Interview With Tony Luke, Jr. of The Nail
by Laura Tucker
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Multi-faceted entertainer Tony Luke, Jr. made a comment at the end of our interview that it was so hard to can get indie films out there, and he’s right. And his movie is one everyone should see. It’s a great story that’s socially relevant with a lot to say. Additionally, it doesn’t hammer the point home and never gets preachy. It allows us to get an inside look where we might not normally.
Luke is born and bred in South Philadelphia where the story is set. He has backgrounds in martial arts and boxing, but his claim to fame is through his restaurant, Tony Luke’s. It’s known for its cheesesteaks, of course, as well as other sandwiches. Yet Luke also has a background in entertainment. He graduated from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He called on that training and knowledge to write and star in the indie film, The Nail.
In addition to all this, he couldn’t be a nicer guy. I talked with him on the phone about his movie and found him to be very genuine. I asked him right away about his connection to Philly, as the story in The Nail is set right there in his old stomping grounds. He told me Philadelphia represented safety for him. I have to understand that. I’ve lived in the Chicago ‘burbs all my life, and within the same three mile stretch for 43 of those 45 years. Certainly, I understand that. It’s home. It’s safe.
In The Nail, Luke portrays Joey Nardone, an ex-fighter who’s been sent to prison for what amounts to be a freak accident of manslaughter. He knows it’s not going to be an easy ride to start his life over again, as even the clothes he was wearing when he was imprisoned don’t even fit anymore. He visits his old gym, but doesn’t seem to be altogether sure whether he wants that back in his life or not. Very reminiscent of The Karate Kid, Nardone meets a boy living in his building who wants to learn to fight. Just like with Mr. Myagi and Daniel, it’s not long before the mentor understands the truth of just why the kid is so desperate to learn to defend himself.
Unlike Daniel, Jesus (Paul Orrantia) isn’t suffering at the hands of bullies, but by the hands of his father. He doesn’t suffer alone, though, as his mother suffers right along with him. What struck me the most while watching The Nail was the parity of Joey Nardone doing serious time for an accident, yet the father of the boy, Hugo (Billy Gallo), not having any serious repercussions, despite the fact that on a daily basis he’s beating the snot out of his kid and wife.
Luke told me sometimes people get the point of the story there, and sometimes they just find it so violently unrealistic, that no one would be able to survive beatings like that. Yet, he felt writing it that he had to make audiences feel the terror that the kid felt. I told him I wasn’t sure what it says about me, but I didn’t find it that extreme. He joked that my formative years in Chicago must have been a lot worse than his. Obviously I found it extreme behavior, but didn’t think it was any worse abuse than kids normally suffer.
This was an extremely personal story for Luke to tell. The boy, Jesus, represents his dad. His grandfather was very abusive to his dad, which made the story one he wanted to tell. He also mentioned that the actor playing the father, Billy Gallo, “is the nicest, gentlest guy you’ll ever want to meet.” Yet, he’s a character actor and stayed in character throughout filming, leaving people with the impression that he really was a jerk. On his last day of filming, he went to Luke and told him, “All I want to do is go back to the hotel, take a shower, and try to wash this prick off me.” That character of the dad was that disturbing, even to the actor himself.
There was another big part of the film that was autobiographical for Luke, and that’s the boxing end. Luke is a former fighter and martial artist. This held interest with me as a fellow martial artist. Luke had some serious skill as a fighter, but found he lacked a “little of that killer instinct.” The gym and even the name of the trainer, Petey, was from his own early training in the boxing ring. He had to fight it in the Philly neighborhoods growing up just to survive, but didn’t take pleasure in it. That’s why he found himself in martial arts, as it was more defense minded, rather than just delivering beatings. I understood. I’m the one on the training floor saying, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
After all the heaviness of this conversation, I wanted to make it a little lighter. I asked why this guy that’s known in the restaurant business spends the whole movie eating cereal. He told me his character simply didn’t have enough money and was poor, and cereal was always cheap, although lacking in nutrition. I don’t know. A standard box of cereal here can last only a day or two, and at $3.00 to $5.00, that’s not cheap. He also found that a nice little quirk for the character, that he’s always eating cereal.
Before we wound up our conversation, Luke also took the time out to praise his young costar, Paul Orrantia. He feels he has star quality and is surprised he isn’t already a big star. I had to give the praise right back to Luke, telling him for me it was their connection onscreen that did it for me. I was moved because of the two of them together, and their easiness offscreen parlayed into that onscreen.
You won’t really find a “fighting move” in The Nail, nor will you easily find a fighter in Luke. It’s a great story that needs to be told and does so in a very unique, yet at times familiar, way. Luke may have lacked that killer extinct, but he makes up for it in having an eye for a story and telling it in the most understated way. He doesn’t beat you over the head with it, and just lets you find it all out on your own.
Laura Tucker Laura Tucker is the webmaster of Reality Shack, and its accompanying Reality Shack Blog, and is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints. She is also an Associate Instructor and 2nd dan black belt in tae kwon do with South Elgin Martial Arts. Laura can be reached at LauraBelle@realityshack.com
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