Jesse Luken is an accomplished actor who is serious about his work, but doesn’t forget the fun part either. Known for his outstanding work in the film 42 as well as the show Justified, the actor sat down with us to discuss his current and upcoming projects, and cussing in front of children.
YOUNG ADULT: What is the most interesting part of being part of new series, Star-Crossed?
Jesse Luken: It’s really awesome to be part of a show from the ground up. You truly get a sense of how the world is evolving as time goes on; it’s a wonderful and exciting experience. Star-Crossed is a fantastic show, drawing from incredibly varied themes. It’s got a tremendous love story but also deals with social issues like prejudice and integration, all while being set in this futuristic Sci-Fi backdrop. It’s very dope.
YA: Talk to us about being involved in the popular show Justified. What have been the standout experiences?
JL: Justified is simply outstanding. The rich characters, snappy dialogue and first-class acting made it just a tremendous experience. I felt very lucky to be a part of such an acclaimed show for three years. Plus some of the most underrated comedy on television.
YA: Describe your favorite character you’ve played thus far. Who is he? What about him most resembles you?
JL: It might be Eddie Stanky, the Dodgers 2nd baseman in the film 42. It was so fascinating to play a non-fictional person; the research that went into it was just very, very fun. I talked to his kids and a couple of ex-teammates. He seemed like the type of guy I aspire to be. Fiercely loyal, hard-nosed and passionate. His son said “he led the league in getting kicked out of games for fighting, but he never cussed in front of his kids and opened the car door for my mother every day until the day he died.” I thought that was very sweet. (Although I’ll probably cuss in front of my kids…little bastards.)
YA: What was it like working with the cast and crew of The Guest? Any other film projects on the horizon for you?
JL: The Guest was really terrific. Those guys really know their craft, and they’re just running and gunning in the deserts of New Mexico. They all trust each other completely, and it pays off as their movies all play at huge film festivals. I was honored they let me come join in on the fun for a little bit.
BellusMagazine.com — From an outspoken Brooklyn Dodgers player, to a loyal, right hand man for a career criminal, to an enraged student watching a species he detests infiltrate his school, Jesse Luken has brought to life characters in film and television that have put him on the map as “one to watch” in 2014. Luken can currently be seen on two series, FX’s hit show “Justified,” and the CW’s brand new series “Star-Crossed.” On “Justified,” [currently airing season 5] Luken plays ‘Jimmy Tolan,’ the fiercely loyal, southern, right hand man to Harlan crime boss and anti-hero Boyd Crowder [played by Walter Goggins]. In February 2014, Luken can also be seen recurring as ‘Eric,’ a human high school student who is vehemently against the integration of aliens in his town and school, on “Star-Crossed” for the CW. On the film front, Luken was recently seen as ‘Drew’ in the high octane thriller THE GUEST [directed by Adam Wingard], which competed at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Born in Denver and raised in Colorado Springs, Luken grew up in the world of sports, playing baseball, football, basketball, and running track. He had an equal passion for education, attending Louisiana State University and graduating from Colorado State University with two degrees; a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and International Relations. While in college Luken also discovered a love for the arts and ended up on a theater scholarship. When he wasn’t in the lab, he was perfecting his craft on stage. After graduation, despite his lifelong love of biology he decided to pursue acting full time and made the bold move to relocate to Los Angeles, without knowing a single soul in the city. Luken worked as a waiter, caterer, and landscaper as he chased his dream.
Zap2It.com — Although a hurricane tore apart two of “Star-Crossed’s” beloved couples, it brought a new pairing closer together. Things are heating up between Eric (Jesse Luken) and Julia (Malese Jow) — especially after that sweet post-storm kiss.
Luken tells Zap2it that Eric is a work in progress, but Julia will help him grow. “The amount that he cares for her sort of forces him to open his mind,” he says. “With any ignorance or intolerance, it’s usually just based on a lack of understanding, a lack of knowledge of the other. When he sort of forces his mind open based on this girl, I think that is what causes the evolution in his thought process.”
It’s no coincidence that a show with a title like “Star-Crossed” contains more than one allusion to Shakespeare — have you read the episode titles? They’re all “Romeo & Juliet” quotes — and Luken says Eric’s anger is appropriate for the story.
“When I first read the script and with the title referring to ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ I thought it was really apropos and fun that Eric seems very much like Tybalt, which is just like rage personified. It’s sort of a singular one track mind in the beginning with him. He thinks he’s right and he thinks everyone should see the world the way he sees it, and he’s very angry and frustrated when people do not.”
Of course, Eric needed a good redemption arc, and he seems to be getting one. “There’s only so much punching lockers and wrapping up attempted murders you can do before you’re just irredeemable,” Luken cracks.
“Star-Crossed” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
Don’t miss Jesse’s entire interview over at MyFanbase.de!
Jimmy is a great example of how good “Justified” is with using the complete ensemble and developing background characters. He started out as one of Boyd’s henchman and in the end it seemed like a father-son-relationship. How did you experience this development over the three years?
Thank you for saying so, and I think you hit the nail on the head. One of Justified’s greatest strengths in my opinion is it’s trust of the ensemble, and everyone on set does a great job in waiting their turn and stepping up when their number is called. In regard to Jimmy, he trusted Boyd completely, all the way to his death, and I think really started looking to Boyd as a father figure, or at the very least an infallible mentor. Jimmy did well to keep his head down for so long and not get the hubris some of Boyd’s other henchmen over the years have developed. He almost made it out of Harlan alive. Almost.
Jimmy’s death was brutal, emotionally and physically. Does playing a scene like that have an impact on you?
I never want to pretend that we as actors have an especially difficult job (the way I hear others sometimes exaggerate it.) I’ve hung drywall for a summer, that’s a hard job. Having said that, scenes like this, when done right, are emotionally exhausting (which becomes physically exhausting) for the actor. If you’ve ever cried really hard and then noticed afterword you’re really tired, the feeling is similar. Except imagine doing it for six hours tied to a chair. I slept good that night.
When we talked to Walton Goggins about “Justified” a while back he said “It’s a world that really interests me, a tonality that I like to play in and a complexity that is a rarity in television.” Did you feel similarly about working on this show?
Yep. The world Justified creates is truly one of a kind, and no character ever seems out of place (unless that’s the point.) The dialogue is second to none, and the collaboration the writers have with the actors and vice versa really causes the show to excel. You see a great deal of complexity within the show, themes and characters that would normally seem in opposition to one another flow seamlessly on Justified. Look no further than Boyd Crowder as an example; the man is a brilliant Hillbilly.
You’re aware that fans are shipping Julia and Eric? You probably can’t say much but given Eric’s hostility towards the Atrians do you think knowing what cured Julia would make him reconsider his views or drive him to exploit the knowledge?
I didn’t even know what shipping meant before all of this! I think Julia is making him reconsider a lot of what he used to value in his life, and what he might value going forward. It’s all very new to him; the lessoning of his prejudices, seeing the true colors of the Red Hawks, and especially falling in love. Sometimes he still needs to get out of his own way, but it’s been really exciting to be given the opportunity to play out these changes.
“Star-Crossed” has the magical teen romance but it addresses social issues, too. It challenges its viewers to try to call the racial tension into question. What’s your take on that aspect?
I agree completely, and that aforementioned position which Eric holds is what I loved most about the project. The bigotry highlighted through the first few episodes could have easily be taken directly out of the integration movement of the 1950s and 60s. The fears and animosities toward the other, especially taken completely from a lack of knowledge, are prevalent throughout the course of human history. Whether the ‘other’ is African-Americans, homosexuals or in this case extra-terrestrials, the majority of human reactions have, sadly, remained the same.