There’s a human side to Sean “Diddy” Combs. And actor Derek Luke was determined to show that in the biopic of the late rapper Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace, “Notorious,” during the days when Combs was still called Puff Daddy. Luke gets candid with ESSENCE.com on what Diddy told him about the role, his reaction to seeing Tupac and why the world better get ready for Tyler Perry’s continued takeover.
ESSENCE.COM: The “Notorious” film opens today. Are you nervous on how people will receive you as Diddy in the shiny suits?
DEREK LUKE: I am. It’s like birthing a baby and allowing the baby to go on and walk. It’s funny because Puff started the shine but everybody today does it. People smile and laugh at the shine but people don’t realize that was [premediated]. He was the first entrepreneurial mogul and took what Russell Simmons and Andre [Harrell] did to another level with the clothing lines and brand. Now you have Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Eminem.
ESSENCE.COM: What did you discover about Diddy that people might be surprised to learn?
LUKE: What I love about Puffy that’s not in the story is that geniuses are not born, they’re made. I wanted to break down the whole anatomy of who Puff was. Part of my preparation was going to talk to Ms. Combs. I said, Let me talk to someone who’s not going to talk about the dude with the shiny suits or the Versace shirt. I didn’t know if Puff was ever portrayed as a human being on camera. It was always the producer, but I found out that he was a human being.
ESSENCE.COM: Definitely, the limelight does that. Did he give you any tips?
LUKE: Me and Jamal were on stage, and we were performing and Puff was there and he was like, “Yo, I have two comments. One, you killed it. Two, me and B.I.G. had a relationship.” He was telling me and Jamal that if you don’t relate to each other on stage, it’s just going to be a video. I found out he had stayed away from the set because it was too much for him to relive and it was too painful. Nobody knows about that Puff.
ESSENCE.COM: Which rapper did you most identify with?
LUKE: I loved B.I.G., but not like I liked Tupac, because he was an actor, so I related to him. I was a hood dude, but I wasn’t a street dude or hustler. I lived on top of a church and I had to pass drug dealers to leave. I felt like I was able to relate to Pac because he was a revolutionary and so was Biggie. I used to work as an usher in California and the day Pac had the altercation at the awards show, I saw him pacing in front of me in his military uniform. I just wanted to tell him, “Pac, I’m your fan,” but I couldn’t. I think they were a part of something that was much bigger than what was taken over by the media.
ESSENCE.COM: On the red carpet your wife is always by your side. How important is it that you include her in your career?
LUKE: We’re in an industry where no one teaches you to bring your wife. You’re taught to leave your wife and family at home. I was around people who said, “If you want to be successful, you need your wife by your side.” We have a friendship and a relationship. It’s the greatest bond.