Sometimes you meet people and the encounter is merely a brief interlude before you move onto the next thing and sometimes you meet people and they engage you in such a way that you spend hours talking to them. Luke Tyler is clearly of the latter ilk.
An up-and-coming actor from South Africa, he exudes a combination of old-school charm – the kind of person who apologises for being late when he’s actually early – and new-age savvy, indicative of a performer who is not only professional but intelligent to boot. Fast coming to the fore with roles in Dark Tide, Chronicle and Dredd 3-D, Luke says he has always been a performer and now, as an actor, “I’ve just found a name for it and a way to get paid for it”. Initially, he did not believe “performing was anything viable to do professionally” and enrolled for graphic design. Although accepted, something drew him back. This compulsion led to a gap year working in the U.S.A and upon his return he started studying under the acclaimed Aletta Bezuidenhout at the Screen Actors’ Studio in Cape Town.
In my enthusiasm over the upcoming Dredd 3-D, I quickly steer the conversation in this direction. Despite being a fan of the original Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone Luke emphasises that Dredd 3-D is not a remake: “it’s a new version of the comic book and more authentic”. Based on British sci-fi comic book 2000AD – set in a darkly violent, post-apocalyptic world – the film follows Judge Dredd, who is part of a new breed of law enforcement endowed with the triple power of judge, jury and executioner. Luke is visibly excited about the film and asserts that “the reviews from Comic Con were amazing; people loved it”. I ask him about his role and he admits to skimming through the comics “narcissistically looking for my character”. He speaks with depth and clarity about his characterisation, describing him as “support, but key to revealing a bit of Dredd’s character, showing that he is human as well.” He also notes quite enthusiastically that he doesn’t die – “ so I can come back for a sequel.” With the onslaught of comic book adaptations that we have seen of late, what sets Dredd: 3-D apart from the rest? “It’s a completely different movie – it’s a new premise that people have not seen before and that makes it real”. Considering that Karl Urban (who plays the title character) spends the entire film behind Dredd’s mask, what did his own role encompass in terms of physicality or costume? “I was dirtied up to the max. I couldn’t touch anything without washing my hands”. He fondly recalls auditioning for Dredd 3-D, something which almost never happened as he was attending Rocking the Daises at the time and with no script and a bizarre pseudonym for a title (in order to disguise the actual project) he almost missed the whole thing. “I freaked out when I found out what it was actually for.”
Another one of his films, Dark Tide, has just hit South African screens and in asking whether he has ever found himself a bit star-struck he admits to standing up quite hastily and knocking over his chair in the process when he met the film’s star: Halle Barry. “She just sucks the air around her and seems completely untouchable, but then you find out that she is so humble and gracious. People have such a misguided notion of what an acclaimed actor is, but you have to learn set the bar high,” and this is something he noted in Halle Berry as her devout professionalism saw her continuing shooting despite the heavy sea-sickness from constantly being on board. He speaks with equal verve about local talent, gushing about Thoko Ntshinga whom he remembers from Egoli when he was a child. “She plays Halle’s mother figure and she is truly this all encompassing, quintessential Mama-Africa type – you would rush on set and she would always calm you down”. He cites Michael Angarano as further inspiration: an actor who chooses roles “which are quite arbitrary, but he pulls them off because he has the talent to back it up”. Growing up on episodes of Third Rock from the Sun and seeing him mature successfully into both indie and blockbuster hits, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another actor he admires.
As yet Luke has no plans to head overseas. He knows we’ve all heard it before, but the economic crisis is a reality and the film industry is not exempt from this. With this in mind, places like Cape Town become “the best place to be” as everything is comparatively cheaper for foreign filmmakers. He speaks positively about our own film industry: “It’s growing exponentially – the more it grows the bigger it gets”. He has landed himself in the unique situation of having done several large international projects, but says he would like to do more local productions. He recently completed Sleeper’s Wake, a South African thriller, and he speaks warmly about what a positive and eye-opening experience it was.
There is a wonderful energy and passion that Luke exudes that comes from doing what he loves. His exuberance and humour keep him going and his intelligence as an actor shows that he knows what he is doing, but what will make him last is his willingness to learn. It is clear that he takes in everything around him, making the most of every experience. He shows a keenness to grow and the way in which he speaks about his work makes him sound like a seasoned pro. He has set the bar high for himself and he seems to be sailing over it quite well.