TOBAGO-BORN actor Winston Duke never misses an opportunity to talk about his homeland and the experiences he had growing up in Trinidad and Tobago.
During an interview on Monday night on CBS talk show The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Duke talked about the "nine days" spiritual tradition in TT, and what he called the country's "soap-opera" culture.
He was promoting his new movie Nine Days, a supernatural drama that tells the story about a man named Will (played by Duke) in the afterlife, tasked with the job of interviewing spirits for the opportunity to be born. The process takes nine days.
Colbert asked about the significance of the "nine" in the film as it relates to the culture in which Duke grew up.
"In my culture in Tobago, in Trinidad and Tobago, it's believed that when a loved one, or someone that is close to you, dies it takes them nine days for that spirit to move on. So within that nine days they'll visit you in a dream, they'll say goodbye, they'll do something and, you know, that will be like their way of moving on and detaching from this plane of existence," Duke explained. The tradition is common in the Caribbean.
Abbot of the Monastery of Mt St Benedict John Pereira told Newsday prayers for nine consecutive days is known as the "novena." He said this dates back to when the disciples prayed for nine days in the upper room to receive power from the Holy Spirit. He said there is a local tradition in the Catholic Church where a family would pray for nine nights for the soul of the deceased. This "wake," he said, may become a socialising event with food, drink and discussions about the deceased. He said many people who died would be in purgatory and prayers are made for the purification of their sins, though only God knows when that process would be complete. Pereira said the nine-days tradition would have been practised locally since Catholicism was introduced to Trinidad by the Spaniards. He said African slaves whose ancient religions reverenced the deceased and the ancestors, would have been attracted to Catholic nine-day tradition, and this contributed to some syncretism.
The film's storyline was inspired by the life of the director, Edson Oda, whose uncle died by suicide at the age of 50. Duke said Oda was often told, "Don't be like your uncle. Don't be weak." So, amid all his mental-health issues and depression, he (Oda) looked into his uncle's life and wrote a story to redefine the narrative.
"Because his uncle's life was was essentially just reduced to this one act. Not a full life; just this one act of pain. And he said, 'I wanted to rewrite the life by giving him another life in the afterlife so he could deal with some of that. Some of those shadows.' And that character is Will and I play Will."
Colbert then asked about the entertainment influences growing up in TT that inspired him.
Duke replied: "So much. So many imports are from America. So we have country music. Country music is big in Tobago. yeah. We've got like Shania Twain, and I grew up like listening to Garth Brooks and all these...things.
"And then like soap operas. The Bold and the Beautiful. Young and the Restless. General Hospital. And everybody was in love with Victor. Remember Victor from Young and the Restless? And every guy wanted to be toxic like Victor.
"The guy everyone wanted to be was this guy from this show called Santa Barbara. You remember Santa Barbara?"
Colbert said it was not one of his "stories" (a nickname for soap operas).
Duke then talked about the character Cruz (played by A Martinez) who wore very tight skinny jeans and so in TT they were called "Cruzes."
"Every time you wore something tight everybody would be like, 'Look at that Cruz.'"
Colbert asked if he had ever appeared on a soap opera and Duke said he had not, but thought it would have been in his future at some point.
"Trinidadian culture is very much like a soap opera. Like the way they fight and they're neighbours and they will come out of their house and they would pull out a machete and they would, like, scrape it on the ground. And they'll be like, 'If you cross this line I will kill you!'"
Colbert said: "I would watch that soap opera."
Duke said, "Everyone does. It's community theatre. It's community theatre. And then two days later you find out that they're just cousins."
Last month Duke posted on Facebook about his casting as the voice of Batman in an upcoming podcast called Batman Unburied, which will reimagine the Caped Crusader as a forensic pathologist working in Gotham Hospital who dons the cowl to seek justice for victims of a serial killer known as The Harvester.
Duke said: "Oh, man...picking up the cape and sonically donning the cowl! I’ve been so excited to share this one with you guys, a truly exciting take on a story we know and love. Thank you Spotify and DC comics for bringing me into the fold on this one...I AM BATMAN!!"
Duke is also set to play iconic Jamaican political activist Marcus Garvey in the upcoming Amazon biopic Marked Man.
The 34-year-old actor shot to stardom in 2018 with his appearance in the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther. He went on to appear in the MCU films Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame and will appear in the Black Panther sequel Wakanda Forever, scheduled for release in 2022.
He also appeared in the Jordan Peele-directed horror film Us, and the action-comedy Spenser Confidential alongside Mark Wahlberg, together with television appearances on shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Person of Interest and Modern Family.