Interview of the week: Michael C. Duncan

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International  |  Feb. 13, 2003 at 6:49 PM
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Michael Clarke Duncan is still so awe-stuck by certain movie stars he takes his camera with him almost everywhere he goes -- just in case.

Nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of a saintly man wrongly accused of murder in the 1999 drama "The Green Mile," the 46-year-old "Daredevil" star says he still gets a charge out of having his picture taken with actors he has always admired.

"I was at the Broadcast Film Critics Awards and I brought my camera and I interrupted Robin Williams and I said, 'Can I take a picture with you?' and he said, 'Sure,' so we made goofy faces and took the picture. And, to me, that's going up on my wall. That's history. That's fun to me," he said in a recent interview with United Press International.

He added: "I still have my camera with me. When I go to Montel Williams, I'm taking a picture of me and Montel. ... I'm still in awe of these superstars. They're superstars to me. I don't see myself as one. I just see myself as sneaking inside. I get all geeked up and when I see these people I'm like, 'I've gotta take a picture. Please let me take a picture with you,' and they're like, 'Yeah, sure.'"

Duncan's career is something of a Cinderella story. Raised by a single mom on Chicago's South Side, Duncan studied hard at school and took up acting when his mother kept him out of sports for fear he would get hurt. It wasn't long before Duncan found small roles in commercials, film and television, all the while working as a ditch digger, bouncer or bodyguard to support himself and his mother. About a decade ago, he landed a role on the daytime drama "The Bold and the Beautiful," which eventually led to film work.

Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing in at 300 pounds, the handsome African-American actor got his big break in 1998 when he was cast as the emotional oil driller Bear in the action flick, "Armageddon."

In addition to saving the world from a meteor, the blockbuster also showcased Duncan's considerable comedic talent. His moving performance the next year as a doomed man with special powers surprised and impressed moviegoers and critics and earned Duncan Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his performance. He followed that up with roles in the action "Planet of the Apes" and "The Scorpion King," and can be seen starting Friday as the villain Kingpin in the eagerly awaited superhero movie, "Daredevil."

Asked about his affection for action films, Duncan admits he is a huge fan of the genre and would probably be standing on line to see "Daredevil" even if he wasn't in it.

"Any action movie!" he exclaimed. "Any like superhero stuff, I go to see. I was a fan of all the Supermans, all the Batmans. I thought all the actors did a fantastic job. I know they say, 'So-and-so didn't play Batman right.' I was like, 'Man, I don't care. Batman is cool, whoever plays it.' I always go to see action movies, though. Always."

The main reason Duncan signed on for "Daredevil," however, was because it meant working with Ben Affleck again.

"I hadn't worked with him since we did 'Armageddon' in 1998 and just working with him again was pretty cool," Duncan recalled. "And the second reason was because of the challenging role to play a guy that was a white character in the comic books. I asked (the director) was he sure about that? I said, 'Some people might be upset about that,' and he said, 'You're the best actor for the job.' That gave me a little boost, a little push to let me say, 'Okay, let me get jogging and let me go ahead.' And once he told me that, I just felt: 'I can do this. If he believes in me, and the people at Fox believe in me, then I just have to go for it.'"

Noting that comic-book fans tend to have definite ideas about what their heroes big-screen incarnations should look like, Duncan explained: "(Comic-book fans) read everything (written about the film) and it has to be like you imagined it in your mind, in the book. ... And everybody has their opinion from New York to L.A. to Oklahoma. Everybody has a different opinion as to what this character should look like."

So, was working with Affleck again all that he hoped it would be?

"It was funny because on 'Armageddon,' I thought he was someone else and he thought I was someone else," Duncan remembered. "He thought I was Ving Rhames, and I thought he was the guy that played Robin in 'Batman and Robin.' I thought he was Chris O'Donnell. ... So we both had misconceptions about each other. Once we got that out of the way, formalities out of the way, we became really good friends, so working with him was like real cool again. To see him in little red tights and everything. That was kind of funny. He pulls it off."

As for what he thinks of the finished product, complete with special effects, Duncan admits he hasn't seen it, revealing that he likes to see a movie with a "real" crowd on opening weekend.

"It's different from a Hollywood audience," he pointed out. "Everybody claps at the premiere. Nobody goes, 'Booo!' You want to go in there with the fans to hear that reaction. You want to see what they're saying when they leave the theater. That's what I like. I come to the theater late like when it's already started, and I go to the top and I just put my head down, sunglasses on. And I just like to listen to people and see what they are saying. ... I just pay my money that Friday. I always go on opening weekend."

Although he hasn't actually seen the movie, Duncan says he was psyched when he saw the preview for it recently.

"In the trailer, they have Colin Farrell as Bullseye standing up on a motorcycle riding through a New York and he has these four spiked things and he slings them at a car, and I was just like: 'Oh, yeah! Yes!' When you see it live it doesn't look as cool, but after they do their thing to it, you're like, 'OK, now it doesn't look so goofy,'" he declared.

Over the years, Duncan has displayed a real knack for choosing films with excellent ensemble casts. The actor says that is because he loves actors and is always looking for what he can learn from them.

"I think (who you work with) is very important," the actor noted. "From your director down to your first couple of cast members. I think it says a lot about you. I've always wanted to work with the really good actors. I've always wanted to look back 50 years from now and say: 'I worked with Ben Affleck. We did a couple of movies together.'" It's like saying you worked with Sir Lawrence Olivier or something like that. ... They bring something out of you that you may not know you had in you."

Duncan says he hopes his next project will be a comedy, then drama.

"But then, if another good action movie came along, I would take that," he confessed. "But I want to do a comedy. I want to do something funny with a nice leading lady or something."

Told he has a reputation for being one of the sweetest guys in Hollywood, Duncan says he is careful not too take himself or his position too seriously.

"It's important for me not to get too high up where I look down on people because I believe you could go right back there," he explained.

"It can come around just like the second hand of clock. ... It's important to treat people like you want to be treated. My mother always told me that. As long as people treat me nice, I treat them nice. If a person acts ignorant, then I act ignorant with them. But as long as people treat me with kindness and respect, I treat them the same way back. You can get so far with that."

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