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Antwone Fisher lived the blues – and eventually wrote the compelling story of his survival as a screenplay to prove he could do it and it became the launching pad for Denzel Washington’s directing career and Derek Luke’s acting career. Not to mention Fisher’s writing career, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

He was named after blues singer Fats Domino, his mother’s favourite artist (“so I’ve been told,” he says), and his two little daughters are called Indigo and Azure – variations on blue. The blues is meant for people like Antwone Fisher. His own life really was the blues. His father was shot dead* two months before Antwone was born and his mother abandoned him. He was abused and ill treated as a child, and by the time he got into the Navy, he was an angry and disillusioned young man heading for trouble with a big T. What else but the blues would soothe the pain?

That all changed (but not overnight) when he was sent to see the navy’s shrink, James Davenport. Gradually, and with the help of both Davenport and a girl who fell in love with him, the angry young man found a way turn his anger around. He set off to find his mother and his whole family. 

After leaving the Navy, Antwone Fisher was working at the Sony Pictures Studio as a security guard where producer Todd Black heard the story from Antwone’s boss. “I had just found my family and I wanted to go and meet them but I hadn’t been there long enough to accumulate leave,” he recalls, speaking from Los Angeles as we cover ground all too familiar to him.

“My boss said go ahead, and in my absence, he’d told some studio executives about my story. On my return they had arranged for some meetings where I was told I should tell my story. They’d pay me for the rights and they’d get someone to write it…but I refused. I thought this was an opportunity, since I’d not been to college and never had any writing experience, everyone kept saying ‘no’.”

"Fisher sounds anything but angry these days"

Fisher got himself some legal writing pads and began to write his life story in longhand. He showed it to producer Todd Black (one of the executives he had met earlier) “He thought I had writing talent but I needed to learn how to write a screenplay…” 

Fisher sounds anything but angry these days. I have to ask him to speak up so I can tape the conversation. His voice is soft but not so much quiet as gentle. The intonation is humble, reserved. There’s none of the pushy, upfront Los Angeles movie guy in it. And when I ask how his life has been changed by this biopic of him, he shrugs it off with a matter of fact “I still gotta change my daughter’s diapers…I still have to cut the grass, you know what I mean.” But he admits it can be strange to see his photo in magazines, or have people in the street recognise him. “It’s odd.”

And he does also admit his life feels “a little above average” these days. Apart from anything else, he’s become a full time writer. (He wrote the book of his story after he had written the screenplay, and went on to other writing works.) And although he didn’t marry Cheryl, the girl who fell in love with him in the Navy, he did marry LaNette, and he says he’s “a simple person. I’m a family man and I enjoy that.”

But the defining moment for Fisher in this journey is an extended one. “I was in the mall with my family and my cell phone rang. It was Denzel calling me to ask me why I wasn’t in Cleveland going on the set, just before shooting started. I didn’t think I was really wanted or welcome…it was awkward and no-one had said come on such and such a date. He said meet me at the airport tomorrow and you’ll fly with me. And in the plane, he went through the script page by page, telling me what he planned to do, even acting out the parts and using different voices. I thought to myself, no director does that… he was so unselfish about the film.”

"I believe things happen for a reason…"

As for the casting of Derek Luke, Fisher has a smile in his voice when he says, “like everything else about this film, it was meant to be.” The two had in fact known each other working on the Sony Pictures Studio lot. Luke worked in the studio shop and met Antwone at a lunch on the lot in 1997. Luke was trying to get a break as an actor. Fisher told him about the script he’d written and that Denzel Washington was going to direct. Luke grabbed the moment and asked to read the script. 

And he says, echoing Fisher, “I believe things happen for a reason…”

*Antwone’s father, Edward Elkins, was shot dead by his then girlfriend. He was 23. He was not married to Antwone’s mother.

Published March 13, 2003

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Antwone Fisher



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