X-Men: The Last Stand -An Interview with Bill Duke
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| X-Men: The Last Stand -An Interview with Bill Duke
By: Wilson Morales
As one of the most respected actors in the business, Bill Duke has managed to stay in the game long enough to still get some plum roles as opposed to just playing the father figure or some grandfather role. Mostly known for his commercial films such as his roles in “Predator”, “Commando”, “Payback” and more recently as the drug lord in last year’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”, Duke has also served as a director on a number of films including “A Rage in Harlem” with Robin Givens and Forest Whitaker, “Deep Cover” with Laurence Fishburne and has done extensive appearances on TV shows such as “Fastlane” and “Karen Sisco”. Duke even did a voice work for the animated series, “Justice League” as a detective. Coming up for Duke are 2 films that should spark a lot of interest. The first is a role in “X-Men: The Last Stand”, in which Duke plays General Trask. Contrary to what many may assume, this is not the same character (Bolivar Trask) as in the comic books. The second film that Duke is attached to is his directing film, “Cover”, which explores an African American man on the down low and the impact it has by keeping it in the closet. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Duke goes over his character in the X-Men, directing “Cover” and his view on the film version of “Miami Vice”, having directed some of the TV episodes.
What role do you play in “X-Men: The Last Stand”?
Bill Duke: General Trask is the head of Homeland Security. He’s the President’s right hand man and he has the responsibility of advising the president in terms of everything, every action.
Is that General Trask different from what’s in the comic books because Bolivar Trask is the creator of the Sentinels?
BD: I think to a certain extent, the character is. I hadn’t read all of the comic books. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t read the script that we shot. We weren’t allowed to do that. All you read was the scene that you had and you never saw the script at all.
So you never saw the entire script?
So what attracted you to this film?
BD: I’m friend of Brett Ratner, who has hired me in the past for some other things (Red Dragon) and I wanted to work with him again, and number two, I wanted to work with Kelsey Grammer and all the other folks. I wanted to be in place where they were and see how they work.
Had you seen the first two films, and if so, what did you think of them?
BD: Yes I did. I think they appeal to a specific youth market and a market that’s already there in terms of the comic book franchise. I think it was a smart and wise thing to make these movies. They’re going to make a lot more. I’m sure. I think both of the films are fine. It’s a mixture of fantasy and reality and how they will do both is the real question.
Having directed films yourself, can you compare/contrast the shooting styles of Singer’s and Ratner’s versions of the film?
BD: I’ve never worked with Bryan Singer so I can’t answer that question truthfully. I can tell you that Brett Ratner is a perfectionist, a detailed person down to the finest possible turn of the page; and as a result, I think he has the ability to work with actors which most directors don’t. In fact, when you’re moving around, he tells you what’s happening before and what’s happening after and then you talk about the execution of your part in terms of the character that both you and he creates.
So having seen both films, and then being directed by Ratner, could you tell there if the style will be different?
BD: I think that there are details to a degree. A lot of stuff was against the green screen and I did not get to work with all of the actors at one time, but with the green screen, we were told what happened before and what happened after; so you’re acting to a black screen but his description of that was very dramatic and very vivid.
Are you a fan of the comic book, and if so, how far along did you in reading about the X-Men?
BD: Yes I am. I read up to a couple of the original ones, but not the contemporary ones; but I loved the metaphor of the movie in terms of a contemporary society to a certain extent.
With only a couple of scenes to play, did you do any research on your character?
BD: I did some background search in terms of the government and the people who are in a higher position and the power that they have. With General Trask, his overall attitude was that if he had a mission or a goal, he would do it for the country, but also there are personal goals that override that. That was interesting to explore that.
Throughout your film career, you’ve mostly played the tough guy in films. Were you the tough guy in playing the General?
BD: I think my character is like a bad-good guy. He’s a good guy who does bad things sometimes; like all of us I guess.
Are you signed for a sequel, if the franchise continues?
BD: No, but verbally, I’ve been told that if things go well, there’s some interest in me continuing in the process of the character.
How much of a fan are you are when it comes to comic books, especially when there’s an influx comic book films now on the big screen these days? Did you follow up on some of these characters over the years?
BD: Not recently. I was as a kid. The Batman series, Spiderman, those comic books; but not in the last 10-15 years.
One look at your resume and one can tell that you have always been working, but more recently, you have been getting more plum roles such as one in last year’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” and this one. Have you been more aggressive in your pursuit for better roles?
BD: I have friends that are directors and producers that I have known for a while and they like my work. Thank God; so as a result I get these different roles. I don’t audition anymore. If they are interested, they’ll call me and say, “Let’s do this.” If I like the script, yes, I’ll do it. I feel very proud that after being in this business for so many years that people still call at all. I really feel grateful.
Which role are you most fond of?
BD: That’s a good question. I think it was a CBS film I did, “Palmerstown U.S.A”, in the late 70s. That was one of my favorite roles. It was set in the South and it’s about what some black kids went through in a racially segregated town. It was a very human drama. I enjoyed “Predator” a lot, and also “Get Rich and Die Tryin’”. I really enjoyed that role and playing the O.G.
What are you working on now?
BD: I’m producing and directing my own movie called “Cover”. It’s about a young woman who comes from Atlanta with her daughter and husband and they come to LA and he’s a young doctor. He has his own practice and she helps him. She’s a Christian woman and after a certain point, the practice grows beyond their wildest dreams. They move to the Palisades and have a great house and in the middle of this, she finds out that her husband just viciously betrayed her. The story is how she deals with it and her redemption and also his redemption. It’s also a murder mystery and who killed a certain person. It’s very Hitchcockian style-wise. As the story goes along, she tells her story in a police station and we go back and forth between interrogation and the real story that happen. The screenplay is by Aaron Rahsaan Thomas.
Do you have a cast set for the film?
BD: There are some people that we are talking to right now. We’ll know by the end of next as to who’s really going to do it and we’ll start shooting in the second week of May.
Were will you be shooting at?
BD: All of Los Angeles, which is amazing. For the last 12-13 years, I haven’t shot anything here in California. I’ve in Canada and someplace else in the country.
What led you to this story?
BD: Well, a couple of things. AIDS is a very, very, very vicious disease, particularly in the black community. Black women are the number one victims of AIDS in our country right now. It’s like an epidemic proportion and surely after I got involved in the project, my goddaughter came to the family and told us that she was HIV positive and she’s been married for 12 years. So, that’s the betrayal we’re talking about.
Back in your early days, you directed episodes of the original ‘Miami Vice” TV series. What do you think about the upcoming film?
BD: I think it’s going to be great. Michael Mann is one of my favorite people and I think he will stay true and to the integrity of the story as possible. I think he has two wonderful actors in Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell. The music is going to be slamming as well as the cinematography. He’s one of the first guys out here along with Stephen Sondhein to really apply visual technology in such a massively beautiful way, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it looks and how it sounds; the acting and the whole story.
So far, we’ve had “Big Momma’s House 2”, and “Madea’s Family Reunion” come in at #1 at the box office with over $20 million opening. What do you think about the state of black films today?
BD: I think we have definitely grown and moved, but we have a hell of a long way to go and except for a few exceptions, black directors are limited by their ethnicity and not their ability. I hope that that changes. There are guys that are really talented and they can direct anything, but they are usually to subject matters that are black only and I think that is a mistake. They can reach a large audience and they need to have the opportunity to do so.
Do you think the issue lies with the marketing of a film?
BD: I think we as creators have to think larger in terms of the messages and also the content of our movies and not take the easy way out. I also think the distributor and marketing people have to experiment in that field, although it a very difficult time these days. Everyone’s very nervous about having their guns to their throat, so there’s a lot of fear out there, but if a black director were given some leeway in terms of creative process, I think we would have some wonderful new ideas that could be profitable.
X-MEN opens on May 26, 2006
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