Interview with Mandy star Bill Duke
review by Bobby Blakey
There are those actors that are not only recognizable and great in everything they do, but also transcend just the world of acting and put their marks behind the camera as well. Writer, Director and actor Bill Duke is one of those people. He has had a ton of memorable on screen work including the original Predator and so much more, but also an impressive resume in the director’s seat on films like Deep Cover, Sister Act 2, and Hoodlum to name a few. Now he is in the latest film Mandy starring Nicolas Cage from director Panos Cosmatos. I had the chance to sit down to speak with this icon in the industry to discuss his work on Mandy and film in general.
Bobby: How did you get involved with Mandy?
Bill: My agent sent me the script, I loved it and wanted to work with them.
Bobby: You do so many things both in front and behind the camera. How do you prepare for these different roles?
Bill: That’s a great question because I think people believe acting is just acting and doing lines. It’s a craft where you get the script and memorize the lines, but then you have to surrender to it. It’s kind of hard to explain, but as a writer you know start to write and then the pen takes over and it pours out of you. Acting is the same thing. You run the lines, but you also collaborate with something within yourself that takes you into who that character is. Not just saying the lines, but living the lines.
Bobby: When you get a role like this one do you get some freedom to do your own thing with it or do you like to try and stick to what was written?
Bill: It really depends on the director you are working with. Panos is a director that gives the actors all the freedom that they want. We sat down to lunch and I would ask him what he thought and he would ask me what I felt. He was trying to understand my input and vision. That collaboration really helped because he was very supportive in that way.
Bobby: As someone has established them as a director as well with some pretty great films how hard is it to not shift into that directing mode sometimes when you are just a member of the cast of actors?
Bill: When I’m acting man, I cut off my directing hat altogether. I have respect for the director and I do not work for everybody only those I respect. I wouldn’t do a role at all if I didn’t respect both the director and the script. If I am hired as an actor I deliver my lines and develop my character. It’s their vision and I respect it.
Bobby: You have taken on so many different kinds of roles in your career, what do you look for in script on the acting side?
Bill: It could be a horror film, a love story or whatever, but there has to be something about the human being that I can connect with. I’m looking for those nuggets where it doesn’t matter the genre of the film. There are very few action films where you really care about anybody. You care about the explosions and car chases, but do you care about anyone in the car? I like those when you care about who is in the car.
Bobby: As an actor does it matter to you how big the role itself is or is it just more about how interesting it is and what you can bring to it?
Bill: We are all business people and make a living at this so you want to be paid, but when you are acting your name goes on something forever. I don’t care what the genre is as long as I can connect with the character in some way. I love great writing man, with a character that is about something. That’s what I like.
Bobby: A movie like Mandy is pretty out there so when you are reading a script for a film like this does it even make that much sense initially and make you think or is that what makes it so interested in it?
Bill: What he did brilliantly was to set up the movie in a way where you have this couple that love each other unconditionally who are trying to get away from society and just be with each other. The very thing that they are trying to get away from is what comes back to haunt them. I think that is something that we can all identify with as we all get tired of society.
Bobby: I am always interested in the personas of actors. Speaking to you now you are full of energy and obviously well spoken, but a lot of your characters are more monotone and mysterious. Is this something by design as part of your process or does it just happen when you get into a character?
Bill: It’s getting into character. I honestly wish acting wasn’t described to what we do because wonderful actors don’t act they become. Sometimes you don’t know how that person is going to sound until after the lines are out of the way and it’s about surrendering to that process.
Bobby: As someone who does work on both sides of the camera, when you step onto set do you often watch to see others as inspiration for other projects as well?
Bill: I always just try to focus on what I am working on because it really does take 110% of your attention if you are going to do it well. I am just right there with the experience and the other actors, collaborating with them and the director to do the best job I can. No matter how many years in the business you still get terrified and just go in there, do your best and hope people like it.
Bobby: My wife and I are crazy Predator fans and she will not let me get away without asking you about the scene where you break the razor on your face. Was that scripted or completely improve in the moment?
Bill: That was straight improve man.
Bobby: Do you have anything else you can tell us about?
Bill: I also have a movie coming up with Steven Soderbergh called High Flying Bird and going to be in the CW series Black Lightning. Please check those out.
Bobby: I greatly appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Bill: Thank you my friend it was a pleasure.
Be sure to check out Mandy in theaters now from RLJE Films.