Actor Jeremy Luke is quickly becoming one of the breakout stars of 2013, with a stand-out role in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s full-length feature directorial debut Don Jon and as mobster Mickey Cohen in Frank Darabont’s latest TV series, Mob City. He will also appear in the film adaptation of the musical Jersey Boys, directed by Clint Eastwood and set to be released in 2014.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Jeremy Luke talked about how he got involved with Don Jon after a conversation in a bar, how much he enjoyed being the comic relief, what it was like to act with and be directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, what attracted him to Mob City, just how far the show will push boundaries, how much research he’s done to play Mickey Cohen, and how he hopes the series will go beyond the six-episode first season. He also talked about getting to do a scene with Christopher Walken in Jersey Boys, and that his role is one of the non-musical characters. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JEREMY LUKE: I was hanging out in a bar, and there was a guy in the bar who knew another guy. He said, “This guy is the 1st Assistant Director for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s movie, and they’re looking for his buddy. Send me your stuff.” So, I sent him my stuff. I thought it would be like Garden State, or something, and be really watered down. It was just an energy thing. I don’t know if Joe actually saw my stuff. I never really had that conversation with him. But what happened was that, three days later, I got an audition. The casting director said, “You’re gonna meet Joe tomorrow,” and I was like, “Who’s Joe?” And then, we met at the callback and it just felt right. Not to sound egotistical and cocky, but I kind of knew that I got it. I had that feeling.
What sort of relationship do your characters have?
LUKE: I play his stupid sidekick. He’s got a much more personable relationship with Rob Brown’s character. I’m just an idiot alcoholic who hangs out with him. My character pretty much just wants to have sex with anything. Joe’s character hits up all the really, really pretty girls, and my character will hit up anything that comes his way. She doesn’t even have to talk or say anything.
Do you enjoy being the comic relief in a story like this? Is that something you’re comfortable with and comes easy for you?
LUKE: Yeah, I’m really comfortable in it. I’m really comfortable with being the sidekick. I’m 5’5″, so I’m built for that. I love it! It’s fun. When I was doing it, I didn’t really look at it like, “This is a comedy.” I don’t really look at it like, “Oh, this is funny.” I just look at it like, “This is the life of this person.” Obviously, you could tell from reading through the lines that it’s humorous, but I never really looked at it as a comedy. With Mob City, it’s the opposite. I do have some funny moments and I am a leading man in that. I’m one of the central characters and people follow my orders, so it’s a very different situation.
How was it to work with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as an actor and as a director?
LUKE: Everybody is saying that he’s a first-time director, and the truth of the matter is that on paper he is, but he’s done a lot of things in the past. He’s been on sets for 25 or 26 years. He’s earned his wings. But, working with him was great because we got rehearsal time. A lot times on set, your rehearsal time is actually your camera rehearsal. The thing that was good with us was that me, him and Rob got together and rehearsed a lot. We went to his house to rehearse, which I love. I come from doing a lot of theater, so that really works for me. Some of the best compliments that we got was that what we say seemed improvised, but everything was word for word. Joe was great. He gave us room to breathe and come up with ideas. Some things worked and some things didn’t work, but he was a collaborative director, and that’s hard to come across when you’re dealing with someone who directs, writes, produces and acts in their own thing. Sometimes they get really stuck in a box. That’s how you know he’s a really intelligent director. He’s open to collaboration. It’s not just his idea and his everything.
How did you get involved with Mob City?
LUKE: The funny thing with Mob City is that I was working on another movie and I got the audition and I was studying for it. I prepped and went out and bought a suit and hat. I just looked like a guy from the 1940s. I ironically got a hair cut that I hated, two days before, and it looked like a 1940s style hair cut. It was a blessing. I don’t know what the hell happened. So, I got called in on a Tuesday at six o’clock. I got out of work at 10:30 and drank a couple of beers. My manager called me and said, “Frank Darabont saw your audition tape. He’s at home writing, and you’ve gotta go in and do five more pages tomorrow. He loves you.” I was like, “Really?!” At that point, I had had two beers, and I went home and studied the five or six pages. And then, like with every actor, I was on hold. They told me that I was Frank’s choice, but I was on hold. I was on hold for 10 days, waiting. Finally, at five o’clock on Friday, I got the call that I got it. The good thing with Frank was that I didn’t have to audition for him. He’s great, but at the time, I probably would have been really intimidated auditioning for him. I had to do it on camera with the casting director.
What attracted you to the show?
LUKE: There’s nothing else like it on TV. To be a part of this ensemble is just such a blessing. We’ve got some great people. Even the guest stars and recurring characters are people that I’ve looked up to, for a long time. I think Jon Bernthal is one of the best actors of our generation. He’s great. The thing with our show is that it’s not a bunch of really good looking guys. We all look beat up, in our own way, which is really cool. That’s what really attracted me to the show. For me, personally, I’m a 5’5″ leading man. I’m no Brad Pitt, or anything. So, the fact that you’ve got a bunch of guys who look like guys on this show is really cool.
For people who have become accustomed to the level of violence and sex and the type of language that’s being shown and heard on paid cable, what would you say to reassure them about how far this show can really go?
LUKE: The show will go far enough, but without getting really indulgent. I don’t think we need to go too far, unless the story calls for it. But for cable television, I think this show goes really far. We push the boundaries. Michael Wright, the president of TNT, already said that he is willing to take the show as far as we need to go, within the range of things. We don’t do it just for shock value, but as part of the story. And Frank is a really intelligent guy, so he gets it.
How physically violent will things get for your character, either on the giving or the receiving end?
LUKE: All I’m gonna say is check out Episode 4 or 5. My character is a shot-caller, so he’s got other people to carry out the violence for him, like the fantastic actor Robert Knepper, who was on Prison Break. He plays one of my right-hand men, and he does my dirty week. But, I get my hands dirty. I believe it’s in Episode 4 that you’ll see how brutal Mickey Cohen gets. Alexa Davalos is our lead woman, and she’s one of my main scene partners. She’s fantastic! She’s a fantastic actress. But, Jon [Bernthal] and Alexa really got put through the ringer with everything.
How much research did you do for the show and who Mickey Cohen was?
LUKE: I read a couple of books about Mickey Cohen, and I read a couple of books about the time period. When I was reading, I would listen to ‘40s music, just to get into the mind-set of what was going on, in that day and age. Mickey was a really interesting guy. He was just a character, in real life. He had OCD. He’d wash his hands 50 times a day. He got his house blown up and the big thing that he was pissed off about was that his suits got messed up. That takes a certain personality. He was 5’3″, and I’m actually 5’5″. But, the thing with Mickey was that there wasn’t a lot of footage of his real life. There was stuff when he was older. So, I had to read what I read, and then take that and put it into that. But, Frank gave us room to breathe. In a conversation that I had with Jon Bernthal, because this is my first series, he gave me some really wise words, which were, “Let the character evolve.” I’ve taken that and gone with it, playing it scene by scene and letting the character evolve. That’s been my main mantra, playing Mickey.
With only six episodes in the season, does it feel like you’re only just starting to scratch the surface of the story that you can tell? Are you hoping to do more seasons?
LUKE: Oh, my god, yes! First of all, I want to work and make some money, but yes. I do feel like you’re only scratching the surface with Mickey. I can’t give you too much, but it seems like in Season 2, Mickey is going to come out more like a mobster, which will give me a lot more to work with. Toward the end, I was starting to get a grasp for Mickey and who he was. It was great!
You’re also doing Jersey Boys, with Clint Eastwood in the director’s chair?
LUKE: Yeah, it’s awesome! I have a scene with Christopher Walken, which is really cool. The thing is, I’m older now. In my 20s, I would have been like, “Wow!” I’m still like, “Wow!,” but I process things differently. Not to sound cocky and arrogant, but I feel like it’s more along the lines of where I should be in my life and my career. I’ve been doing this for about 15 years, professionally. But at the end of the day, I’m very, very excited to be working with Clint. I’m super excited to be working with Frank. I hope Don Jon does great. I’m a happy and very fortunate guy. I’m still working my day job. I’m still doing my hustle, trying to get jobs and gigs. Things are good, but I haven’t bought a new car yet. I’m still driving my car. I’ll probably drive it into the ground.
And you’re doing a non-musical role in the film?
LUKE: I’m not part of the musical, at all. God forbid, I’d be singing. There’s a lot of stuff that’s in and out of that. That’s basically the four guys. My best friend in L.A., Joey Russo, is in it too, which is ironic and fun. He plays Joe Pesci. And we have a web series together, called Turbo & Joey, that’s on YouTube right now. We’ve gotten a lot of buzz from the industry. The casting director, Geoffrey Miclat, was a big fan of it. So, we both read for Pesci. Our whole web series is about getting the Pesci audition, so ironically, in real life, we got the Pesci audition. Joey got the Pesci role, and I went in for another role that they wanted me for. It worked out great for both of us.
Are you ever intimidated with the level of talent you’re working with now, or can you just forget about all of that and focus on the work?
LUKE: No, I don’t get intimidated. When I’m on set, I never really get intimidated by people. But in social situations, it’s weird sometimes. You don’t want to seem like you’re kissing somebody’s ass because they’re a celebrity. But, working with people is what I like to do. I don’t feel intimidated. I always go in prepared. When you’re not prepared, that’s when you feel uncomfortable. But, I go in with everything going on, and really prepare as much as I can.
You’ve been a working actor for over a decade, but now you have a series of high-profile projects that will make people much more aware of who you are. Is that something you’re prepared for and feel comfortable with?
LUKE: That’s a thing that’s an adjustment, you know? It’s a weird thing. You’ve gotta play the Hollywood game, and you know you’re doing good, the more notoriety you’re getting, and that’s gold. That’s what every actor wants because then you know you’re at another level. It’s a little bit different now, in the way that you’re approached and the way that people talk to you. This could all go away tomorrow. Who knows? It’s just a little bit different of a lifestyle now. I still live a humble life. I still live where I lived. I still go out in the world. I still have my same car. I still stay with my mom when I go home. Things are different, but to me, I really like working. I don’t mean this to sound cliche, but it’s really about the work for me. I like to keep working on things. Right now, I’m in a position to work on good things. I’ve worked on shitty projects, in the past. But, it is what it is. I’m just taking it as it comes. It’s a good thing. It’s something that I’ve always wanted.
Don Jon opens in theaters on September 27th. Mob City premieres on TNT on December 4th.