Lucas Black once turned down a movie role because the director wanted him to drop his thick Southern accent—he grew up in Alabama—and use a less distinctive dialect. This is a self-described "country boy" who not only sticks to his drawl, but to his principles.
Black, 28, grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, and takes his faith seriously. Which is why he's attracted to movies like Seven Days in Utopia, which opens in theaters nationwide tomorrow.
Based on the Zondervan book of the same title, Utopia stars Black as Luke Chisolm, a young golf pro with a hot game and a hotter temper. When Luke's anger leads to a meltdown in a tournament, he drives off in a huff and ends up running off the road in the small town of Utopia, where he meets an old cowboy played by Robert Duvall. Duvall's character, who happens to be a former golf pro, takes Luke under his wing and teaches him a thing or two about the game—and about life.
It is Black's third film with Duvall—he had a role in 1996's Sling Blade, but more recently, has starred opposite the Academy Award winner in 2010's excellent Get Low and now in Utopia. The young actor couldn't resist this last role, not only for the chance to work with Duvall again, but because of his prowess for golf—he shoots in the low 70s and hopes to play professionally some day—and because of the movie's faith-based themes. It was, for Black, a perfect fit.
Why did you want to do this movie?
I'm an avid golfer, first of all. When I'm not acting, I'm playing golf. I'm pretty passionate about it. I've been playing in amateur tournaments for the past five years. Also, I read the book about three years before they wrote the script, and I fell in love with the story and thought it was a great message. Then, when I read the movie script, I called David Cook and told him I wanted to be a part of it.
I read a story where your teaching pro said you needed to get your emotions under control on the golf course. I thought sounded like your character in this movie. So, do you have a hot temper on the course?
No. I think what he was referring to is that I get amped up to play a golf tournament like I used to get amped up to play a football game. And when you get that amped up and anxious, sometimes your heart rate gets up and it affects your execution of golf shots. That's what he was talking about. I've never been one to throw clubs, break clubs, or use bad language on the golf course. I've played with golfers who've done that, and I really hate to see it. If I did something like that, my dad would come get the putter and hit me upside the head with it. I knew better.
Any thoughts about playing pro golf?
Yeah, I have aspirations to try and compete professionally. Any golfer that competes in tournaments would be lying if they said they didn't. Hopefully, if I keep getting better, I'd be able to one day qualify [for the pro tour]. We'll see.
How would you describe Luke in this film?
Luke's a character who has lost his way. He's got his priorities mixed up. I think all of us in life can be guilty of that; I know I can. I am. No matter what we're trying to accomplish in life, or what career path we're trying to take, sometimes we get caught up and lose perspective on what's important in life. I think that's the way Luke is. And then he ends up in this little town, Utopia, and meets a guy that has a lot of wisdom, and he becomes Luke's mentor. And he ends up changing Luke's life by leading him by example and teaching him different lessons about life and golf.
How do end up getting these roles next to Duvall?
I'm pretty fortunate. It's awesome to be able to work with a legend like him. And on screen it makes it pretty easy for me just to feed off a guy like him. Acting is a lot of give and take, and when you are working with someone like him, it's pretty easy to do that. He's going to do his job and come prepared. And you know, make you look better.
Duvall's character mentors your character in the movie, but what about in real life? Has he kind of taken you aside and dispensed some good life wisdom, or just tips on being a better actor?
I'm always eager to learn. I may not ask him questions about acting, but I just do it by observation. I learned a lot from him just watching how he prepares and brings his own personal mannerisms to the character to make it more realistic. It's just great to see that firsthand, and I had the best seat in the house, the best spot to learn from. And you know, it makes me more comfortable and confident for the next character I play, to know I'm going to make the right moves or decisions in my performance because I've worked with the best.
What about in real life for you? Is there anybody who has been a mentor to you?
I think we all have mentors in our life, because you've got to learn from somebody, or at least from somebody's experiences, whether they're good or bad. To me, that's a mentor. My dad is a mentor in my life and still is. And my wife has a great family; I consider my father-in-law a mentor as well. I really like the way he lives his life. As far as golf goes, my coach, Rick Grayson out of Springfield, Missouri, has helped me with my game. But we talk about the mental side of things a lot too.
Anybody who has taken on an intentional role as your mentor—somebody you meet with on a regular basis to talk, to pray together, whatever?
No, I don't have that kind of mentor. My dad will send me a text of Scripture to read and things like that. But I don't really have the kind of mentor that tries to guide you around. Really, I don't think that's the best way to teach someone anything. That's what I like about Johnny Crawford's character in the movie. You might say he put his arm around me and tried to be a mentor, but really he led by example. His lessons weren't pushy lessons, you know? He let Luke come into his own, to decide what he needed to decide. I think that's the best kind of mentorship, where you learn from them because of how they live their life and lead by example.
A few of your recent movies—this, Get Low, and even Legion in a strange way—have had some sort of faith angle. Are you attracted to movies like that?
Yes. I liked the faith parts of Get Low and Utopia better than Legion. I like them because I'm a man of faith and I believe in God. I think more of these stories should be made, because faith is a big part of every individual's life—or should be. A lot of times the characters that we portray put that to the side, so when there is a story where our characters our focused on faith, I want to be a part of it.
You grew up as a Southern Baptist, right?
I did. But my wife is Catholic, so we go to the Catholic church a lot. But when I go home, I still go to church with mom. We all believe in the same God, so, that's all that matters.
You don't seem to be the Hollywood type. Have you ever lived there?
No, I haven't. And I never will either. I just can't do it, mentally. I'm a country boy and too much of the city just wears me out.
So, what's next for you?
Right now I don't have any projects. Just taking care of my wife and our new baby, 9 weeks old. A little girl named Sophia Jo.
Congratulations! Is she going to be your caddie some day?
I'll probably be hers!
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