Despite playing a character who’s appeared in over 40 novels, a couple TV series and multiple TV movies, Spenser Confidential star Winston Duke had no interest in mining the past for inspiration. Based on Robert B. Parker’s Spenser detective novels, Spenser Confidential pairs Mark Wahlberg’s Spenser and Duke’s Hawk as they take matters into their own hands in order to seek justice for the murders of two Boston police officers.
For Duke and his version of Hawk, he knew he had to start “from scratch” in an effort to reflect a character who lives in a world that’s changing by the hour. Even though Hawk maintains his “warrior archetype” and painful past, Duke insisted that Hawk have a new age mentality with wellness and tech at the forefront of his mind. At one point, he even practices Reiki on Spenser’s dog that took a liking to Hawk during Spenser’s time in prison.
“He’s willing to risk it all for his integrity. In our times of being woke and having a civic and social duty, those are the things that make Hawk a perfect product of now,” Duke tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He’s all of us today. He’s our culture that says, ‘I’m going to hold you accountable,’ and I love that about him.”
After a memorable 2019 that included two of the most discussed and debated films of the year, Jordan Peele’s Us and Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame, Duke — while content — can’t help but lament over M’Baku’s final battle footage that hit Endgame’s cutting room floor.
“The raw footage was just so long with everyone that my stuff didn’t make it in. I filmed so much fighting for it, and I was really bummed to not see any of it in the movie,” Duke explains. “I did so many fighting scenes in Endgame during that final battle…. It was really cool. Marvel knows what they’re doing, and it all leads to the best product. So, I am happy; I was just very disappointed that nobody got to see all the stuff I was doing.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Duke also discusses his hopes for Black Panther 2, his reflections on Us and his support system of fellow Yale actors.
So, who did the dog actually like more between you and (Mark) Wahlberg?
(Laughs.) Oh, the dog loved me so much more. She loved me a lot. She actually pooped on my arm. So, I think that indicates who was loved more.
At Yale, when you imagined all the things you could possibly do onscreen, did you ever think you’d scratch a cat’s face onto a yellow Corvette?
(Laughs.) No, no, that wasn’t one I imagined, but I did train to be able to see that cat’s face in my head. So, that’s what they teach you in your third year if you ever want to do some cat scratching.
As far as creating this version of the Hawk character, did you reference the TV shows, TV movies and 40-plus books? Or did you just read the Wonderland book that Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland adapted?
So, we didn’t do any of that. We didn’t go back to the books or anything else in any way. I wanted to create a Hawk from scratch. We’re dealing with changing landscapes, so I wanted my Hawk to feel young and like a perfect product of this era. I wanted him to dress a certain way, and I wanted him to be flamboyant in his appearance. I also wanted his hair to mean a lot to him culturally. I actually fought for the hairstyle that you saw in the movie. I also wanted him to have that new age wellness mentality. That entire scene where Hawk is doing Reiki on the dog was improvised. I said that I wanted to do Reiki on the dog, and that’s how it came to be. So, I wanted Hawk to be a product of our time. I wanted him to be a social media kid, who’s always on his phone and listening to music. That’s coupled with his warrior archetype and how he’s this wounded child who’s always been looking for family.
Did you have any interest in MMA before making this movie, or did you look into that world once you understood who your Hawk is?
I did have an interest. I was already working on looking up MMA and fight technique for the Kimbo Slice character and biopic we were working on; it’s still in development. I was working on that and researching MMA for a while. So, getting the chance to do this in a different way was interesting. And then we created the fights on set with a couple MMA fighters who served as consultants on the movie — one of them being Cowboy Cerrone.
Did you like Pete Berg’s style of shooting with intercom direction and no cutting?
(Laughs.) It really adds a specific energy on set, and that energy really comes through when you watch the movie. Everything is very much alive at all times. He really likes going for something organic. It was a little bit of a trial for me to establish my own language within that. Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg have worked on five films together, so they have a preexisting dynamic. But I had to find my own way inside of that, and that was one of the challenges I faced. One of the ways I went about doing that was researching Peter Berg’s movies and seeing how the execution manifested onscreen. And I was always pleasantly surprised. I remember watching Lone Survivor, and I was wondering what made Ben Foster’s character so successful. So I came up with my own theories, and then, I put them into practice. They worked really well.
Hawk can’t look the other way, much like his father who died because of that trait. Hawk faces every problem head-on, whether it’s a dangerous fight or a bed that needs to be moved. Is that something you can relate to on some level?
I face every problem head-on. I confront my problems and issues. That’s one of the things I found refreshing and something I thought I could attach myself really quickly and easily to as Hawk. I thought Hawk had a really strong moral compass. I found that very appealing, and it’s why I wanted to play the character.
Hawk helps fix that little boy’s bed, as he’d just lost his father. Since Hawk likely saw a bit of himself in that boy, do you think he’ll look after him to some extent (if you’re to imagine this story moving forward)?
I think he would look after that kid. That was a moment of self-recognition. He wanted to try and save that kid’s life from becoming what he became. It’s a story of second chances in this movie. Would you do things differently or would you do things the same? Hawk is saying, “I would do things completely different, and I am. I’m not going to stand idly by and let something go wrong. I’m not going to be a bystander in my own life, go along with the motions and end up in a jail. I’m going to fight for what’s right, and I’m going to risk it all for something that I’ve just found, which is family.” He’s built a family with Spenser and Henry (Alan Arkin). He’s willing to sacrifice his life to redeem the honor of the father of that little boy. He’s willing to risk it all for his integrity. In our times of being woke and having a civic and social duty, those are the things that make Hawk a perfect product of now. He’s all of us today. He’s our culture that says, “I’m going to hold you accountable,” and I love that about him.
Hawk drives a Buick Riviera into a Mexican restaurant. I presume you watched that stunt from the sidelines?
Yeah, I was there the whole time. I watched it; it was really cool and a lot of fun. I did drive the car out of the restaurant, so that part was me. It’s a really fun movie. It’s got a little bit of everything.
Did you get to throw something off that freeway overpass, or was that added later?
I did throw something off of the freeway overpass. There was live traffic, but there was all kinds of safety built into it. It was a little nerve-racking, but it turned out really well.
Excluding method acting, since there are so many acting techniques out there, do actors ever butt heads on set over their differing approaches to the work?
I can see it happening in general, but it didn’t happen in this case. It hasn’t happened to me on any set that I’ve been on, and I’ve had the pleasure of working on Black Panther, which had a lot of actors doing a lot of different things. It all came together to create something really special. During Us, Lupita [Nyong’o] and I share a lot of acting jargon because we studied in the same place. So, she was pretty easy to work with. Mark and I celebrated our differences, and those differences lent themselves really well to the improvisational relationship that we had. We were able to bounce off each other really well because our approaches are so different. So, that experience was really great.
Did you shoot your Avengers: Endgame battle moments with most of the cast? Or did you shoot by yourself on a greenscreen stage, allowing the visual effects artists to composite you alongside everyone else?
I shot with everyone. The raw footage was just so long with everyone that my stuff didn’t make it in. I filmed so much fighting for it, and I was really bummed to not see any of it in the movie. (Laughs.) I did so many fighting scenes in Endgame during that final battle where they’re trying to keep the gauntlet away from Thanos. It was really cool. Marvel knows what they’re doing, and it all leads to the best product. So, I am happy; I was just very disappointed that nobody got to see all the stuff I was doing.
While I’m not asking for specifics, has Ryan (Coogler) given you some idea of where M’Baku is headed in the second Black Panther?
Not a glimpse. We’re just waiting to see where it goes. I’ve seen nothing, I’ve heard nothing, I haven’t been told a thing. I just trust that they’re going to invest in M’Baku and tell a really bold story.
Since M’Baku and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) were likely at odds long before they fought for the crown, what do you think would’ve happened if Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) first sought out an alliance with M’Baku in order to exploit M’Baku’s rivalry with T’Challa? Would M’Baku have shut him down as soon as he found out about Killmonger’s plans to distribute weapons?
I think he would’ve shut him down immediately. M’Baku is the ultimate conservative of Wakanda. He believes in closed borders; he doesn’t believe in outsiders. He believes that Wakanda should be for Wakandans. He’s that hyper-conservative minority. Any alliance with any outside party wouldn’t work with him. At the core of his being — at least how we met him — he’s a guy of integrity. I don’t think he would want to take over the throne in any insidious way. If M’Baku was gonna do that, I think he would’ve accepted the heart-shaped herb when they brought it to him and not revealed T’Challa’s frozen body. I think he would’ve just taken it for himself, but he demonstrated great conviction in turning it down and agreeing to show up to help change the day and change the tide of that battle. That ensured that Wakanda was safe, and he stayed on the moral high ground. I think M’Baku is a lot more approachable than people give him credit for.
As far as Us, it was pretty amazing how almost everyone had a different interpretation of the film, something Jordan (Peele) likely wanted. Out of curiosity, did Jordan ever tell you what his intent was, or do you have your own interpretation just like us?
I have my own interpretation, and that interpretation is why I did the movie. I wanted to be a part of these discussions. We were successful. That’s why I don’t worry about the awards or if it was nominated. I know the intention that I went into it with and what we expressed when we started the piece — and we accomplished it. We challenged people’s beliefs, how they see themselves and how much they question their position in privilege, commercialism and all of that stuff. We forced people to have an introspective view. That was the intention, and it was very, very successful. It was also successful for the genre of movie. So, that’s my award, and we did get a number of great awards throughout the season. So, I’m incredibly happy and proud of the piece.
The story of how you helped Yahya (Abdul-Mateen II) move at Yale has been told many times. Has it been invaluable to have someone like Yahya only a call or text away since you’re both climbing the ranks at the same time?
Yeah, I have a really great relationship with Yahya. It’s incredible to be able to just talk through a lot of different things with him, Da’vine Joy Randolph, Mamoudou Athie, etc. We’ve all been there for each other in so many ways throughout the years, and it’s really great to be there again in a different landscape. We’re all going through the same stuff, and we have a shorthand, such as, “Hey, I’m not believing myself these days. Is there any way you can come and watch me work one of these scenes?” That’s been asked of me before. “Hey, do you think I need a financial manager?” is a question I’ve asked and been asked. Any question from actual execution of the work to maneuvering the industry has been asked, and having those kinds of support systems really helps.
Can you tell me a bit about Nine Days with Zazie Beetz?
Oh, man. It’s just an incredibly inspired and poetic story about a character named Will, played by me. It’s an afterlife reality, and Will has the job of interviewing spirits for the opportunity to be born. It’s directed by a first-time director, Edson Oda, and the character of Will is inspired by his uncle Antonio, who committed suicide at age 50. He was labeled a pariah by his family, and Edson grew up hearing, “Don’t be like your uncle; your uncle was weak. He couldn’t make it.” So, as Edson got older and dealt with some depression and things that he worked through, he wanted to write this piece about his uncle and reshape the narrative of this man whose life was now boiled down to one act after 50 years of beautiful life. It’s a really beautiful piece about self-definition and finding strength. It’s really powerful.
Spenser Confidential is now available on Netflix.