nice neighborhood surrounded by very white neighbors who, as it turns out, are the one’s who placed the hit on him. It would have been very easy to tell a story about race and to make the focus entirely on the fact that Marcus is a black man hated by his white neighbors simply because he’s black.
Instead, the writers told a different story, gave a different motivation to them, and ultimately created a completely different narrative for Marcus when he confronted them about what they had done.
“It was different than when I first set down with the writers,” Luke explained. “In Marcus’s neighborhood it was easy to go for the obvious, but I thought it was a stronger choice to go with the challenge being inside of him. Not being full of hate. Not being angry. Not becoming what others wanted you to become. That’s why I thought it was interesting.”
The season finale of The Purge aired last night on USA and with the season behind us, we were curious whether Luke would like to tread farther into the genre.
“Yeah I think what’s fascinating is [the idea that] the unseen affects the seen,” he said. “What I love about horror and sci-fi and those particular specialties is that it’s fearless in the exploration of the unseen.”
We couldn’t agree more and we hope to see Derek Luke make more movies and series in the genre space.