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Denzel's discovery confronts past abuse in first film

Derek Luke: Real Antwone Fisher should be focus

By Meriah Doty

Luke, Washington
Derek Luke, left, and actor/director Denzel Washington consult on the set of "Antwone Fisher."

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• Transcript: Luke: 'I was molested' 

Luke reveals he was abused
Luke: 'I'm healing now'
start quoteI was molested, and I have my own personal fight.end quote
-- Derek Luke

(CNN) -- The star in Denzel Washington's directorial debut, "Antwone Fisher," tackles some tough territory in terms of subject matter.

Derek Luke plays Fisher, a young man who must overcome his troubled past, namely emotional and sexual abuse. Like his character, Luke has been abused. "I was molested, and I have my own personal fight," he admits publicly for the first time in an interview with this week.

The film is based on the life of Fisher, who adapted the screenplay from his book "Finding Fish: A Memoir."

It focuses on how Fisher faces his tough childhood and overcomes his anger with the help of a naval psychiatrist, played in the film by Washington.

Fisher lived through years of foster care in a home where he was belittled and abused. As a young man in the Navy, he developed problems with anger. His temper quickly led him to the psychiatrist, who helped Fisher recall his painful past and start a process of healing.

Luke says his own personal process has only just begun. "I'm healing now," he says with tears welling up in his eyes, "I'm tapping into what I overcame by hearing other people's stories."

He's also quick to point out, "I try not to emphasize myself because I feel Antwone had a harder life."

The buzz

The film is already getting Oscar hype, the industry is buzzing about Washington's chances at getting best director, and Luke's name has also been added to insiders' lists of possible Oscar nominees.

Surprisingly, Fisher is not only Luke's first leading role, but also his first feature film.

Though he is one of Hollywood's freshest faces, his big-screen debut was a long time in the making.

Luke first auditioned for "Fisher" back in '98.
start quoteIt's not just about an acting performance; it's about this man's human life. I said, 'I gotta serve this dude right.' Then everything else falls into place.end quote
-- Derek Luke

Luke says he first auditioned for the film back in '98 -- before it went on hiatus for three years. Washington put the project on hold to star in "Remember the Titans" (2000) and "Training Day" (2001), for which he was given the best actor Oscar.

In 2001, Luke was excited to find out "Fisher" was back up. He auditioned again for Washington.

The unknown actor was overjoyed when he learned he landed the leading role. Luke re-enacts the scene: "I was on the Sony set outside of the store where I worked when Denzel Washington came up to me and said, 'Antwone.' I said, 'That's me. I can do it! I can do it! I can do it!' I hugged him violently." He adds, "I couldn't believe it. My life had changed."

When filming began, the 28-year-old actor says, "My expectation was to get through it."

He says he wanted to perform well for the real-life Fisher because the film is about him. "It's not just about an acting performance; it's about this man's human life," Luke says. "I said, 'I gotta serve this dude right.' Then everything else falls into place."

Luke would not disclose further details about the abuse he experienced, but he did say that making the film helped him. "I felt free when I read the script," Luke says, a bit choked up. "At the time I felt like maybe I can hide behind the script and tell my story."

He says his goal with the film has been to "bring justice to the Antwones of the world."

His publicist, Nicole Perez, confirmed that Washington, whom Luke says he emulates, has been aware of the young actor's personal story.

Luke says of Washington, "He focuses on real life. Because of that, he has made me a better person."

He also says Washington is about to re-create the success of his prolific acting career as a director.

So what does Luke expect to achieve in the future? He says he aspires to be held in the same regard as Sidney Poitier, Washington or Al Pacino. "I hope to be a revelation to my generation. I hope to tell some untold stories with passion."

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