Derek Roberts is an American actor living and working out of New York City. Derek can be seen in movies such as One Night in Miami and TV shows including Blindspot, The Walking Dead, Hap and Leonard, The Punisher and Scream. We had a great conversation about his early life in Philadelphia and Delaware, his career, working with Regina King and Jon Bernthal, his “other job”, a passion for singing, family and more.
Read on to find out lots more about Derek Roberts, actor.
DB: How are you coping with the COVID situation?
DR: I have a well-informed friend who called telling me that the President was going to make an announcement and might shut everything down. so I packed my bag and my work – I work from home – and I went to Florida for about eight months. Florida’s a bit different: wide open, beautiful, blue skies, green grass, palm trees, sun and it’s pretty spread out. So much, that you can just take drives without contact with anyone, whereas here in New York City, you can’t. I played a lot of golf, which you can play alone, so my golf game got better. It was a blessing to have been able to escape the city. I felt for a lot of my friends that had to stay here. Especially the ones I know that were in the hospitality industry. They took a hit. I came back to NYC a few months ago, as things seem to be picking up again.
DB: But you weren’t born in New York…
DR: I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We lived in a good area but literally up and down the street, and around the corner was all bad, so my mother didn’t want me to grow up there. At age 12, we moved to Delaware, about 30 minutes away. It was more diverse, which was great for me. I got a chance to be with every walk of life. I’m glad that happened at an early age, and now my friends… a plethora of diversity. I grew up in Delaware, which is pretty small, and my mother would always say to me, ‘I want you to get out and see more, I don’t want you to be stuck here.” Eventually, I wound up moving to Florida.
DB: What are your abiding memories of Philadelphia?
DR: Family, because when you’re that young, you don’t get an opportunity to explore the city, you’re restricted to your block especially when it’s a bad area. I had a great family! I was raised with three women: grandmom, mom, aunt and my older brother. My dad was available but he wasn’t in my life until I got to 18-20, which is when he got saved and changed his life. Now we are as close as you can get – we speak probably once or twice a week. My grandmother and mother were strong and loving. I wasn’t spoiled rotten, I understood the value of the dollar but if wanted it I would get it, but I didn’t exploit that. Many memories of great Christmases and birthdays, too. Come to think of it… my childhood was full of great memories!
DB: What is your first lucid memory?
DR: I had a miniature piano. I could pick it up but it was a good size and had all the keys. My mother and aunt, love music. Music was my first love and I used to love singing. One day I set the piano on the steps and I said, “Hey Mom, look!” and I just started playing the piano to the song that was on the radio and I was singing along with it. Didn’t know how to play at all, but she said I sang everything on key. I must’ve been 6 or 7.
DB: When you moved to Delaware it was very different from Philly. Can you describe Delaware?
DR: It’s south of Philadelphia…and very small. There wasn’t a lot of diversity in Philadelphia. It was predominately black where we lived in West Philadelphia, but Delaware was the exact opposite. At the time I was only 12, so I didn’t understand the differences in race or anything like that. Sixth grade was when I got there and was taking a school bus instead of being dropped off or walking to school. My school in Philadelphia was all black, except for a few of the teachers, but when I got to sixth grade, in Delaware, there were less than 20% black people there. I embraced it! I got to learn about people and could understand different perspectives… it was just wonderful. Delaware was eye-opening, a lot of space, a lot different from city living. As I got older I was able to do more things outside of the home – I didn’t have to be regulated to just a block. I could walk miles and play basketball with some guys from that neighbourhood. They would introduce me to guys from a different neighbourhood, who would then invite me to their home to play video games, and they had pools in their backyards and would tell you to come over anytime sun up to sundown. It was great!
DB: How did you find school and what were your favourite subjects and teachers?
DR: In Philadelphia, I was a straight-A student. In Delaware, I learned how to communicate with people and had this big personality. I would talk to my friends and do little work instead of pushing myself. I would wait until the last minute and get a B- or C, which didn’t fare well with my parents. Eventually, I tightened up, though.
My favourite subject was always English. The teachers that did well for me were the ones that were hands-on, not just dry and strictly by the book. The ones that had a vibrant personality. Anyone that had experience, who would give you metaphors or examples or anything that had vibrating energy. It was always the words for me. Funny thing is, though, I love math now. Even though math was always the worst.
DB: At the end of school what did you do?
DR: I loved singing but I was still just a bit shy when it came to singing in front of people. People would always tell me I could sing. One day, when I was still at high school, aged 15, I had an internship at a job after school, I’m making copies, and singing my heart out – because the copy machine is so loud I can sing as loud as I wanted. I didn’t realise someone came in and sat there for a while and heard me; he was a senior in my school. He said, “Derek, can I talk to you for a minute? Listen, you have a great voice. I heard you sing, and I’m in a singing group, there’s three of us, we need another person.” They’re all 17-18 and I’m 15! They would eventually have me singing a lot of the lead parts on cover songs that we would do, which was tough, and great, because it made me more confident/outgoing, which is what helped my acting career. We almost got signed to a label.
What I recognised at age 17-18 that I needed to stop following people. I was following those guys, and some of those guys weren’t as serious as I hoped. I’ve always been an honest guy, so a lot of friends would hide things from me. Not that I would judge, but they just didn’t want to subject me to things like drugs, or whatever. I had no idea at all until my senior year when I found out something a guy accused them of was true, and then I realised these guys weren’t serious. I did not want to jeopardise going to college, so I stopped doing music. I went to a college for a year in Maryland, but then came back to Delaware and started pursuing music, seriously. A friend of mine that was in my former group met another guy and said to me, “Hey, you guys I think we should do karaoke.” (Karaoke had just started really coming out). Long story short, a famous producer overheard us and said, “I would like you three guys to try to work together and become a group.” (Unfortunately, he didn’t want the guy who was in my old group – the one who introduced us). With the new guy, we became good friends and pursued being a group… and it went really well, we had deals on the table, studio time, and we dove in.
DB: How long did that real musical period last?
DR: It started in high school and probably went on 10 years – it just plateaued. I used to love singing, but I don’t know if I ever really wanted to be a famous singer. What I do remember at a young age though… these guys who played basketball across the street in Delaware were so good and one was phenomenal. He was maybe a year older than me, and he would have more points and rebounds than people at college, but he wanted to sell and do drugs. I remember saying one day, “Man, if I had a talent, I would never waste it.” And then I thought, “Wait, don’t be a hypocrite, start pursuing music.” I did it because I felt that I could sing really well. It was R&B and a little pop but I could see that the industry was changing, becoming less about the singing and more about the image. I loved the singing and the passion but I just fell out of love with the “artistry”. Later down the road, I took the opportunity and moved to Florida, and I never pursued music after that.
DB: What did you do in Florida?
DR: I enjoyed every aspect of life because I’m coming from Delaware. Florida, in my 20s, was insanely huge! It was always warm even in wintertime, I’m playing golf and watching someone put their Christmas lights up, it was great. You get a bunch of people and go to the beach. It was amazing. A friend of mine, who I moved down there with, got into mortgages and said, “Why don’t you try a mortgage job?” I went to be a mortgage broker, and at the time it was more money than I’d ever seen! Then 2008 happened, the housing market burst…
DB: How long did you do that?
DR: That was 3-4 years before the market burst. When you make money that quickly, and that much… I would work two days a week, play golf, hang out and still make more money in three months than I made in the last year! When the market went down, you chase it for a long while, and you don’t want to go somewhere where you’re making a quarter of that every 2-3 weeks. Eventually, you have to rob Peter to pay Paul… that’s when I said: “I can’t chase this anymore, it’s been a year.” I then started with an insurance company, where I’m still currently employed, in between acting jobs.
I do arbitration: I represent the company if it goes to insurance court. I started at the job because I wanted to get out of mortgages and get into something more established. Three years later I got a promotion and that promotion took me off being on the phone. I eventually ended up being the only one to do this particular job because the other two people that trained me, got let go. I’ve been at this job for a long time. Remote working is a blessing, if I have to go somewhere I can take my laptop and as long as I have internet, I can work.
DB: It’s really good, that flexibility, especially as you might have to drop stuff quickly to go to auditions or to do self-taping.
DR: Correct. Also, a steady income, and that’s an actor’s dream because when you start acting, you’re in the red, you need to get headshots, start an acting class… need to try and put money aside just in case you have to travel, do training, your resume, sign up on websites – but there’s no money coming in. If you get an audition: a rental car, hotel, then go back for a callback… if you don’t have the money, you’d have to pass on the opportunity… and that’s on you. Having employment also guarantees that I have health benefits, should I not get it with SAG… which is massive! I’m extremely thankful.
DB: What acting training have you done?
DR: It wasn’t until Florida, that I got into acting. A good friend of mine, Andrea, said that I had a big personality and asked if I had ever thought about acting. I said, “Well, I have. Maybe I should try to pursue it.” She suggested, “Why don’t you come audition for a play?” I got the lead role! At that point, I said to myself, “Okay, you need to take this more seriously.” I started a class – a class that changed my life.
DB: In other ways as well, not only acting?
DR: Other ways as well. It allowed me to see things from a different perspective. Acting is very psychological, the first thing you do is to look in a mirror, so you can know who you are. A friend of mine in the class said to me, “Derek, this is what you should do, everything that you dislike about yourself or other people, those are the characters you should try to do in class. I need you, for example, to be the person that abuses his wife, or be the manipulator.” To tackle that you have to tap into some things, go back into memory, be open to some things that you may not usually want to be opened to so that you can call on the memory when you need to use it.
DB: When you’re looking at something in the back of your mind, do you sometimes have the fact that it could be useful in the future?
DR: That is also tough because you have to be grounded in yourself. Things that bother me, abusing kids or women, or anyone cheating on their husband or wife, I despise things like that but I can use them to good effect. But you do have to be mindful that you are just doing this for acting. If I have to play a drug addict I’m not going to try drugs. What I will do is ask someone to see if I can go to a jail, get put in a cell, so that I can experience that, the sounds and the smells. I know the line, I’m secure and know where I can go and where I will go and not go. And this is because of life experiences and acting classes. But that’s my personal opinion. To each their own.
DB: And doing an “ordinary” job?
DR: Right. Do you know what else that gives you? Structure. How to manage time and other pressure situations. It shapes you and helps you get business-minded. People forget about the business aspect of acting.
DB: And you have to be pretty thick-skinned.
DR: At casting, they’ll be a foot away from you and look at you up close – while you’re crying your eyes out – saying, “I don’t like his nose.” They’re looking for something, so they can put out a good product and make money. My suggestion to actors… most of the time it has nothing to do with you. You may not be tall enough, too dark-skinned, etc. You don’t always get to hear those reasons but you don’t need to hear them, just have trust. You can’t do anything else, you did your part. Your job is to be seen. Take your time, do your study and make sure you deliver the best outcome possible.
DB: You said your very first role was as a lead in a play, have you done much stage work?
DR: I would love to do plays but it would have to be the right role/part. It’s not necessarily the avenue and direction that I’m wishing to go, though.
DB: What was your first ever role on-screen?
DR: It was a TV show on Lifetime, called Army Wives, and my very first audition. I was only in class for one month and had just gotten my agent. It was a dream.
I had decided to get to class early, I’m an observer sat in the back, and I noticed the teacher saying, “You guys don’t pay attention, you’re on your phones,” and as she’s saying this the guy next to me is on his phone! The following week, I moved to the front, made sure I got there early and sat in the same seat every time – I wanted to get that in her mind. I did a couple of scenes and she said, “Derek, I see you here daily, and the few scenes you’ve done are really good. I think that I want to try and see if I can help you out.” She was also a casting director. “There’s an audition and I think it might be right for you. You don’t have an agent, but I want you to do this audition, send it to me, I’ll send it to the agency and see if I can backdoor you in.” I had no idea what she was talking about! But I obliged. We went away for Christmas break, mid-December, and by the end of the month, I got an email from the agent who I currently have which said, ‘Hey I got your audition, we probably won’t hear anything until January, they’re on hiatus. However, your teacher, Kathy, sings your praises and I would love to meet with you after the New Year.’ We come back in January, I met with my teacher the following week, and on January 9th I met with the agent who signed me. Today is actually our 9-year anniversary! Two weeks later, she said, “Oh my gosh, congratulations, you booked Army Wives!” I asked, “What does that mean, “booked”?” She answered, “You’ve got the part!” And it was a pretty nice role. They sent me to Charleston, South Carolina for three weeks.
DB: What a great start! Because getting that first leg up is not always easy.
DR: It’s not, at all. I was so thankful! The next audition they said, ‘We need you to send only good actors,’ and then a month later, I got that part! Fast forward to my 5th or 6th audition, I got that part. This was insanity! But I made sure I didn’t let it go to my head and continued to work hard. Things started to really align for me, and I started being able to work from home.
DB: I’m guessing that the job you did, talking on the phone combined with your singing, must have helped when it came to doing auditions.
DR: Tremendously! What’s funny is people who don’t know how to sing can tell if you hit a bad note, so singing was a little stressful. Now, I’m transitioning to acting, and it’s funny… the audience doesn’t know when you make a mistake because you can always improv and keep going. Singing in that group allowed me to be more outgoing and get out of the shyness. What also got me to be a little more confident was karaoke, so when I got into acting, the stage, it felt so natural. I credit my teacher, Kathy Laughlin, and music.
This is what I try to tell younger actors: if I ask you to tell me a story about your favourite birthday, you would tell me about that birthday without stuttering, because you know the material. Just know the material, it’s just telling the story, the audience is there to hear you. My teacher told me that, I keep that thought. Of course, you still get a little nervous but don’t let it be enough to affect the performance.
DB: What sorts of things do you do when you’ve got a script for the first time and you’re working towards a part? What’s your method?
DR: I blackout everything else, whatever happened to me prior – I just got finished the day off work, I’m tired, or just dealt with an angry customer. I take maybe five minutes, maybe some classical music or something to take it all out. Then I read the script from a neutral standpoint. Got that from Kathy, too. I’m going to have to figure out how much like the character, I am, and how much I am not. If I’m a lot like the character I don’t have that much work to do, just put in my nuances, see what the relationships are etc. If I’m not like the character I have some work to do, figure out what differences, there are. You can’t read a script with two brains, you can’t think like you. Do you ever watch a show and struggle to think like the murderer because you wouldn’t do what they do? You can’t do that. You have to take yourself out and think like that person. Backstories are hugely important, too!
DB: I know people use different methods but it’s not quite “learning lines” as non-actors tend to think it is, is it?
DR: It is very situational. What I had with the second play with all these lines and 17 days to prepare, we did something called blocking. I knew that in the living room we were talking about this and when we got to the kitchen we’re talking about that, so that association helps. Repetition as well, that helps a lot!
DB: We were big fans of the Marvel shows on Netflix, what was your experience of working on the Punisher with Jon Bernthal?
DR: He is phenomenal. His acting abilities are insane and he’s so organic. The unfortunate part about that was the part got cut a lot, it was supposed to be one officer, and they eventually split the role. But being on set was great, everybody was friendly and open. It was very top secret!
I didn’t get the chance to work on as much or as long as I wanted but great people, a great time, great work and Jon was phenomenal. We connected and talked about some personal things. He was adopted and has adopted children, and he asked me about going into the African American Museum in DC because he was thinking about taking his kids. They were young, so he asked me, “What do you think?” I told him that there are parts of the museum that’s rough, but it’s our history. So it was great to let him know, but that’s a decision he had to make. I said that I walked in and I had to take a second because I did cry. At eight years old, it could be tough. He said he’d wait a few years.
DB: As you said, lots of non-disclosures and another one like that is The Walking Dead.
DR: It has a cult following. They have what they call “sides”, a miniature version of the script, maybe 4 or 5 pages. Production starts at 6-7 a.m. and the fans are lined up outside – and when I say “lined up” I mean they’re out there with signs trying to peek and see-through. When we were shooting in one area, it was a guy’s private property, and he had his airplane, and would fly over and take pictures, and they couldn’t stop him.
DB: The Walking Dead, how did you get that part?
DR: I auditioned a few times and because of secrecy, it wasn’t the actual scene it was a made-up scene. I had just moved to New York and was working on a film called Behind the Movement about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I was just on my way back from Georgia, and I got an audition for The Walking Dead. I got back, did the audition and the next day had another audition for a TV show in New York. On my way, before I walk in that audition my agent says, “Hey Derek, they may like you for Walking Dead?” After the New York audition, she called to tell me I had got the part in The Walking Dead, in Georgia. I got a cab ride home, figured out what to do with the job, what clothes I needed to pack, booked a flight. I landed there and was driving in a rental car and got to production for wardrobe and makeup and I got a call from my agent here in New York, “Hey congrats! You just booked that other show,” but I had to turn it down because they overlapped. That other show was The Blacklist.
DB: What about the makeup and costuming for The Walking Dead?
DR: Your clothes look older, they make sure to get them nice and stained. “He looks too clean, let’s make that beard a little more scruffy. Let’s see if we can mess his hairline up a little bit.” I was there for three days. That was an experience because those zombies, they are serious! If the director doesn’t say “Cut!” they’re coming at you, if there’s a chair in front of them they’re falling over the chair. There was a mob of maybe 60 or 70, coming through a door and coming towards me! It was wild.
DB: You were in Blindspot as well.
DR: I got a chance to go to Cape Town, South Africa for that. I am telling you, if there is a more beautiful place, I don’t believe it. I was there for a week and a half, the cast and crew were welcoming and fun. I got to play golf, go to Table Mountain, and see the prison where Nelson Mandela’s was held. It was great.
DB: Would you go back there again if you got an opportunity to?
DR: I may take an opportunity to go back. The only problem is, that is a long flight, it took us 19 hours. When I landed I was going to get some rest but a guy asked if I wanted to meet up with one of the producers and then at night, we went out. The next day, I was gone, I slept so long, but it was wonderful! The area we stayed in was beautiful but when we left that area, a lot of the other areas were really bad. I felt bad. Little kids would come running up to you looking for money. That part was difficult.
DB: Thinking of the films that you’ve been in such as The Sacrament, what are your memories of working on that one with Director Ty West?
DR: As I’m getting in the dressing room, I hear someone say, “Oh no, it’s 302” and then said a phone number. I said, “No, that’s not my number, 302 is the area code but the rest is wrong.” It turned out that they were talking about the director’s number. He’s from Delaware and I told him that I grew up there, when I met him. That was a great moment to start. Typically, when I meet someone, I’m usually the first person they’ve ever met from Delaware.
So I booked Army Wives, fast forward another month and I booked another show called Burn Notice, fast forward to two months later and another show called Drop Dead Diva. Now I’m in the middle of the year, and I got the audition for The Sacrament, and I booked it. In my very first year, I booked three television shows, one commercial and now a movie.
My agent called me and said, “Derek, you got this role, but they want you on set for 28 days, so I need you to tell me what you think about your job.” Now think about it… I can’t take off a month but I’m also the only one that does this particular job, and I had been in this role for at least five years now, so I’m comfortable and I built a rapport with my manager. Something I’ll never do is lie to get time off for a role and say something like, “Hey, I’m sick, I’m not feeling good.” I went to a manager (she’s since passed away, unfortunately, so I want to make sure I say her name… it was Rhonda), and said, “Rhonda, soooo…. you know I just started acting, and it’s been taking off. Well, I just got a movie.” She said, “That is great! Are you serious?” I explained there was a hiccup as they wanted me on set for 28 days in total, and then I got an idea. I said, “I know that the supervisors have the opportunity to work from home. Maybe I can take a laptop and work from the hotel on the days that I’m not on set, and the extra days I can use vacation days. And when I run out of vacation days maybe you guys can just not pay me? I guarantee the work will be done.” She said, “Wait a minute, you want me to let you take off 28 days, essentially work from a hotel from a laptop and take vacation, and not get paid on the days you work on set?? Ok… give me five minutes, let me see if I can get you a laptop.” By the time I got from her desk to my desk, which was maybe 30 steps, my phone rang “Laptop’s ready.” It was a blessing, for sure! So if I ever get a speech I will always be sure to thank her, and say her name! May she rest in peace.
The Sacrament is a parallel universe of Jonestown but instead of Jim Jones, the character was called “Father” and instead of Jonestown, it was called Eden Parish. It was very creepy to be there. I got to be the hero!
Once we had to shoot at 2 a.m. because it had to be as dark as possible, but there was a freeze warning that night. We’re in the middle of the summer, so I have a short-sleeve shirt with a tank top. It was unbelievably cold!! Let me tell you what we did. When you speak, you can see your breath, so they gave us ice cubes to chew on, to make your mouth the same temperature as outside, so when you speak you don’t see it as much. So now I’m in the freezing cold, wearing a short-sleeve shirt, eating ice! They did give us hot chocolate and tea/coffee. I wanted to pour it on my hands!
DB: Now, One Night in Miami, tell me about that!
DR: An all-star cast! Regina King as a director, it’s her feature film directorial debut. I’m excited because I’m part of her directorial debut, you know!? She is very personable, would never call you by the character’s name, she always called me by my own name. When it was all said and done, they say, “That’s a picture wrap for Derek,” and everyone claps for you. She then came over and gave me a big hug. Just amazing! It was a small role, but it’s one of those situations where the project supersedes the size of the role. I was really thankful to be cast. It is on Amazon.
DB: Another female director is Rebecca Hall, who you worked with on Passing.
DR: That was another small part but it was a New York credit. I had just moved to New York and you want to get established, so sometimes you take certain things just to get new credit. That was great working with the cast and she was phenomenal.
We had to shoot outside in the middle of winter and the way the set was designed it was a tunnel that opened up into a lobby, but it was outdoors and the wind was coming down that tunnel… it was so cold!
Another phenomenal director I’ve worked with is Maritte Lee Go, on Black as Night which will be out, soon. She was great to work with and knew how to get what she needed out of each actor. I play the father of the lead character. It was the first production to be affected by COVID, because I had shot it, but had one more scene left, it paused and then we had to come back months later. That was a lot different, face masks, face shields, eyewear and keeping distance. We all had to stay in the same hotel and take a COVID test every single day that we were on set. I think I took a total of 9 or 10 tests. That was a struggle but we got it done.
DB: As a contrast to some of the little indie films, what’s the comparison working on something that’s a Hollywood-style blockbuster like Geostorm?
DR: A lot of the smaller productions you want to do, because sometimes they’ll see you in a different role than usual. But sometimes, the quality gets sacrificed, so you don’t want to necessarily be a part of that. By the same token, I’ve done something large productions where it’s not put together well. But on a large scale you know it’s going to be seen. The whole purpose is we want to be seen because we need to get footage, it’s a rat race, a circle that you start and it never closes. I can’t wait to get to an acting class… I’m in a class, and now I can’t wait to get an agent, I got an agent… I can’t wait to get an audition, I got an audition… I can’t wait to book, I booked it, hopefully, that made the cut… I can’t wait to get the footage, to put it into a demo reel so that I can get another role to put it on my demo reel to get another role etc… At least on big productions you know you will get that footage, for the most part, so you can show other people.
DB: For you, and for most actors, how important is a demo reel?
DR: A demo reel shows your range. Unfortunately, though the caveat to that is if I only get booked as detectives, then I’m only going to have detective footage. The demo reel also gives casting directors/producers, etc., the comfort of knowing you’ve been on set before. It’s like an actor’s business card.
DB: What are the best and the worst of times that you’ve ever had on-set in TV or movie?
DR: I haven’t had any bad experiences, thankfully, other than things like being cold, which is fine. I was on Vampire Diaries and the main character’s job was to grab me, throw me up against a wall, then throw me up against the side and then the other side with him. We did it a couple of times and I have a jacket with a V-neck open, it’s not as cold as Sacrament, but definitely cold. So he grabs me, throws me here and there. Well, he grabbed me and I flailed part of my forearm, which hit him right around the bridge of the nose. It is freezing cold and they’re asking if he needs to go to hospital! He says, “I don’t know… but it’s not his fault. It was just an accident”. After about five minutes, he said he was okay and just needed a second. He came back out, “I’m fine. Let’s do it again.” But for a minute, I was scared to death.
The best of times, it’s hard to rank up. Most of the time, I have a great time. Maybe seeing a friend that you haven’t seen in forever. Being in South Africa, Cape Town, that whole experience was phenomenal. The locations, the people, the camaraderie… I’ve been fortunate to not be able to rank my best of times because as long as I’m on set, I’m happy!
DB: Do you sometimes find that you have to mentally pinch yourself?
DR: I always take a moment to step back and reflect. I tell people to celebrate their victories. Be thankful, because we get so many no’s, so many doors closed. If you have a callback, celebrate! You get an audition, celebrate. I mean, don’t take a second, go have a drink, get a meal. You’ve got to take the small victories in this.
DB: How helpful is costuming?
DR: I am very meticulous, so when I do auditions, I have the whole outfit, even if you won’t see it. If I have to have a drink (I don’t drink) and it’s bourbon or rum which is brown, I have to put Coca Cola in that cup, if it’s vodka, I’ll use water.
My acting teacher constantly taught us about objects that come in contact with the body. If I have a police uniform, my chest is up a little bit, if I have on a blazer and a T-shirt, that may be relaxing. I have a gun in my back pocket, I might be talking to you a little bit differently. So it’s very important to me.
DB: Do usually watch yourself on screen?
DR: Absolutely, we’re all our own worst critics. At first, there are so many things to worry about. Did I do all this production and have all my family and friends come to watch to end up cut? Did the makeup come out crazy? I did one production, very small, it was at night, and it’s difficult for some people, because they may not know how to make-up dark-skinned people. They just make us lighter. Well, this production proved that theory, because my face looked like a powdered doughnut!
DB: Who are your acting icons?
DR: Denzel Washington is phenomenal… Will Smith, Tom Hanks… There are so many, male and female. I think a lot of times when we think of good actors we think of serious dramatic actors, but we don’t give credit to a lot of comedy. I love the business, the camaraderie, the creation itself. I want to make that thing come off the paper and just pull your attention to that moment where we’re making magic happen. And then, hopefully, everyone sits and goes, “Wow, this is great!” There are a lot of actors that do this perfectly, so it’s hard to pick a few.
DB: Which person or persons in your life, have been the most influential on you? And how have they been influential?
DR: I have a small family. My mother supported me and I always had a roof over my head, clothes, never really needed anything. I saw her, how strong she was, so that made me develop a strong sense of responsibility myself. That included a lot of things that influenced me indirectly or directly but not like “let’s sit down and tell you these life lessons”, it wasn’t like that. I got it from seeing things, living things and then learning from other people’s mistakes. My older brother never really got in trouble, so I had a guy five-and-a-half years older to follow. Also, my friends growing up had a big influence on me: whether it was recognizing that what they were doing was bad, or picking up a few lessons of things they knew that I didn’t.
DB: Do you think having strong women in your life, as you were growing up, made a big difference to who you ended up becoming?
DR: 100%, I think that. I don’t know how it would have been if I had a male role model in my life but I know at that time, the idea of how men should be was different and I don’t know if I could have been that type of a male. These three women were strong, independent, didn’t necessarily need a man, didn’t bring a bunch of men around, but the guys they did bring around were good. Being raised by three women let me see the softer side of things, too. They were able to raise a man who was able to understand the woman’s perspective and also understand that he was respected too. I couldn’t be more thankful, for it has shaped who I am.
I’m realizing that my grandmother was such an important role model because she was the nucleus. She moved from Georgia with these young children to Philadelphia, lived in a friend’s home until she could work enough to get her own home. The strength she had was infectious. I wish she was alive when I got older – she passed when I was 17-18 – so I could have spoken to her when I was an adult, it’s a different conversation when you’re an adult. My grandmother taught me basketball and football.
DB: She sounds courageous. When you are not working, what are your hobbies, your interests and your passions?
DR: I’m a singer still, singing is always apart of me. Here in New York, I have a band that I’m in, “Backyard Soul”. I’m one of two lead singers. There are six of us total, in the band (sax player, trumpet, drums, bass, guitar, and two singers). We sing Motown songs, in different areas of the city and it is wonderful. And it’s important for me to have this because you can’t just be waiting for an acting job. After all, there are so many “no’s” you’ll drive yourself mad. I used to play in a basketball league here, but COVID happened.
DB: It must be quite difficult with the band as well with COVID but it kind of helps all that in your head.
DR: We just did a Zoom meeting and we’re talking about trying to get back together whenever we can. We just have to wait. We don’t do it for the money, we all have jobs, and just love to play without trying to be something major. When I lived in Florida, and I do go back to Florida to visit friends, I play golf. I have two or three different groups of buddies and we do golf trips every year. Golf is wonderful.
DB: If you are flying to say, South Africa, how do you occupy your time on the plane? Do you watch movies, listen to music, do you read?
DR: I love talking and taking in surroundings. I people-watch. I’ll communicate with the person next to me; I will know all about them, where they are going to. I definitely watch things. I have an iPod with tons of music, and I love to listen to music and zone out, just letting it take me wherever… the nuances of the harmonies… the sounds… the lyrics. I can get lost in music.
DB: What sort of music is on your iPod?
DR: Anything from pop to R&B, there’s jazz, a little bit of rock and roll. I love classical and sometimes I do one genre. Amy Winehouse is one of my favourites, she’ll pop up and I’m like, “There’s my girl!” I love some of the 80’s love ballads. You can hear the peace in them. I have a lot of slow songs, some rap, reggae… my iPod is all over the place.
DB: Are you reading anything at the moment?
DR: I have to wait, there are not enough hours in the day and I work so hard to try to be sure I’m always ahead. I think by the end of next week I’ll finally be able to sit back and research and see what kind of books I can try to read and get into. I’ve got auditions that are coming through, trying to figure which photographer I’ll be getting headshots from, talking to my agents, working on my social media to get more active. I’m also trying to work out, which is something I’ve never really done before. I’m a night owl, so I could be up to two o’clock and back working at 8 am. Somewhere in there, I need some kind of downtime just to decompress. The good thing about New York is it’s cold, it’s Covid, I have to be indoors, so now I do get a chance to kind of relish that because normally life doesn’t give you much stillness.
DB: What could you not live without?
DR: That’s a great question. I couldn’t live without human interaction. I like helping people, a lot. Being an ear for people, understanding things, gaining perspectives, providing and receiving criticism/feedback, etc. I’m a people person by nature, so no desert island for me.
DB: If you could have one wish, right now, what would it be.
DR: I wish that people would be able to understand other people’s perspective – I think we all could do that. Honestly, that would change the world drastically because you understand people’s place, and their struggle, and if I understand then I can help to do certain things to change that. I think that would be amazing.
Find Derek on:
Link to 10 Insights from this interview with Derek Roberts:
10 Insights From Derek Roberts ~ Actor
Dan Bradford Actor, Producer: The Alienist, Carnival Row
Alex Ziwak Actor, Martial Artist: Blue Bloods
Sera-Lys McArthur Actress, Producer: Outlander, Burden of Truth
Alistair Findlay Actor: Outlander, Highlander
Abraham Martínez Director of Photography
Daniel Thomas Actor, Writer, Director
Derek Roberts is a phenomenal person.. on and off the screen! One of the realest people I’ve ever met. My suggestion: take 5 minutes to get to know gim… there’s sooo many facets of his personality that you’ll love to be around him. Good luck in your future endeavors!
I totally agree! Thank you for your kind words and support, I know Derek will appreciate them as much as I do.