NYC Construction Worker-Turned-Actor James Duke Walker Lands First Leading Role
Just a few months ago, James Duke Walker was a hardworking unionized construction laborer - an iron worker and electrician, lending his technical expertise to major building sites throughout New York City. He had never acted professionally in his life.
But what a difference a few months can make. Because the native of St Albans, Queens, has just wrapped shooting on his first film - an independent short feature titled Roadside Assistance - in which he plays the leading male role.
Not bad for an acting debut.
The film is a suspense thriller directed by Ali Matlock from a script by Matlock and Jubei Powers. Walker plays Justin Collins, a young man driving home along a lonely road late at night with his girlfriend and infant daughter, when a chance encounter with another driver leads to life altering events.
The cast also includes Annie Sage Whitehurst and Jeff Prichard. The Apogee Media production is expected to hit the short film festival circuit next year.
For Walker, the film marks the culmination of a remarkable few months, which began when he had a chance meeting with award winning Playwright, Actor and Producer David Heron, CEO of Sure Thing PR.
The two men met via phone on a business call, and Heron, an acclaimed classical actor who has appeared Off Broadway and nationally in everything from The Emperor Jones to The Winter's Tale with the New York Classical Theater- was immediately struck by the tone and timber of Walker's exceptional bass voice.
"I told him immediately I thought he should be doing voiceover work and radio commercials. He really sounded like a young James Earl Jones. But then when we met to discuss that, I basically realized that voice over work was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what might be possible for him."
Standing 6 ft tall and with an athlete's body honed from years of calisthenics and playing various sports- especially basketball- Walker had often thought of possibly pursuing a modeling or acting career, but had no real idea how to go about it.
"I basically went from high school in Queens straight into my labor union and have really been focused on that, and that was going very well," he says. "So I had some interest in the fashion or entertainment industry but hadn't had the time or knowledge to really make that a reality."
Heron had photos taken of Walker and sent them to some Casting Directors and fashion professionals. The response was instant and overwhelmingly positive. Walker signed with Sure Thing PR in March and enrolled in acting classes at HB Studios with renowned actor, coach and Yale Drama School alumnus Paul Pryce.
Soon, he was attending as many as three auditions per week and receiving callbacks more often than not. He then landed his first job- a basketball commercial for Adidas- during the summer.
Now, with his first leading film role tucked under his belt, Walker is looking to add to his resume.
"I'm already discussing with Dave which class I'll enroll in next, because I'm still new to acting and on a learning curve," he says. "I know I'm competing against some guys who've been to the best acting schools in the country so I've got to bring my A game every time. But working with Ali and our producer Matt Brucato on this amazing film was both educational and hugely inspirational- the best motivation for me to keep pushing ahead and going to the next level. The journey has begun and I couldn't be more excited."